Students have many opportunities to network and connect with professionals who share the same interests at UCLA, as evident by the various mentoring programs and clubs on campus. One such mentoring program on campus is the Alumni Mentor Program and it is unique as it involves both students and alumni.
The Alumni Mentor Program was established 13 years ago and is a student-run program. According to Nolan Gunsolley, a student director for the program and third-year mechanical engineering student, the student committee and student directors are responsible for the oversight of the program and organization of events.
Any UCLA student and alumnus is eligible for the program and in order to sign up, students and alumni need to create a UCLA ONE account. Through UCLA ONE, students are able to view the database of alumni who are willing to be mentors. There are features on the website that allow students to filter through mentors based on location, major and career. Students then send a mentorship request to an alumnus of their choice who then has the option to accept the request. This will officially make them a mentor-mentee pair in the program.
The Alumni Mentor Program is a great way for students to learn more about careers they are interested in by connecting with an alumnus who is currently in that field.
Gunsolley said the official goal of the program is to allow students to connect and network with industry professionals. The unofficial goal is to prepare students for the future by giving them one-on-one experience with someone they can learn from.
Through the Alumni Mentor Program, students form a more personal – instead of a strictly business – relationship with an alumni. Often times alumni mentors have gone through similar experiences at UCLA, such as having taken the same classes and having gone through the quarter system.
Randy Molina, a third-year political science student, has been part of the program since his second year at UCLA. Molina’s alumni mentor, Jennifer Ferro, was also a political science student and is now the president of KCRW, a NPR-affiliated radio station based in Santa Monica.
Molina decided to request her to be his mentor after he saw her speak at the Alumni Mentor Program info session last year. Under Ferro’s mentorship, Molina has attended several political events and fundraisers.
Having an alumni mentor also provides students with professional guidance and moral support in their endeavors. Molina said that he regularly keeps his mentor updated on the internships he applies for as well as any career-related events and workshops he attends. He said his mentor is always there to provide him with guidance and encouragement as well as reassurance when he does not get something he applied for.
Joe Rich, a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, has also been a part of the program since last year. Rich’s mentor was a lawyer and through the Alumni Mentor Program, Rich said he realized that he had second thoughts about becoming a lawyer.
“Talking with people on the phone or in person really gives you a better understanding of whether that path is for you, and I was able to find out that that path was not for me,” said Rich.
Rich’s new mentor he paired with this year is a fourth-year urology resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Rich chose his mentor because he had the same major as Rich and also participated in some of the clubs that Rich is a part of. Since Rich’s mentor is conducting research at UCLA, Rich plans to observe his mentor’s lab environment.
While the program does not require much commitment from participants, Gunsolley said, mentor and mentee pairs are encouraged to communicate at least once a month, either in person or through digital platforms.
He added the amount of time and effort someone is willing to invest in this mentor-mentee relationship determines how much one gets out of it.
“After you get your alumni mentor, (the program) puts on events, so it’s easier to connect, but honestly … you get what you put into it,” Molina said. “It’s a matter of you putting in the effort to connect.”
The Alumni Mentor Program is a way for students to learn more about the careers that they are interested in and, in some cases, get first-hand experience through their mentors. At the very least, students and alumni will be able to build new relationships and gain some new insight and perspectives.