After Arizona State University student Raj Kanaiyo Thakkar was injured in his first semester of college during a soccer game, he wasn’t able to get around easily to connect to resources and classmates in those pivotal first few weeks of school. But he was able to stay on track, despite a partial knee replacement, thanks to the guidance he received from a mentor, an MBA student he was matched with through the ASU Mentor Network.
“It was really helpful for me to have someone who could guide me through that time,” said Thakkar, now a sophomore.
His mentor helped him zero in on his major path. At the time, he was a business exploratory major and didn’t know what he wanted to concentrate on. Thakkar decided he wanted to study sustainability and logistics management because his family owns automobile dealerships, so it would be helpful to understand the logistics of the operation.
“She guided me through it and helped me out. She showed me where resources were and how to plan out the semester,” he said.
Education and career paths are built on skills and experience but also on relationships and coaching. Having someone to put in a good word, guide you through a process or give advice about your path can be an invaluable leg up.
That’s why in fall 2018 ASU Career and Professional Development Services launched the ASU Mentor Network. The initiative harnesses the professional expertise of the Sun Devil community to offer chances for networking and mentorship to current students and alumni. It was built with the intention of giving students and alumni a platform to make powerful professional connections within the Sun Devil community.
Experiences like Thakkar’s can be pivotal to educational persistence and also career success. Research has shown that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted and more likely to be enrolled in college.
“Our big goal is to have every Sun Devil in the ASU Mentor Network experience one or more meaningful connections that impact their career trajectory,” said Kimberly Scatton, assistant director of ASU Career and Professional Development Services.
Through the ASU Mentor Network, alumni and professionals fill out a profile and set availability preferences. Potential mentees then browse profiles and make a request for a connection. Students and professionals can connect via email, video, through group chats, events and more. Scatton said it’s a growth opportunity for the mentors as well as the mentees, since teaching others solidifies your own leadership and communication skills.
ASU alumna Tara Boucher, who graduated from ASU with a degree in engineering and management technology, said the impact is felt on both sides of the mentoring relationship. She signed up to be a mentor after establishing her career in technology working with the Starbucks corporate office, Visa and USAA because she loves the ASU Polytechnic campus and loves working with students.
“The feeling of giving back is great,” she said. Boucher advises other alumni to sign up to mentor because it’s an opportunity they won’t want to miss. “They might learn something about themselves,” she said.
Boucher, who lives in San Antonio, connects with students and alumni remotely. Her passion for mentorship started when she was working for the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle. Boucher was one of the first ASU Online mentors for Starbucks partners who were pursuing a degree at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.
Boucher said her own career has benefitted from mentorship and that young women especially tend to not know their own potential, so she enjoys encouraging mentees to get on-the-job experience and persist beyond rejection. Boucher said it’s important for people to have someone to bounce ideas off of, especially since young people might not know the boundaries of how much they should share with coworkers.
“It doesn’t always seem appropriate at work to open up and seek advice, so it’s great to be able to offer that to someone,” she said.
Zhengyu Wei, who graduated from ASU in May 2019 with her degree in business analytics, is Boucher’s mentee through the ASU Mentor Network. Wei, who is working as a data service engineer for Microsoft, said the experience has been invaluable.
“It is great that you have a professional mentor who works in the industry and can introduce you to others. Meeting more people means you will have more of a chance to get in the door,” said Wei.
Wei said she especially appreciates the opportunities ASU provides to network in her field, have resume help and get referrals because she was an international student and didn’t have a network built in the United States.
Wei, who now works in the Seattle area, said the connection she made through the ASU Mentor Network goes beyond graduation and even beyond professional development.
“Long-term mentorship will become a friendship. Not only for careers but life,” said Wei. Boucher and Wei enjoyed connecting in person at a recent ASU Alumni and Career and Professional Development Services meetup in Seattle.
Boucher said that she encourages other Sun Devils to get involved as a professional development opportunity and a way to shake things up.
“I highly encourage people to get out of their desk environment, to get out of their day-to-day routine and try something new … and make that thing be mentoring,” said Boucher.
Mentees such as Thakkar say all ASU students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this resource.
“They’re there for you. …They’ll help you through it and guide you. They know what they’re doing because they’ve been through it,” said Thakkar.
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