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The Mentoring Connection

January 22, 2016
Gavin Engel and Michelle Delgadillo

Gavin Engel and Michelle Delgadillo

When Gavin Engel (B.A. ’97, sociology) attended NIU Spring Homecoming last year, he learned about the Student-Alumni Mentoring Program and thought it was a great way to give back to NIU and help undergraduates find their way.

He ended up getting more than he bargained for.

“I enjoyed the experience because I got something out of it as well,” said Engel, a high school counselor in West Chicago. “I was able to share my experiences and get back on campus.”

He decided to take a class on campus last spring for his own benefit and for time with his mentee, Michelle Delgadillo.

“Financial donations are great, but that’s easy – you just write a check. With this experience, you are giving back so much more – your time, effort and expertise,” said Engel, a resident of Wheaton, Ill.

The mentoring program “helped me grow personally in that I got to know someone who had gone through everything before and Gavin helped guide me through the tangled web that is college,” said Delgadillo, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

Professionally, it also helped her develop a network, she said, and Engel is a great source for references and recommendations. He’s already submitted recommendation letters to three graduate schools since she is pursuing a master’s degree in forensic anthropology.

The Stickney, Ill., resident also enjoyed the honesty that Engel provided to steer her in the right direction.

Mentors “don’t have a hidden agenda and they truly want what’s best for you,” Delgadillo said, “and they will do everything that they can to help you reach your end goal.”

Homecoming Tailgate 2015Her most memorable mentoring experience was spending time with Engel and his 3-year-old son at the NIU Homecoming tailgate. The relaxed atmosphere gave her a chance to talk about her senior year and life outside of school, she said.

Engel, who plans to mentor another student in the fall, said he could have benefited from mentoring when he was an undergraduate.

“I switched my major, and yes, having an adviser helped, but having a mentor is so much more,” he said. “You can use your mentor to network and ask questions, and it really helps you with that transition out of school and into a job. I think it puts the undergrad at ease by knowing that someone is looking out for them, besides their parents, and has a vested interest in their success.”

While other mentoring programs on campus allow students to get guidance from peers, the Student-Alumni Mentoring Program is an opportunity to meet someone who has experience in a particular field and to learn the ropes to reach career goals.

“The program is about coaching the students and having them gain confidence,” said Carolyn Straub, who manages the mentoring program on the alumni side.

“Mentors are a source of inspiration and help position the students in their careers,” Straub said. “In the process, they are connecting with the next generation, feeling good about making a difference in someone else’s life and reestablishing a relationship with NIU.”

To learn more about becoming a mentor or to fill out an application, visit