Mentorship: It's a two-way street

Freshly minted W. P. Carey MBA graduate Cristina Torres vividly remembers the fateful email that popped up one day last year on her computer screen. It was as if it came from out of the blue.

Torres had been searching through the school’s career center for a program that would develop her talent. She wanted to get connected with someone in digital marketing, a mentor who might help guide her path to a fulfilling future career. The branding and digital marketer was curious about the caliber of those in the W. P. Carey School of Business Professional Mentorship Program and signed up online, then had several interviews with prospective matches.

Enter Matt Michalowski (BS Finance ’09), founder and president of a Los Angeles-based marketing agency catering to the entertainment industry. “I am not sure who connected us or assigned him to me,” writes Torres, in an email to school officials, “but they were spot on ... since he works in digital marketing and that is my main area of interest and passion.”

Michalowski, whose multimillion-dollar PXL company primarily is a marketer for movie studios like 21st Century Fox, says he had little choice to enlist after a personal request from W. P. Carey Dean Amy Hillman at a luncheon in Tempe marking his achievements and those of other alumni.

“She suggested that I might want to participate,” recalls Michalowski, 31, a three-time recipient of the Sun Devil 100 award. “When the dean of your alma mater says it would be a great idea — you have to say yes.”

Besides, Michalowski says, he had been looking for a way to give back to the school and make the ground less rocky for those who follow him.

Lessons in reality

His first match was Torres, and both say they hit it off from the start with the pair initially exchanging information through a computer platform set up by the school to help facilitate and provide structure for the program. And then they were off.

“Our interests aligned perfectly,” Torres says. “It really was a great way to advance my knowledge in digital marketing in the entertainment industry. I couldn’t think of a better way to go.”

Going in, Michalowski says he knew he could at least help her with what to expect with the interview process as a result of having hired some 20 people since founding his company in 2012. “I know what makes a good resume from an employer’s perspective, so I know what they need to hear and how to best position yourself,” he says. “That’s something I wanted to provide guidance about.”

Michalowski says he was intent on imparting some life lessons culled from his years as a consultant and a business owner, offering a healthy dose of reality to the soon-to-be grad school student.

A lot of students in her position are going through a roller coaster of optimism and cynicism – they have certain expectations and they get disappointed at times. They need someone to tell them this is all part of the process, and to help them adjust how they position themselves to be successful at landing the job they want. 

With Michalowski in California and Torres in Arizona, the two began with a roughly 45-minute call to be followed by several others discussing real-time, real-life issues to be found in the everyday work world. Then the two met face-to-face, continuing the mentee-mentor relationship over Starbucks nonfat lattes on the Dean’s Patio in front of the Business Administration C-Wing building on the Tempe campus.

During the mentorship, Michalowski says he liked to give Torres short homework assignments. For example, he had her identify and examine three to five job postings on LinkedIn for a digital strategist to see what would be required and how she would position herself for these openings.

The telephone calls and meeting were followed by a trip to California, where Michalowski orchestrated a whirlwind tour of his 17-person company that has its headquarters on the sixth floor of a downtown Los Angeles building that sits about a half-mile from City Hall.

Torres was able to meet with top company managers, learning their roles and responsibilities and expectations. Then it was off to meet with a smattering of his high-powered contacts, including a tour of a movie studio and lunch with people involved in the advertising agency for high-tech giant Apple.

She says the trip was invaluable both in terms of advancing her knowledge about the field and providing the contacts she could not have duplicated at this stage in her budding career. “A lot of times, everything is based on who you know and not what you know,” Torres says. “I was able to see, hands-on, what these people do and develop and solidify my network in what I consider my dream city.”

Michalowski says he could not agree more about the importance of networking, although he cautions that the payoff might not be immediate. “You really never know when it’s going to help,” he says. “Rarely do you meet somebody who has something for you right now, but I tried to stress that by meeting someone and making that connection can only help you sometime down the road.”

Making the most of mentorship

Torres says one of the keys to getting the most out of the program is setting clear goals and objectives from the outset, so the mentor can best help the individual involved. It also helps to come to the program with an open mind, willing to take in new ideas and perspectives.

The mentorship program that brought the two together was started by Dean Hillman in 2014, who thought the idea would be a great fit for one of the nation’s largest business schools. Startup officials looked at several such programs nationwide before settling on a model similar to one in place at the University of Colorado-Boulder and have tweaked the offering along the way.

About 100 students and 150 mentors took part in the program’s inaugural year, but school officials say the numbers quickly escalated. Now, roughly 1,500 mentees and mentors participate each academic year. To qualify, individuals must be W. P. Carey students and have at least a 3.0-grade point average to participate.

“For students, it’s given them a way to connect with professionals they would not have met otherwise and helped them refine their professional aspirations,” says Jennifer Shick, who helped found and run the program.

I tell the students that this is not about getting an internship or a job, it’s about learning how to be a professional from a professional.

Shick, assistant director of student engagement at the school, also says there is a considerable amount to be gained by those already making their way in the world outside of the university. “It’s brought alumni back to the school and given them something to do and offered a way to reconnect with their alma mater,” she says.

Shick envisions the program as a way to provide a continuous pipeline for mentorship so that the student being mentored today becomes a mentor to others in the future.

For Torres, the program was an important one in her continuing education in school and her career that she says needs to grow. She graduated in May and now works in global marketing for the corporate development team at GoDaddy, one of the world’s biggest internet hosting and website registration companies.

While Torres is not involved in the entertainment industry, she still says the experience was well worth it. “This is a hidden gem that needs to be marketed to everyone at the school so people know it exists.”

Other mentorship opportunities

For W. P. Carey first-year students and transfer students that are looking for a peer-to-peer mentorship program (i.e. student-to-student), they are encouraged to use Connectors to access business student mentors. Connectors mentors are undergraduate business students of all majors as well as MBA graduate students. And if you think mentoring incoming first-year students as an undergraduate or graduate student sounds super fun, definitely check it out. The W. P. Carey School of Business Professional Mentorship Program matches professional mentors exclusively with business student mentees.

Then there's Arizona State University's revamped and expanded online network that drives powerful professional connections within the Sun Devil community. The ASU Mentor Network gives students access to an online and in-person network of diverse mentors. It also offers a variety of opportunities that allow alumni to continue sharing their experience and real-world knowledge with students, ranging from various informal connections to more traditional mentoring relationships.

By David Schwartz

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