The NIU Department of Political Science is launching two new mentoring efforts.
One reaches out to students before they ever arrive on campus; the other features prominent alumni among its mentors, including a congresswoman.
The new “Diplomat Program” is perhaps the most unique to campus. Beginning this week, many of the department’s majors will begin serving as peer mentors assigned to high school and community college students who gain admission to NIU and are interested in studying political science.
Students often gain admission to several universities before making their final enrollment decisions.
“We need to convince young people that NIU political science is a great place to study, and who better to do that than the students who love the education they’re getting,” said Matthew Streb, political science chair.
The political science department was already reaching out to prospective students, but the Diplomat Program takes those efforts to a new level.
“We were one of the few departments that would have our students call prospects,” Streb says. “That was better than nothing, but for every 10 calls, our students would leave nine voicemail messages. When they did reach prospective students, those students weren’t prepared to ask questions because it was a cold call.”
In developing the Diplomat Program, Streb’s department worked closely with the NIU Office of Undergraduate Admissions, which is touting the effort at recruitment events. The admissions office also provides Streb’s department with weekly notification of admitted students with an interest in political science.
The political science diplomats will schedule times to talk with admitted students and answer their questions. If a prospect visits campus, the diplomat will be available to meet with the student and parents, provide a department tour and perhaps even take the student along to a class. Should the prospective student choose to attend NIU, then they will already have access to a peer mentor.
“As hip and cool as I think we are in admissions, we are all adults,” says Crystal Garvey, coordinator of university admissions systems. “We think what peers have to say about their education will resonate even more with students who are interested in NIU.”
Garvey adds that the admissions office has high hopes for the Diplomat Program.
“We’re hoping that being paired with one of these diplomats will increase the likelihood of a student committing to NIU,” she says. “It’s a good example of how academic departments can help in recruitment.”
The political science department also has tapped into a number of high-profile alumni willing to provide their time and talents to a new mentoring program.
It pairs 33 juniors and seniors with mentors who are successful alumni or friends of the department, including NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips, Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly and Jeff Yordon, CEO of Sagent Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and benefactor of NIU’s Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center.
“Our alumni have really stepped up,” Streb says.
“In most cases, the students are seeking advice on developing their careers after graduation,” he adds. “We try to match student and mentor interests. So, for example, we have law alums mentoring students interested in going to law school. Our D.C. alums have been great in their willingness to develop relationships with students who want to work in our nation’s capital. We even have an FBI agent mentoring a student who wants to work for the law enforcement agency.”
Alumna Kymberly Messersmith, managing director of state government affairs for KPMG, one of the largest professional services firms in the world, is mentoring NIU junior Rachel Gorsuch, who hopes to become a lobbyist.
It’s a perfect fit. Messersmith, who works out of her Washington, D.C. office, has extensive lobbying experience, both on the ground and as a strategist and manager of a staff of lobbyists.
Messersmith hopes to help her mentee in such areas as job interviewing, resume writing and planning of career development.
“I benefited from having an informal mentor during my senior year at NIU, so I want to pay it back,” Messersmith says. “Having a mentor helped me to refine my verbal and organizational skills. And it also helped me to think about goals beyond the first two years out of college.”
Messersmith and Gorsuch will touch base via calls, email and Skype and meet in person late in the semester. The formal program will last for a full school year, but the hope is that students and mentors will develop a lasting relationship.
“It seems like a great opportunity to meet someone knowledgeable in the field I want to get into in,” Gorsuch says. “It’s also a great way to get contacts out in the real world.”