Networking can get a bad rap. But two Wharton programs are trying to leverage its positive potential through building mentorship between undergrads and other students and alumni.
Juniors and seniors in the Wharton School can apply to participate in GUIDE, a mentorship program that matches current MBA students with undergraduate mentees. GUIDE is a large program, matching 455 undergraduate students and 380 MBA students this year. Wharton also has a similar program available for sophomore students: the Sophomore Alumni Mentorship Program, which matches students with Wharton alumni.
While the primary benefit from a mentoring relationship may seem to go to the mentee, Wharton Director of Student Life Lee Kramer said the mentors gain from the program as well.
“From the alumni standpoint, they get to stay connected to the school. I think as an alum you want to give back somehow,” Kramer said. “And being able to give back to a current student is really meaningful.”
Ideally, Kramer said, the mentorship would be a “win-win” for both the mentor and the mentee.
“Both parties learn something about themselves during the process,” Kramer said. “For the student, they gain really great insight from both the alums and the MBA students, and I think the more insight that they gain, the better equipped the students will be to make the best choices for themselves.”
Although SAMP is meant to provide guidance, some students treat it as a way to make connections.
Wharton Alumni Relations Council Co-Chair and Wharton senior Madeline Su said some alumni mentors initially expressed dissatisfaction with the mentor-mentee relationship.
“The first year we did it, we had a lot of alumni telling us that students were basically asking [them] for referrals and such things,” Su said.
“You see oh, you get a Wharton alumni mentor! And that sounds really jazzy and cool, but people ended up reaching out to these mentors asking for jobs, ultimately,” she said. “And we wanted to take full value of what mentors had to offer. Which is life advice — talking about your courses, talking about your activities, all these other elements to the relationship that often people forego or don’t quite recognize.”
The team overseeing the GUIDE program had similar concerns as well. GUIDE’s president, Wharton junior Emily He, explained how the organizers tried to ensure that students actually utilized their mentors effectively through training and outreach.
“One of the [important] things is discussing your goals and what you hope to get out of the relationship beyond ‘can you connect me to this person?’” she said. “We emphasize that it’s meant to be a lifelong relationship, not an instrumental thing.”
SAMP has also instituted policies to clarify to both mentors and mentees that the relationship is meant to provide advice and guidance, not an opportunity to network.
“We have a couple of info sessions that first talk to the sophomore about what the program entails and… what it means to be an effective mentee and have an effective mentor,” Su said. Students are required to attend these info sessions in order to apply to the program.
Both Su and He said that they thought the new policies had been effective in increasing the number of students who were using the programs in order to build a genuine relationship, beyond just asking for jobs or introductions. In recent years, participants on both sides of the programs have expressed satisfaction, with many mentors returning in following years or even asking for additional students to mentor.
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