Mentorship Program Connects Students and Alums

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For many college students and recent alumni, the college experience means uncertainty, doubt, confusion. Even those who aren’t undeclared may not be sure of what they want to pursue as a career, and the world that awaits them beyond university may be daunting.

USF’s newly-created mentorship program, EdgeOnCollege, seeks to put these doubts to rest with a website that helps students network with alumni—mentors—who are now in the work force.

The mentorship program kicked off with a launch party in McLaren, on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Several USF students turned out to witness the demonstrations of the new website and, hopefully, connect with future mentors.

Freshman Evan Vaughan, new to the College of Arts and Sciences, attended the party briefly before leaving for class, and said he was “very excited” about it.

“I am glad to see that there is this type of program to help students with networking, internships, and such,” he said. “While some schools focus on the immediate future and experience of business students, USF helps the Arts and Sciences, also. I hope this program will help guide me towards the career that is best for me.”

The mentorship program isn’t just for current college students. Kate Wong, who graduated from USF in May 2009, attended the launch party in hopes of meeting a mentor.

“I felt like I’m being so overwhelmed by the work environment that I seem to have lost my guidelines toward my goal,” she said. “I wanted to meet professionals to keep me motivated and inspired to reach my goals.”

At the event, she spoke to USF alumnus Francis Kong, who now works in the medical industry, and who was one of the founders of EdgeOnCollege. “He was extremely friendly and gave me advice right away,” she said.

Kong spoke at the launch party, where he presented his website, and recounted the experiences that inspired his attitude towards mentorship.

One was his relationship with his professor, Dr. Mary Jane Niles, who was a mentor as well as a “dear friend” of Kong’s.

One story in particular stood out to him as he looked back on his years at USF.

“I was super stressed out over a test that was about to be given the next day,” Kong recalled. He was studying in a lab, and had laid his head down on the table to rest, when he heard a noise in front of him. Looking up, Kong saw a brown paper bag, which held a pint of ice cream and a bottle of Snapple.

“I looked outside the lab and saw Dr. Niles walking down the hall, turning around and smiling back at me,” said Kong. “She just said, ‘Don’t worry about the test, Francis; you’ll do fine.’”

And the next day, he said, Niles was proven right.

“But it wasn’t just because I studied hard, it was more because someone who I admired and respected very much took the time out  to do a small act of kindness to emphasize her faith in me. It was that kind of faith and kindness that inspired me to be that kind of mentor when I was ready to give back.”

The creation of EdgeOnCollege was one of the ways in which Kong worked towards this goal.

While serving as a mentor to various schools and organizations, Kong noticed that many of the mentorship programs were short-lived rather than sustainable.

“Many would start off strong and then die off or fizzle out. Some would get off the ground, but never really reach a level where they could really become a viable program. Some of the best programs would come to a complete stop if one key person had to leave the organization,” he said.

Because of this, Kong sought to start a program that “could essentially run itself; one that would require very little maintenance.”

Unlike other programs, where a third-party pairs students with mentors based on what this third party believes would be a good match, Kong said, “we believe the student is the best person to decide what they want.”

The website facilitates this by allowing students and mentors to create profiles describing their interests and career goals. Students can then search for mentors with similar expertise and goals and request their mentorship.

Kong suggested that students take advantage of this program if at all possible. “It’s real world experience, it has the potential to open up powerful networks, [and] it’s free,” he said. “The knowledge of mentors in an untapped well of power.”

However, Kong warned against taking this resource for granted, and said that mentorship is a privilege, not a right.

“They are here to help you because they want to. Most of them only want one thing back in return: your appreciation. Don’t forget to tell them ‘Thank you’ and say ‘Hi’ from time to time, even if you don’t need their help,” he said. “And I guess a pint of ice cream and Snapple never hurts either.”

Students can register for the mentorship program at http://web.usfca.edu/as_mentorship/

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