MS in Accounting Blog

From the Centennial Archives: Invaluable: Alumni Mentors Advise Students on the Career Path

Launched in 2015 by the McIntire Young Alumni Council (MYAC) in partnership with Commerce Career Services and Alumni Engagement, the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program represents many of the qualities that embody the greatness of the School and what remains essential to its continued advancement.

Alumni mentors Miles Jackson, Ryan Perry, Christina Polenta

Alumni mentors Miles Jackson, Ryan Perry, and Christina Polenta

This Centennial Year, we honor our past, present, and future. This article was originally published Jan. 20, 2021.

For 100 years, the McIntire School has been made stronger by the people who are committed to our ever-growing community of business learners and visionaries. Driven by a desire to use the power of commerce to effect positive change across the world, our alumni help to enact that transformation on Grounds and beyond by investing their time and care in current Commerce School students. In celebration of our Centennial, we recognize the work of our many dedicated mentors, who, year after year, share their knowledge and guidance with the passionate third-years, fourth-years, and graduate students who represent McIntire’s future success.

Think about some of the most important decisions you’ve made in your life. For many people seeking answers, you may recall that during critical moments, good advice can be hard to come by. This is especially true when it concerns pivotal choices such as figuring out how to best go about forging a career doing what interests you most.

For that very reason, many Commerce School students trying to map out those first critical steps of their careers have benefited greatly from the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program. Being paired with an established business professional who provides guidance and the wealth of their own experiences has proven instrumental to the success of many students planning a path from the Comm School to a career.

Launched in 2015 by the McIntire Young Alumni Council (MYAC) in partnership with Commerce Career Services and Alumni Engagement, the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program was spearheaded by Miles Jackson (McIntire ’16) and Tyler Saitta (McIntire ’14). The program represents many of the qualities that embody the greatness of the School and what remains essential to its continued advancement: an engaged and caring alumni community with a shared commitment to supporting students pursuing a degree in Commerce.

An Increasingly Positive Influence
Jackson, a Senior Associate with Ares Management, was a fourth-year student when the mentorship program began, but quickly returned to serve as a mentor shortly after graduating. From that point forward, he became more involved in developing mentorship opportunities.

“In 2018, I became a Co-Chair of the program, and worked to leverage my experience as a mentor to improve the structure and effectiveness of the program,” he says. “We grew the number of mentor-mentee pairings significantly, and improved our matching process to better serve students with unique backgrounds, such as international, transfer, and first-generation college students.”

McIntire mentorships have proven to be so overwhelmingly positive that the initiative was further expanded last year.

“We transitioned from MYAC’s young alumni focus to partner with the McIntire Advisory Board. This collaboration transformed into the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program, which gave us a much wider and deeper range of professional experience to include in our alumni roster,” Jackson explains.

Indeed, the program’s highly appreciated mentors now also include McIntire Alumni Trustees, Global Advisory Board members, as well as other select alumni volunteers. Their participation in advisory roles has served an even greater number of undergraduates, as well as graduate students from the M.S. in Commerce and M.S. in Accounting programs.

All told, a total of 152 Commerce students were mentored through the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program in 2020. The number represents the many strong bonds that have come to define the School’s tight-knit community, one bolstered by the generosity of alumni who give both their time and donations to the McIntire Annual Fund—the pool of unrestricted support that makes meaningful student-alumni partnerships such as these possible.

Mentees such as fourth-year Isabella Dillon (McIntire ’21) were grateful for the interactions: “I really appreciated how wonderful and helpful my mentor [Kamil Ahmed (McIntire ’15)] was. He was always willing to give me useful feedback and was willing to chat. I really found all of his advice so helpful.”

Third-year Jared Orr (McIntire ’22) enjoyed seeing the strength of a McIntire degree applied toward professional ends. “It definitely contextualized the education I’m currently receiving.”

Enduring Connections
Anne Afriyie, Assistant Director for Career Development, Commerce Career Services, says that many alumni enthusiastically reach out to her on their own, voicing a desire to assist students in whatever way possible; Afriyie and her office make the type of crucial connections that promote resilience, confidence, and a better understanding about how to meet their employment goals.

“This year, students in the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program have shared with us how profoundly their mentors have impacted their lives by helping them deal with failure, acting as a personal connection to an industry that seemed out of reach, and demonstrating what a McIntire degree can help accomplish in the real world. Mentoring allows our students to have access to invaluable insights and additional support, and provides the chance to take their learning outside of the classroom,” Afriyie says.

Those opportunities for practical learning also include time spent between semesters—and beyond.

In 2020, the program shifted to an earlier start than previous years, with its usual late August start moved to the beginning of June, allowing students to better prepare for earlier recruiting timelines. And though the newly tightened program timeline offers more clearly defined expectations for mentees, the general consensus is that many alumni and students often stay in touch past the end of their allotted time in the program, which officially ends with the final day of the fall semester.

“The program has been a rewarding way for me to stay involved with my school and build lasting relationships,” says alumni mentor Christina Polenta (McIntire ’09). Having been involved with the program since its inception when the current Director at Värde Partners served as MYAC Co-Chair, she has mentored more than a dozen students since joining and says that many of the connections enabled by the program have proven enduring. “I am still in touch with my first mentee from 2015!”

Ryan Perry (M.S. in Commerce ’18), a film producer with FRAMERITE and 180 Degrees, was a mentee as a student and returned to become a mentor himself, citing the power of his own experience in the program. “The McIntire Mentoring program helped me as a student, as it provided a comfortable environment to ask questions and learn about the job market. I stayed in touch with my mentor, Adam Parsell (A&S ’09, M.S. in Commerce ’10), long after graduation because what started as a great resource became a real friendship,” he says.

Noting that he gained so much from his own mentor, Perry was excited to become one himself, as the role also afforded him a hands-on route for giving back to McIntire. “I believe that the people within McIntire are second to none, so I’m honored to have the opportunity to pay it forward by mentoring such bright, engaged, and ambitious students because I believe that ethos aligns with the spirit of the School.”

Lasting Benefits
Jackson says that he has prioritized mentoring others for years, sharing advice while still seeking guidance and inspiration from more experienced people. “I have a handful of close mentors who make sure that I’m getting the exposure and experience that I need to grow professionally. I try to pay it forward by actively mentoring younger people whom I can support, and the McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program is one of my favorite avenues for doing that.”

Polenta says that mentorship not only allows alumni to give back, but it also maintains a bond with the Comm School, helping her to stay updated on recent events and hear firsthand what the student experience is like for current mentees.

“The program facilitates authentic interactions between students and alumni, providing students with the chance to receive candid, tailored feedback from alumni vested in their success. For alumni, it gives us the opportunity to engage with the McIntire School and see the tangible impact we’re making,” she says. “The McIntire Alumni Mentoring Program is an example of McIntire at its best—building and fostering relationships across multiple stakeholder groups in a way that benefits all parties.”

Ultimately, those relationships are what matters, says Afriyie. “For our students, one of the most lasting and important parts of being in the McIntire family, is just that—the McIntire family itself.”

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