Pairing college students with successful professionals pays off.
By Abby Weingarten
For college students preparing to enter the cutthroat job market, real-world experience often trumps textbook learning. This is the idea behind an initiative at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) that matches students with successful alumni corporate mentors in the area.
Katrina Anderson, a current admissions counselor and adjunct professor at USFSM, is one of them. A single mother of six children (ages 7 to 18), Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology in 2009 and a master’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2011 from USFSM. She was the first in her family to attend college, and she eventually plans to attend law school. While Anderson studied at USFSM, Anne Weintraub of the Band Weintraub Attorneys & Counselors law firm, took her under her professional wing. The two women continue to be bond-ed.
“I got paired up with Anne because my angle is to become a lawyer, and she’s a prominent lawyer in Sarasota,” Anderson says, adding that she and Weintraub often go to lunch to brainstorm. “It’s been a great relationship. She supports me. I can go to her in confidence and she will point me in the right direction personally and professionally. She shows me plans of action. She’s also an alumna from Stetson University and she’s going to help me pave the way to go there. She’s my mentor for life.”
Weintraub understands the importance of mentoring since she had a mentor in law school—former Stetson University College of Law School dean Darby Dickerson. “I listened to everything she said. Without her mentorship, I never would have graduated,” says Weintraub. “Because of her dedication, I dedicate many hours to students of all levels. I listen and make suggestions. Sometimes, you need someone who is unbiased, caring and wants to help. There is nothing sweeter than seeing my mentees succeed. My ultimate memory was watching Katrina take the stage and graduate with all of her family watching.”
Last fall, Ringling College of Art and Design also started an alumni mentorship program at its Center for Career Services. Fifty alumni have volunteered to be involved with students, coaching them on how to interview for a job and write a resume. “We want our students to be gainfully employed,” says Christine Lange, Ringling’s special assistant to the president for media and community relations.
These types of “mentors for life” are also found at USF’s main campus in Tampa in the College of Business’ Corporate Mentor Program (CMP), which is geared toward students who were the first in their families to graduate from high school, pairing them with mentors in their specific areas of interest. Throughout the school year, mentors engage these students in corporate meetings, job shadowing, mock interviews and networking sessions at influential organizations.
“The program provides students with an up-close and personal look at how business operates at the highest levels, while providing the mentors the satisfaction of shaping the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs,” says program director J.R. Haworth.
More than 800 students have gone through the nearly two—decades-old CMP, and 100 percent of them have found jobs upon graduating, Haworth says.
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), has a Summer Bridge Program that targets first-generation students who are transitioning from high school to college. The objective is to give these students the necessary tools (including scholarships) to attend, stay in and thrive in a collegiate environment. Twenty-four SCF students completed the program in 2013.
First-generation college students, in particular, can benefit from mentors. The American College Testing (ACT) and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) recently released “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: First-Generation Students.” It revealed that, while 94 percent of first-generation students desire to attend postsecondary institutions, most are not ready.
The ACT-COE report used data from about 1.8 million ACT-tested 2013 high school graduates. Fifty-two percent of first-generation 2013 high school graduates taking the ACT met none of the four College Readiness Benchmarks (compared to 31 percent of all ACT-tested graduates who met none of the benchmarks). Only nine percent of first-generation students met all four of the ACT benchmarks, compared to 26 percent of all ACT-tested graduates who met all four benchmarks.
“Participating in a mentoring program is a great opportunity. It’s a learning and life skills experience to have someone prestigious in your back pocket,” Anderson says. “If you want to be successful, having a professional available to mentor you during your higher education is huge. It’s so much about who you know.”