Diana Meneses didn’t know what to do after she decided to become a medical social worker.
Meneses, a third-year sociology student, was at a loss for what classes to take; she knew few people in the field, and the counseling services on campus were not open during the gaps in her schedule.
“The counselors on campus were always busy, or they were really slow in responding to email,” she said. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I was supposed to do it.”
At a graduate fair at UCLA, Meneses found StudentMentor.org, a website created by former UCLA Bruins that aims to connect professionals with students to ease the transition from college to finding a career.
Within two days, Meneses had found a mentor on the website. Her mentor helped her find relevant classes and told her what a career in medical social work was like, she said.
Former UCLA electrical engineering student Ashkon Jafari co-founded the organization after he experienced the gap between graduation and making a career.
“When I decided to switch my major from electrical engineering to finance, I didn’t know what steps I needed to take,” Jafari said.
Only after asking his employer for advice did Jafari learn what he needed to do in school and in networking to get ahead in finance, he said.
“My mentor told me how some of the financial models being taught weren’t relevant to the field, and which ones I should focus on to get ahead,” he said.
The friendship Jafari formed with his mentor inspired him to create a way in which other college students could communicate with professionals in various fields, he said.
To accomplish this, StudentMentor.org uses social media tools such as Facebook and instant messaging that students already know how to use to create a counseling experience on their own time.
“We match mentors with students based on profiles both parties fill out,” Jafari said. “Students are able to read about the mentor’s background, current job and experience before deciding to interact with the mentor.”
After being connected with each other, the mentor and student can communicate over the phone, in person or by email and instant messaging, Jafari said.
Establishing relationships with people who are already connected to professional fields is crucial today in light of the economic situation in the United States, he said.
“We have had mentors who have requested resumes and applications from their students,” he said. “These people have networked within their respective fields to get to their level of success, and some students are able to get jobs because of these connections.”
StudentMentor.org is free and, since its inception in September, has more than 1,500 participants from more than 200 colleges and universities.
The organization benefits both mentors and mentees, said Arash Nasibi, chief information officer of StudentMentor.org and a former computer science student at UCLA.
Nasibi said along with college professors, mentors have experience in fields such as law, medicine and engineering, and benefit by having the first interactions with the newest generation in the field.