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State of the Union
In August 2020, the college’s career networking and mentoring platform, LSA Connect, launched to students and alums. Now four months later, the platform boasts nearly 750 student members and almost 350 active LSA alums.
With a response rate of 74%, mentees (students seeking mentoring) are able to make meaningful and immediate connections with alums (mentors), and students aren’t hesitating to take advantage of the unprecedented access the platform provides, evidenced in the 2900+ messages exchanged so far.
One of the students quick to take advantage of the platform is Kirsten Andrews, a first-year LSA student intending to study Communication and Media.
“I’ve learned a lot just from talking to alums,” Kirsten reflects. “LSA Connect is a really great way to connect. I’ve asked very direct questions and I’ve gotten really good responses.”
Andrews spent her first semester at UM joining student run organizations and exploring her major and career options, drawing upon every resource she could find to get a jump start on planning for her future. When she discovered LSA Connect, she leaped on the opportunity to build career connections with not only excitement, but intention.
“If you want to look into a specific job then you should connect with someone who’s actually doing that job, that’s the best way to learn about it,” Kirsten explains. “My strategy is to reach out to people who have jobs that I would want to do in the future and tailor my questions specifically to their job experience. From that I’ve gotten a lot of helpful advice and feedback.”
That led Kirsten to a connection who emphasized the current competitiveness of the job market, encouraging her to begin networking and researching potential companies early in her time at UM.
“That was a huge wake up call,” Kirsten affirms. “[Being aware] that I need to consider this throughout my next four years, that the market is getting more competitive and if I want to work at specific companies, I need to do my research.”
Something for Everyone
As someone who is exploring a future career in arts management — a “more niche” field with “a smaller spectrum of [mentors]” available — senior Lucy Freeman often has difficulty finding alums with careers relevant to her interests. However, the platform’s powerful algorithm allowed Lucy to find Heather, an LSA alum and freelancer in the performing arts industry.
“My conversation with Heather was enlightening,” Lucy says. “She walked me through her entire career and she was also able to answer my questions about how useful certain skill sets are. [Performing arts] programs are really different based on what they focus on so [it’s important] to look at what skills are stressed.”
Using LSA Connect’s video call feature, Lucy was able to get tangible advice to immediately apply to her post graduate plans, critical to her as a senior. Based on her experience, her “reason-to-believe” in LSA Connect is its specificity: wherever students are in their professional development journey — first-year or senior, searching for an internship or job — there is an alum there to support them.
How can students find these mentors?
Like Lucy, hopeful mentees can utilize the robust search function to explore alum profiles. Students can search by location, graduating major, industry expertise, company or organization, help topics, gender identity, racial/ethnic identity, and so much more.
“If you want to find someone for an informational interview you can look at their position or experience, but if you want help doing an interview or looking at your resumé that’s also helpful, because you can see [which alums] are willing and able to do that with you,” Lucy clarifies. “It’s super helpful to pick someone’s brain that’s really been through it.”
Lucy is referring to an alum’s profile page: alums have the ability to indicate to students which help topics — both industry-focused and stages of the professional development journey — they’d like to provide expertise on. There’s also a nifty status marker that tells students if an alum is currently online or not.
Before LSA Connect, Lucy spent years searching for meaningful connections through platforms like Handshake and LinkedIn, emailing and reaching out to alums where she could. But her results were inconsistent, and she, like all students, faced challenges with cold calling.
“The number of LinkedIn messages or emails you have to send to people you have no connection with to get an actual informational interview is pretty high,” Lucy explains. “[Cold calling] is more anxiety-inducing because everyone has a LinkedIn profile but you’re not sure why they have it. Some people are joining LinkedIn specifically to engage in [mentorship], but others are using it for their own purposes and are less interested in that conversational position.”
Enter LSA Connect, a platform where Lucy could be certain that the alums she was reaching out to were eager to engage with students.
“You can be confident,” Lucy encourages students. “I messaged one person [on LSA Connect] and right away they got back to me. Because this is a new platform, a smaller platform and a more catered — LSA-specific — platform, the alum contacts on [LSA Connect] are excited to be there. They want to be in this position.”
A Message from the Mentors
Don’t just take Lucy’s word for it -- hear it from the alums themselves.
LSA alum Max Brawer works as a Program Manager at Coinbase, a digital currency exchange platform based in northern California, who encourages students not to hesitate when reaching out to potential mentors.
“Don’t hold back when it comes to making those connections,” Max reassures students. “It never hurts to reach out or initiate the conversation.”
For Max, the benefits of LSA Connect are evident when he thinks back to his own undergraduate journey before graduating from LSA in 2017.
“In the absence of an official platform strictly for Michigan [UM], students had to leverage their personal networks,” Max recalls. “And those can vary pretty drastically from family to family. LSA Connect makes it more equitable across the board for students, and draws people away from reliance on that variable.”
For Max, LSA Connect not only levels the playing field for students, it provides a way to connect and remain engaged with the Michigan community.
“LSA Connect is a targeted professional network while [platforms like] LinkedIn are more general,” Max says. “It’s always advantageous to make those networks more targeted because you’re starting from a place of commonality and you both have those Ann Arbor roots, so that's a connection or shared experience right off the bat.”
2010 Computer Science alum — and current Vice President of Avant-garde Health — Aditya Govil agrees, and like Max, his own student experiences are a central motivator for the support he provides students now.
“When I think back to when I was a student, I had very few candid discussions with individuals who were working in companies that were of interest to me,” Aditya affirms. “I think that was something I was missing at Michigan, I couldn’t find enough avenues to help me think through what I wanted from life and connect with people to get diverse perspectives.”
Aditya remembers attending recruiting fairs as a means to connecting with professionals in the industries he was interested in, but points out the difficulty of connecting in a high-pressure setting.
“Sometimes I just wanted the down low [on a position or industry] in a very candid fashion, rather than get pitched to,” Aditya says. “That’s important because ultimately you’re going to make decisions that have long term implications, and you want to have the best information possible to feed your desires, rather than the mentality of ‘I have to get a job.’”
Providing support to students now, Aditya focuses on facilitating conversations with students from a “professional and personal growth standpoint,” a dual approach he found effective in his personal journey.
Aditya encourages students to reach out and connect with him and other alums, but he also emphasizes the value of fewer, longer term mentor-mentee relationships, rather than a plethora of surface level connections.
“You have to be thoughtful about your options,” Aditya advises. “Start with what you want to do and then create the focus in connecting with people who can help you achieve that. [Alums] ultimately want to help, but unless we know what it is you’re looking for we can’t support you.”
These are the connections where Aditya feels he is able to support students, referring to one of his recent connections who came in with “a clear ask,” and recently landed a Software Engineering internship at Facebook.
Aditya recommends that students “dig deeper on the education side” and present their mentor with concrete examples from experiences that have clicked with them in the past, giving alums the background they need to be an effective resource for students.
Still, he and Max emphasize that alums are here to help, and encourage students to reach out.
“It’s important to remember that alums have an innate desire to help and give back,” Max reminds students. “Whether it's a question or an ask or whatever else, start the dialogue somewhere.”
Eager to start making powerful connections? Click here to join the LSA Connect community.
If you are a LSA student or alum interested in sharing your experience with LSA Connect for a chance to be highlighted by the LSA Opportunity Hub, please reach out to Mara Logan at firstname.lastname@example.org.