Caroline Smith and Kate O'Hara
MBA student Caroline Smith (left) looked to UF MBA alumna Kate O'Hara for advice as Smith completed her summer internship at Pfizer.

UF MBA student creates mentoring program to connect current students with alumni

Nicole Howe

Nicole Howe

By Nicole Howe, MBA ’20

I’m definitely not a traditional candidate when you think about students in an MBA program. As a career switcher coming from the non-profit sector, at first, I struggled with the transition into the 2-year Full-Time UF MBA program. I felt stressed, and like I often do, I reached out to a few mentors in my life for advice. Those conversations were energizing – my mentors provided me with guidance and encouragement. That support, along with the great on-campus career resources and the amazing student community at UF, helped me feel more confident and successful in the MBA program. So, when I had the chance to lead the Women in Business Club last year, I wanted to try to help share opportunities for mentoring with my fellow classmates.

Most of us in the two-year program have the opportunity to do a summer internship between our first and second year in the MBA program. It’s a great experience, however it can also be challenging and isolating – but it’s also a time that our fellow UF MBA alumni know well. I wanted to leverage that knowledge and help make people’s internship easier, so I worked with staff and alumni to pitch a summer internship mentoring project.

After some thorough planning, we recruited a few willing guinea pigs and launched the pilot program with a cohort of six students and six alumni. Each team participated in three distance-mentoring sessions – one at the beginning, middle and end of the student’s internship. During the program students called, video-conferenced, or met in person with their specially selected alumni mentor. The conversations were loosely structured. Students could share their struggles and vent with their alumni mentor or just chat about their experiences and celebrate their successes!

The alumni truly made this program great. They went above and beyond to share their time, insight and advice with current students. One student shared that they really appreciated, “Having the opportunity to be transparent about fears or concerns with someone who has been in my shoes” they noted it was great, “receiving very candid advice and perspective” from their mentor. Another student mentioned that it helped, “getting a different perspective on what makes a successful internship and career.”

I was also happy to hear that the mentors felt like they were benefiting from the program too – one mentor shared, “I really connected with my mentee and I feel like I was able to help him.” One mentor mentioned that they were even able to get advice from their mentee on how to be a good intern supervisor.

The experience managing this pilot program was invaluable and it would not have been possible without the amazing support of the UF MBA and Alumni Affairs staff – Janin Menendez, Meghan Blake and Katharine Burks. They were truly my advisors, advocates and partners throughout the process.

I learned a lot managing the pilot program, including what to build on and what to improve to make it better in the future. This year I’m handing the initiative off to the new UF MBA Women in Business President. She is excited to continue to develop the program and hopes to connect even more students with alumni mentors. I’m excited to see it evolve and grow. I hope that one day I’ll get to be the alumni they call to be a mentor!