Alumni Mentoring: 3 Keys to Success

Sarah Waitz (@sraezler) is a senior information resource specialist for CASE.

I attended the Young Alumni and Student Engagement conference April 4-6 in Chicago. It was a stellar conference. The faculty brought knowledge, passion and energy to content that covered everything from cross-campus partnerships to design thinking.

My favorite session was a deep dive into developing an alumni mentoring program with Annie White, director of engagement and career advancement at Northwestern University.

Northwestern started the Northwestern Network Mentorship Program in January 2016. The launch happened in two phases: first, in January, Northwestern focused on recruiting alumni from three pilot industries; second, in February, it focused on reaching out to student participants. As of April 18, 2016, 588 alumni and 342 students have joined the program and there are 81 matched pairs. The Northwestern Network Mentorship Program features both student/alumni and alumni/alumni matches and is supported by the automated platform Xinspire.

Alumni Training_Mentoring Webinar Slides

According to White, the benefits of an alumni mentoring program can include:

  • Increasing meaningful engagement for both alumni and students,
  • Facilitating career connections and professional development within your community, and
  • Continuing to add value to the student and alumni experience.

White outlined three steps to take if you’re launching a mentoring program.

Step One: Benchmark. She suggested a few institutions with successful programs:

The CASE InfoCenter also has a resource collection on alumni student mentoring, which includes links to alumni mentoring program samples. CASE members can browse through these links to review a variety of different mentoring programs.

Step Two: Build a strategic plan. A strategic plan is necessary. It serves to organize your thoughts, gain buy-in from colleagues and volunteers, organize any request you may make for resources and help you avoid mission creep. Review and revise as necessary.

Step Three: Create and implement. Find your software solution and document approval from stakeholders at each step of the program—from setting up the login process, to building the forms, to communications for launching your program. White recommended this list of platforms as a place to start. The implementation involves developing your pilot program and defining what success means. Northwestern defined success as achieving 300 complete profiles by the end of fiscal year—a goal it has already surpassed.

White closed her presentation by suggesting these best practices:

  • Focus on your goals.
  • Conduct plenty of tests. User testing is your friend.
  • Ask your software developer for everything you think you need or want.
  • Vet everything through key offices on your campus (including legal, student affairs and data teams) to ensure that the program protects all users and their information.

If you have a mentoring program, what other best practices do you have to share?


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