When University of Virginia alumnus Jack Steinberg, a longtime veteran of the film industry, was approached to become a mentor to a current U.Va. student, he found the choice to be an easy one.
“If you’re enthusiastic about what you do and feel you made a rewarding career choice, chances are there are students out there considering those very choices themselves,” he said. “I can’t think of a more rewarding way to serve this great University than by sharing my own journey with students of like mind and ambition. And if in doing so, you help them make those choices with confidence and conviction, then I’d very much consider it an important mission accomplished.”
Steinberg is one of the alumni mentors participating in the Virginia Alumni Mentoring program. Piloted by the College Foundation in 2013, an expanded version overseen by University Career Services officially launched last fall. It provides students a unique opportunity to connect with U.Va. alumni in their fields of interest to explore and develop career possibilities.
With guidance from the Virginia Alumni Mentoring program coordinator, students request a mentor through an online database and are matched for two semesters, during which time they discuss topics such as networking, interview skill development, work-life balance, industry-specific résumé and portfolio review, graduate school attendance, workplace practices and career paths.
In the fall, 43 students were paired with mentors; organizers hope to match 450 more during the spring. Mentors come from a variety of fields. Currently, about 86 percent of the registered students are from the College, but the program is reaching out to students from other schools as well.
Steinberg was paired with Alistair Wilson, a third-year student majoring in history and media studies interested in exploring a career in filmmaking and journalism, preferably working for an independent film company, where he can experience several types of filmmaking genres. Wilson signed up for the mentoring program in October, and by the next month he had been matched with Steinberg, the former operations manager of the Virginia Film Festival.
They hit it off quickly, Wilson said. “Jack and I share a passion for film that’s necessary to make it through the stress and the long hours associated with this kind of work, and it’s been easy to connect knowing that we have that in common.”
The two have connected frequently and met at the College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Mentoring Dinner held earlier this month at Alumni Hall.
“Succeeding in a free-lance world takes a certain sensibility, patience and persistence,” Steinberg said. “It’s not easy living from job to job, without the security and predictability of the more traditional 9-to-5 world. It didn’t take long to see that Alistair has what it takes to be successful in that world and is already living it with the work he’s accomplishing now.”
Wilson’s favorite part of the program thus far has been “hearing Jack’s stories and anecdotes from his long career in the film industry. Listening to his personal accounts has given me a lot of confidence going forward, and has made the whole process ahead seem much less daunting.”
Connecting with alumni gives students an opportunity to visualize their future careers, determine their level of preparation and form meaningful professional relationships with someone they can share personal and professional successes with as they navigate their entry into the professional world.
Alumni gain a unique connection back to the University through their work with current students. “My favorite part of the program, so far, has been meeting Alistair and discovering how much he reminds me of myself at his age,” Steinberg said. “Alistair’s a bright young man, well on his way already to developing the skills and contacts he’ll need to make his mark in the film industry.”
Wilson and Steinberg have worked together to formulate a production résumé and a professional development plan. “We’ve talked about what steps I should be taking to best prepare myself for entry into the professional world, and how I can utilize my time to get the best production experiences possible both inside and outside of the school year,” Wilson said.
Steinberg has reviewed samples of Wilson’s producing, directing and editing work. “A production résumé is a very different animal than your traditional corporate résumé and we’re working on his,” he said. “We’ve also talked about having him intern on upcoming projects of mine and meeting other members of the local production community here in Virginia.”
Alumni mentors can frequently serve as networking contacts to students, acquainting them with key players in their fields.
Wilson said Steinberg’s input has been invaluable. “Even though I often feel like I’m doing a good job of preparing myself for professional film work, there’s so much I still don’t know about transitioning into the industry. … Even after just one semester of meeting with my mentor, the knowledge he’s shared has given me a lot of confidence in taking the next step.”
“If you’re a driven student with even a rough idea of where you would like to take your career after graduation, I can’t recommend this program enough,” he said. “There’s just nothing else among classwork, clubs, extra-curriculars or internships that can guarantee to give you this kind of personal, one-on-one insight into a particular career path.”
The mentoring program was expanded through support and funding from University Career Services, the U.Va. Alumni Association, the U.Va. Parents Committee, the offices of the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Dean of Arts & Sciences, and the College Council.