It’s a feeling many college seniors know too well: You’ve attended your classes, studied hard, cheered on your favorite teams, tapped the requisite kegs, passed your exams, and earned your diploma. Now what?
Many of us found out the hard way that employers aren’t exactly lining up to give us the keys to the executive washroom. Thus began the dreaded job search, with its awkward networking, resulting in unpleasant necktie- or hosiery-squeezed interview discussions about where you see yourself in five years or what kind of tree you would be if you were, in fact, a tree.
For Bellarmine students, there is now a better way. An innovative mentoring program initiated by some creative alumni has caught fire. The program pairs Bellarmine sophomores, juniors and seniors with volunteer alumni mentors who are working in their fields of study. The students and alums break the ice at an event in Frazier Hall each spring and come together at least twice more for formal career advice and networking. Many establish a permanent bond.
“The program started in 2010-11 as an experiment with 25 business students,” said alumni director Peter Kremer. “It’s grown into a school-wide program that matched 238 students with alumni mentors last spring. We hosted three events in 2015 to foster the relationships. We also gave them many other resources and opportunities to meet and develop professional connections. Many of them planned job-shadowing days, introduced their students to key coworkers, reviewed résumés, and offered interview help.”
It’s easy to see how that kind of networking opens doors for students who might be nervous about life outside the college bubble. “Networking in professional life is so important,” said Joe Weingart ’02 MBA. “It’s another life lesson Bellarmine can offer.”
Mr. Weingart, a former president of the Alumni Board of Directors, was one of the program’s creators. He, Mr. Kremer and then-board member David Mahan ’93 researched and discussed the idea at an alumni retreat and launched the pilot project with students in the Rubel School of Business.
“Pat Carver’s internship class in the business school was a natural place to start,” he said. When the program proved popular with business students and alums, the group expanded it to the Lansing School of Nursing. “Mary Pike in the nursing program was very enthusiastic,” said Mr. Weingardt. The program has grown steadily ever since and now regularly fills Frazier Hall to capacity with the steady hum of careers being incubated.
“Many students are uncomfortable in a forced, business-like environment, speaking to adults,” said Mr. Weingardt. “They’re more comfortable texting on the phone than speaking face to face. Having a conversation with an adult who’s not their parent—and isn’t trying to be their parent—makes it easier for them.
“It’s a life skill you need to learn. Anyone who’s successful knows you don’t get to that place individually. This program is teaching a skill that isn’t written down on paper—it’s something you have to experience. It’s about forcing communication and getting you out of your comfort zone.”
Mr. Wiengardt was quick to point out that the alumni mentors benefit from the program as much as the students do. “Sharing your talents and resources is part of being human,” he said. “To me, it’s the core of the liberal arts, Catholic, faith-based education—Robert Bellarmine was a Jesuit saint—and this ties to those ideas of service. When you graduate from Bellarmine you’re part of that community for life. I love coming to campus. I love giving back. I like being around the university.”
Nick Holmes, an HR analyst with Humana, was a student participant in the program in 2010-11 and was so impressed he signed on to become a mentor himself once he joined the professional world. Mr. Holmes, who holds a business degree and an MBA from Bellarmine, said the program really pays off for students.
“I got experience interviewing and got my résumé tweaked a little bit and I even got to get into the network that my mentor had already established in the Louisville area,” he said. “I had the opportunity to meet upper management at Brown-Forman and Churchill Downs and I would never have received that without my mentor. I was eager to help Bellarmine students have that same experience I did to get their careers off on the right foot.”
Mr. Holmes mentioned one potential benefit of the program that might not be immediately obvious: This year’s student could easily become next year’s professional contact. “It’s always important to extend your professional network, and you never know if it’s going to be a student who’s going to be valuable in your network in the future,” he said. “It’s also great to meet other Bellarmine alumni who are eager to help.”
He should know. He married one. Kelsey Love Holmes ’11, a nurse practitioner at Norton Cancer Institute, is also a mentor in the program. The couple met as freshmen at Bellarmine and got married in April.
Jim Welp ’81 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mentors wanted: If you live in the Louisville area and are interested in sharing your career wisdom by volunteering as a mentor, please contact Peter Kremer at email@example.com and include your name, graduation year, employer and title. You’ll be matched with a student and asked to attend three events next spring.