A few weeks before Webster University students began the 2013 fall semester, Alumni Office Development Officer Billy Ratz wrote an email to Webster University alumni. Ratz told them about the opportunity to mentor current Webster students. Ratz asked those who were interested to send him an application to participate.
The following day, Ratz began receiving applications, and plenty of them.
“I had over 100 applications,” Ratz said. “The next day I had 200. The alumni were extremely excited.”
On April 15, Webster completed the six-month pilot run of the Mentoring Program to great success, Ratz said.
Accounting major Taylor Snead said she was happy with her experience with the Mentoring Program. She said the program gave her the chance to earn an internship with Edward Jones Investments with some help from her mentor, Jamie Hess of Edward Jones.
“I’m really glad I got the opportunity to do the internship at (Edward) Jones, and I wouldn’t have even been able to apply if I hadn’t been in the mentor program,” Snead said.
The participating mentors also enjoyed the opportunity to help students.
“I sent out a survey to the alumni, and a lot of feedback is very positive,” Ratz said. “They want to do it again, and they said they would tell their friends about it. It was a very positive experience for the alums.”
Relationships with mentors
Jobs or internships were not the only things a mentee could expect to have during their time with their mentor. They could also develop a personal relationship like Senior Public Relations (PR) Major Amanda Karas had with her mentor, Gina March.
“I feel like she’s my aunt,” Karas said. “She took me under her wing; she was friendly and open to what I had to say. She wasn’t concerned with herself – she was concerned with helping me with my future.”
Karas said March, vice president of special events for the Kirkwood-Des Peres Chamber of Commerce, helped her gain connections at March’s events. But connections were not the only thing the mentor offered her mentee.
“What she has done most for me is giving me real-world advice,” Karas said. “Since I want to get into special events (coordinating), she gave me a hands-on look on everything from planning to implementing an event.”
Ratz said the program is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors of any major on the Webster Groves campus. To be able to participate in the program, students must have a 3.0 GPA.
“The reason we had the GPA requirement is because studies come first,” Ratz said. “Hopefully the fact that (there) is a 3.0 (GPA requirement), it will inspire students to get their GPA up so they can get into the program.”
Idea for students, by students
Ratz said the idea of the program was presented by students in a Delegates’ Agenda meeting during the fall 2012 semester.
“(The Mentoring Program) was one of the top five things they wanted to talk about with the (Delegate’s Agenda),” Ratz said. “So, President (Elizabeth) Stroble put together a task force in the spring of 2013 to create this program.”
Ratz said the task force consisted of himself, members of alumni development programs, members of Student Affairs and one Academic Affairs representative. He began to spread the word about the program throughout campus.
Although Ratz received a large response from alumni, the response from students totaled 32 applicants, which “was expected,” Ratz said.
“It doesn’t surprise me because it’s the first year,” Ratz said.
Because he is in charge of the entire program, Ratz limited the number of participants to 30 students paired with 30 mentors. Through meetings with each student, Ratz began to pair each student to a mentor who had experience in the field in which the student was interested.
Karas heard about the program when Ratz spoke to her professional development class.
“(The class) wanted to do it right away because we all wanted a job after college, and having a mentor really helps with that,” Karas said.
A different kind of education
Once they get into the program, Karas and fellow Senior PR Major Elena Marroquin both said students receive a different kind of education from mentors that they might not be able to receive in the classroom. Karas said having a mentor was beneficial to her because her mentor gave her examples of what being in the special events field would look like.
Marroquin said Webster professors do have the knowledge and the experience to give students advice about what they can expect once they graduate – but mentors are of benefit to students because the mentors are “going through those experiences now.”
“I think mentors can give you a dose of the real world that you might need, that you haven’t experienced (yet),” Marroquin said.
Ratz said in the future he hopes to have the Mentoring Program grow in size to 50 student applicants being paired with 50 mentors. He also said he eventually wants to extend the program to freshmen and graduate students so that more students have the chance to be influenced by a mentor.
“Any time a student can take the opportunity to meet someone in a field that they want to get into, a student should jump at that,” Ratz said. “Of course your grades and your college experience are important, but that networking piece always sets you over the top.”