From Barnard Magazine, Winter 2014
Created in 2009, the Alumnae-to-Student Mentoring program matches current sophomores, juniors, and seniors with New York-area alumnae in diverse careers who agree to serve as mentors for the academic year. "We try to pair students with mentors in fields that they are interested in so that they can learn about the area through the eyes of someone who knows what is involved in achieving success," says Rachel Tannenbaum, the College's associate director of student programming. In addition to the individual mentor/mentee relationships, students take part in training sessions and attend events where they can meet with people in various careers. Students apply by submitting a resume and meeting other requirements. Tannenbaum says she receives 130 to 160 applications annually; about 60 to 70 percent of the applications are accepted. This year, there are 86 pairings; mentors who serve on the program's advisory board appear on the following pages with their student protégés.
As associate director of the Tow Foundation, Andrea Sholler works to fund entities devoted to juvenile-justice reform, medical innovations, cultural institutions, and higher education, which includes the generous support of Barnard students through internship stipends and research fellowships. She jumped on board the mentoring program as soon as she could. “I want to be able to share my resources to help Barnard students network and get jobs,” says Sholler, who is in her second year as a mentor. “Connections have helped me, and my hope is to give back the same way.” As an Alumnae-to- Student Mentoring board member, she has made presentations to the program’s participants outlining how they can make the most of their relationships. This year she introduced Julia An to contacts in the performing arts, after An expressed an interest in doing public relations for dance companies. “We have been strategizing and I’ve suggested that she should broaden her focus,” says Sholler. “Andrea has been great,” says An, an art history major. “She has connected me with people for informational interviews. She is [also] helping me figure out a timeline as to when I should begin applying for positions.” The 21-year-old says their discussions have also touched on life after graduation, with Sholler sharing her experiences. “I really enjoy getting together with her and building a friendship.”
Barnard Alumna Trustee Jyoti Menon says she often acts as a sounding board for her mentees, helping with questions about résumés, cover letters, and the interview process, and offering advice on how to create a network. “It has been wonderful,” says Menon, a senior manager at American Express. “People don’t often realize that mentors also have a lot to learn from students. Because my mentees this year and last year have been from China, I have been able to learn more about their background and culture.” Menon herself was born in Calcutta, India, and Hilary He says the two share meals and discuss their cultures. “Jyoti is really inspiring and full of life,” says the anthropology major. “Most of my internships have been in journalism and public relations, but Jyoti has encouraged me to pursue other opportunities,” adds He. “She always has answers to my questions and suggested a few books to read about how to be successful in relationship building in the professional realm. I see many good qualities in her that I would like to emulate.”
Julie Levine remembers the confusion she felt as a senior about her future career. Now a reading sepecialist for the Valley Stream Union Free School, District 30, she says that when she learned of the mentoring program from the Barnard website, she immediately volunteered. Now in her third year with the program, she finds working with the students to be rejuvenating. “Seeing their youthful enthusiasm for learning and the future is very exciting. I feel that I can bring real-world experience to these students.” Shamika October believes having Levine as a mentor is a perfect fit. “Julie majored in psychology and that is what I am doing,” she says. “She is in the education field which is something I’m also interested in.” The two are discussing what October’s next step should be after graduation. “I am not sure whether I should go directly to graduate school or work,” ponders the 21-year-old. “Julie has put me in contact with her first mentee who became a part of Teach For America, which is something I’m also considering.”
Alexandra Voss, who majored in economics, says she decided to mentor because she wanted to stay involved with Barnard and build meaningful relationships with students. “I met an alumna outside the program who became my mentor in my senior year and she instilled in me the idea that women need to network more,” which Voss says Barnard’s program helps them do. “I think a lot of young alumnae might feel they have nothing to bring to the table, but even if you are not far along in your career, there are things you can offer,” she says. A portfolio analyst at New Holland Capital, Voss can, for instance, help with interview techniques and apartment hunting. Mary Cosgrove already has a job waiting at IBM, so the pair’s focus is different from that of many of the other mentor-protégé pairs. “We have been talking about how to make a good first impression, dress appropriately, and handle conflicts,” says Voss. Cosgrove says she is grateful for the tips her mentor provides. “Workplace etiquette is entirely different than what I am used to, and I think I am worried about the transition,” confesses Cosgrove. “In school you can leave everything behind after the semester is over, but [IBM] is a place where I might work indefinitely.”
A founding member of the mentorship program, Will says, “I had so many amazing mentors throughout my career and working with these students to help them figure out their paths is just amazing.” As a board member, she created a mentor- training manual this year, contributing the writing, design, and production. She is also a Barnard Alumnae Admissions Representative. An English major who once envisioned getting a law degree, Will started Renaissance Management, Inc., in 2011, establishing a consulting and advisory services company that works with higher education and private industry. “I try to share time-management skills and the importance of work-life balance with the students,” she says. Will stays in touch with her mentees after they graduate, and brought one on as a freelancer at her company. Aviva Pratzer is a junior political science major from Toronto. She is exploring several career paths—marketing, advertising, consulting, and business. “Sandra has exposed me... to the different options,” she says. “We’ve discussed internships and how to look at companies that might appeal to me. And, we are getting to know one another....When I needed advice about what to cook for my friends she was there too.” In addition, two program events allowed Pratzer to meet other mentors in different careers and attend panels where she learned how people achieved success. “The program is amazing,” she says. “Having a female role model like Sandra has been very inspiring and lets me see that I can fulfill my dreams too.”
Victoria Cuellar never had a formal mentor, but says many people helped her along the way and she wants to do the same. “Many of my mentors were professors or advisors that were significantly older,” says Cuellar, a Barnard mentor for three years. She says it would have been great to have a mentor closer to her age. Now working in the capital-aggregation department at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which seeks to transform the lives of disadvantaged youth, Cuellar says she encourages her mentees to lead with their “guts” versus taking a “safe” job. Sophie Ellman-Golan is also interested in social justice work. “I feel really lucky to be paired with Victoria,”says Ellman-Golan, who is majoring in Africana studies and human rights. “She and I have a similar combination of idealism and pragmatism. We bonded very quickly. She has helped me get in touch with people I can speak with about my thesis,” says the 21-year-old. Ellman-Golan also says the two discuss potential jobs and are fast becoming friends. “The program provides a platform for making connections that you might not have an opportunity to make otherwise,” she says.—By Sherry Karabin