After months of communicating by email, students who are studying organizational behavior in the NIU College of Business finally got to meet face-to-face with mentors who helped guide them through the class.
It was difficult to say who was more excited for the opportunity.
On one side of the equation, students were bubbling with gratitude for the opportunity to receive tips on everything from how to find a mentor in the work world and the importance of networking to how women can succeed in male-dominated fields. On the other side, the mentors were thrilled at the opportunity to share their wisdom.
In all, 20 members of the Chicago-area business community, most of them NIU alumni, made the trip to DeKalb on a foggy December morning to participate. All of them volunteered to provide one-on-one mentoring to students in the class, responding to a minimum of four required student inquiries over the course of the semester.
For many, however, those conversations were more frequent. In one case, a mentor actually came to campus to help a student with a group project. The course instructor monitors the interaction and the quality of those interactions comprises 10 percent of the grade.
In addition to giving students a nudge toward building a professional network, the class also compels them to conduct businesslike correspondence and, in some cases, learn how to tactfully prod a mentor who gets distracted by other responsibilities.
The “e-mentoring” component was built into the class four years ago, but the Dec. 3 event was the first time that mentors were actually invited to campus to meet students in person.
“We hoped to attract enough to put together a panel discussion,” said Amanda Ferguson, an assistant professor of management. “When a third of them said that they would come out for the class, we were amazed.”
Those who made the trip said that they wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to give back to the university that helped launch or enhance their careers.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for NIU,” said Geoff McHale, of ComScore, who earned his undergraduate degree in business from NIU in 1995 and an MBA in 2005. Like many of the mentors who made it to the class, he has mentored several students in the class over the last few years.
Another common theme among the mentors was that they firmly believed that they got as much out of the experience as the students.
“I get more out of this than I could ever give,” said Rob Rossi, who has spent 26 years working for Honeywell. “Every question I get from a student makes me ponder why I do what I do, and makes me ask if I am really going in the right direction.”
Asked if other alumni should take advantage of opportunities, the answer was unanimous: absolutely.
“It all goes back to leadership,” one mentor said. “By building others up, I do better myself. It’s a way to pay back all those who have helped me in the past. And for the students, it’s an opportunity to learn how to network, and the sooner they learn that, the further they will go in life.”
As for students, when asked to highlight key takeaways from the day. they mentioned job interviewing tips, how to learn from even a negative job review and how to find new mentors when they land that job.