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The college of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Michigan alone has over 225,000+ alums. That means that over 225,000+ former LSA students have been there and done that and were once in your shoes. That also means that there’s over 225,000+ potential mentors for LSA students to reach out to regarding just about anything: ask questions about potential career paths, get resume feedback, or learn about firsthand perspectives on an industry, role or company. Take it from Jamie Monville, the Hub’s Mentorship Program Manager:
“At the Hub, we think about mentorship in terms of career development,” Jamie explains. “But the bottom line is that mentorship is a relationship that you build with someone who’s a step ahead of you; whether it's someone a year older who has the internship you want to get this upcoming summer, or an established professional in your industry of interest.”
After years of leading the Hub’s mentorship team and overseeing the launch of LSA Connect, the college’s career networking and mentoring platform, Jamie can name dozens of reasons why students turn to mentors. But she offers a deeper explanation of exactly how mentorship works, and what draws students to it.
It offers students freedom to explore and try things on for size,” Jamie explains.
When second-year LSA student Jennifer Weir signed up for LSA Connect, she wasn’t looking for long-term mentorship. She was precise and intentional about the alums she sought out and was focused on making connections with subject matter experts that could offer her support in answering the one burning question: should she make the switch to Computer Science?
Jennifer sent a message to an alum on LSA Connect, and almost instantly received a response.
“I messaged her and asked, “could I please have like 30 minutes of your time to talk?” The alum responded, “Actually, let's make it 45.”
Mariah Breakey is a 2013 LSA alum who graduated from U-M with a degree in Computer Science, and who now works as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. Jennifer had never connected with an alum before, but she assumed that turning to someone with an understanding of Michigan’s CS program and the tech industry seemed like her best shot.
“I was a little intimidated because I never used the [LSA Connect] platform before, but I was fueled by this passion of “I need to find out now if this is what I want to switch my major to,” Jennifer explains. “So that helped me get going. And also, the Hub has a lot of resources for how to make that initial connection with an alum that helped me start a conversation.”
Using the Hub’s guides and resources, Jennifer began crafting her message to Mariah.
“I was looking at some of those documents, but I was also just trying to be really genuine,” Jennifer explains. “I told Mariah, “I genuinely just want to talk to you because I really need to find out if this is what I want to do.”
Jamie emphasizes that that initial leap needed from students to engage with alums is often the most intimidating part of the mentorship process, but she encourages students to trust in the stability and dedication of the alum network.
“The hardest part is starting,” Jamie affirms. “As someone who has also been networking-phobic, especially as a student, what I've learned is you just do it once, do it twice, and gather the courage. You take a risk. And I've found over and over again, and students have found over and over again, that they're just surprised and overwhelmed by the generosity of the alums' time, effort and engagement.”
Jennifer took that leap of faith and approached Mariah with her dilemma: she had taken EECS 183, an introductory computer science course, during the fall of her sophomore year and loved it, but could she really change her entire major just because she connected with one class?
“I was kind of having a career crisis,” Jennifer explains. “I took a computer science class and loved the material. But I asked myself, “is it too crazy to completely jump in?” So I went on to LSA Connect, hoping to meet with a mentor that had a similar experience to mine, and I was really hoping that I would find someone that could talk me through the process of their CS degree and their career. More importantly, I wanted someone to help me understand — is the reason why I'm liking this class just because I like the material or is it because I want to go the whole way with it?”
Mariah’s responses helped put Jennifer at ease. Jennifer emerged from that interaction understanding a poignant message: alums are there for me.
I would message asking, “Is there a time available maybe next week or the week after?” And they would respond, “Let's talk tomorrow.” It was a really positive experience to feel like I was their priority.”
Jennifer couldn’t believe she had stumbled upon a kindred spirit, one who had the career Jennifer was now dreaming about.
“I met with Mariah, and she had the exact same experience with the same class here at Michigan,” Jennifer explains, laughing. “She took EECS 183, fell in love with computer science, and switched from her previous degree.”
In a small survey of student users, the Hub asked why they had joined LSA Connect. Answers varied, but some of the most salient drivers included wanting to discover internship opportunities, find community, advance their career paths, expand networks, and form long-term relationships with alums. Still, no two answers were the same; every student respondent joined the platform looking for something specific to support them on their career journey.
Jamie identifies this flexibility as one of the assets of LSA Connect—students can join the platform looking for something specific like Jennifer, or cultivate a relationship with mentors as a way of career exploration or community building.
“I see a couple of themes for people that are seeking mentorship through LSA connect,” Jamie affirms. “A lot of students will take a very exploratory approach, talking to as many people as possible and learning from alums to kind of puzzle together what opportunities feel tangible. And then we have students who are maybe a bit further around the career path, who go into a conversation more focused on the how rather than the what. Like, “I see that you do this, how did you get there?” But regardless of what goals students come in with, they often discover opportunities, mentorship or otherwise, quite different from what they came in looking for.”
In Jennifer’s case, Jamie’s words ring true. Even though she wasn’t looking for it, Jennifer’s connection with Mariah pushed her to an internship opportunity.
“That conversation with Mariah definitely helped me in future conversations,” Jennifer emphasizes.
Mariah also helped Jennifer in the internship search process in the more technical sense, assuring her that even as a recently established CS student she had the credentials to qualify for a CS internship.
“I was assuming if I switched to the major I wouldn’t be qualified enough for an internship in the upcoming summer,” Jennifer explains. “But she said, “Yes, you absolutely are, they expect you to have a good foundation but Michigan definitely offers you that in these intro classes.” And she sent me all these links for other internships out there, and said “Go apply, like you have nothing to lose. I did the same thing in undergrad and got an internship.”
So Jennifer applied and interviewed, and quickly secured a tech internship in Palmdale, California for the upcoming summer.
After emerging from her LSA Connect experience as a CS major with a secured summer internship, Jennifer is a firm advocate for other students to “take the leap.”
“Just go do it, try it out,” Jennifer encourages. “Because even if you have a few bad conversations, you're learning from those bad conversations, and that just prepares you for interviews down the road. You have nothing, and so much to gain.”
Jennifer’s personal experience is represented in the numbers: over 1,500 LSA students are now using the platform, a number which is nearly matched by the site’s alum population of over 1200. That’s nearly a one-to-one ratio. True to Jennifer’s encounter, alums are also eager to engage with students, shooting the platform’s response rate up to 75%.
As LSA Connect champion and an LSA alum, Jamie echoes Jennifer’s sentiments, encouraging students to take that final step:
“LSA Connect makes the LSA network visible,” Jamie affirms.