Editor's note: This article was originally published Oct. 16, 2015.
For fourth-year University of Virginia student Henry Reynolds, the Virginia Alumni Mentoring program has afforded insight on networking in the Middle East, appropriate work-life balance and even cryptography – the art of breaking codes.
Since launching its pilot program last fall under the auspices of UVA’s Career Center, Virginia Alumni Mentoring has paired hundreds of students with alumni mentors to help them crack the code of post-graduation life. This semester alone, more than 800 students have registered.
“Having a firsthand account from someone who has been in their shoes really gives students a sense of confidence and can help them figure out what they need to be doing,” program coordinator Kathleen Herring said.
Reynolds, a Middle Eastern studies and philosophy double major, was paired with Middle Eastern studies alumnus David Chambers, who has spent time in the Middle East and now works as a sales and management consultant in Washington, D.C., responsible for many federal and foreign contracts.
“Speaking with David, I learned a lot more about the job market and the consulting world,” Reynolds said. “David has helped me a lot in talking about if I want to work abroad in the Middle East and how I might do that.”
Conversation topics ranged from Chambers’ experience consulting and negotiating in the Middle East to career options like Teach for America or forensic data analysis, a field Reynolds knew nothing about until Chambers mentioned it might fit his interests.
Chambers conducted mock interviews as Reynolds prepared for management consulting interviews, encouraged him to publish research and suggested résumé improvements.
Chambers also encouraged his mentee to found a cryptography club, and even dipped into his own contact list to furnish guest speakers from agencies like the FBI and the NSA. The club has already met several times this semester, discussing famous codes from Ancient Rome to the Cold War and building their own ciphers.
“It takes two people to make these relationships work, and Henry was clearly sincere in looking for advice and counseling,” Chambers said. “I have learned along the way as well and have enjoyed learning about what is happening at UVA.”
Mentors and students each create a profile verified by the Career Center. Students can browse a database of about 1,100 anonymous mentor profiles and reach out to those who match their interests. Mentors then review the student’s profile and decide if they wish to accept the request.
Mentors and mentees commit to meeting once per month for a semester, at minimum. Meetings are intended to occur over the phone or via video chat with additional e-mail correspondence. Those guidelines allow geographically scattered alumni to participate and protect participants’ safety.
Reynolds and Chambers’ partnership is hardly the only success story. Third-year McIntire School of Commerce student Caroline Bauserman, who is considering law school, was paired with Roger Briney, who has more than 35 years of experience practicing law and has also served as a mentor with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Bar Association.
“I am taking many commerce classes, but had less exposure to anyone who had been to law school, especially since no one in my family had,” Bauserman said. “Until meeting Roger, I did not really have a resource to go to, and he has been able to provide that.”
Bauserman and Briney have discussed course selections, extracurricular activities and the benefits and drawbacks of different types of law. Briney regularly sends Bauserman articles that might interest her and is currently helping her weigh summer employment options.
For fourth-year student Zachary Peak, the introduction to his mentor, real estate executive Mallory Walker, led to a summer internship with the Federal City Council, a Washington nonprofit behind many of the district’s key urban development projects and policies. Peak, who is studying political and social thought and urban and environmental planning, worked on several urban development and renewal projects during his internship.
“My internship allowed me to connect the dots and see how academic concepts are put into practice day-to-day, to help me make that transition from being a scholar to being a professional,” Peak said. “With Mallory, I feel like I am getting honest feedback, opinions and advice.”
Walker helped Peak maximize his summer in the district, developing a varied “bucket list” that ranged from visiting a particular Library of Congress exhibit to attending an event where he could talk with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
“I know the federal city well and I wanted to help Zach explore it and find the more obscure things that many people miss,” Walker said. “I think Zach had a very good summer that has made his résumé look better and given him lots of self-confidence.”
Another mentor, Meredith Spacie, helped fourth-year student Kelly Perryman meet people in her field of interest and navigate the internship search process. Perryman, a math and economics double-major with a physics minor, is interested in data analysis and health care. Spacie works for a health care insurance company, leading a group responsible for reporting and analytics.
“Meredith has been a good fit as a mentor and also connected me to a few other people so that I could get several different perspectives,” Perryman said. “I ended up landing a data science internship last summer and really loved it.”
Spacie has helped Perryman prepare for job interviews and will be discussing her post-graduation options in the coming months.
“I have had fun working with Kelly and I like connecting with the University in this way,” Spacie said. “I think there are a lot of alumni who would love doing this and I encourage students to leverage it as much as they can.”
Fellow mentor Briney echoed Spacie’s enthusiasm.
“Being a mentor has given me insight into the students at UVA and what is interesting to them, and I enjoy trying to give back to UVA based on my experience,” Briney said. “I have had some great mentors myself and know it is extremely valuable to have somebody that you can soundboard ideas with.”