By Elizabeth Exline
At University of Phoenix (UOPX), this awareness led to the Alumni Mentor Program pilot, which paired 62 doctoral alumni with 62 doctoral students. The objectives centered on the power of connectivity, explains Dean of Operations for the College of Doctoral Studies John Ramirez, MBA. Not only would mentors be able to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the University, they could help shape future generations, as well.
“Oftentimes, when students start to work on their dissertation, they start to feel isolated,” Ramirez explains.
“They’re overwhelmed. [They wonder] why are they going through this. Why is it so difficult? … [But] by having alum who went through it and could say, ‘I've been there. I felt the same way, and here are some best practices,’ would assist with the [doctoral student] retention and progression.”
Jennifer Carriere can attest to that. As a doctoral alumna, she wanted to participate in the program as a way to give back. “My mentee was incredible — very driven! She wanted to know if how she felt was ‘normal.’ The stress is normal in a doctoral program, and she seemed to crave connection,” Carriere recalls.
Connection, as it turns out, was just the beginning. Here’s how it all played out.
Ramirez was also surprised by how fruitful the mentor-mentee connection could be. Participants routinely communicated more frequently than the required once-a-month check-in. Even today, Ramirez estimates 90% of the mentors and mentees who completed the program voluntarily stay in touch.
Carriere, for example, wanted to serve as a sounding board for her mentee. “I hope my mentee realized I was willing to listen,” she says. “We talked about not only the nuts and bolts of the program but also the reason for undertaking a doctoral program. I think the benefit came from recognizing you must take the journey alone, but you do not have to be lonely or isolated.”
Most interesting, however, was how mentors who had different industry or education experience than their mentees still had something to offer. In fact, those 20% of participants who were not matched according to program found themselves with plenty to share anyway.
“It was like, ‘Wait a minute, there are things we can share,’” Ramirez says. “Philosophies about working with others or leadership or managing were relevant regardless of industry, that [being in the same industry] really didn’t matter.
“It was a really exciting pilot,” he adds.