Not so long ago, Macey Warren was a Brian Lamb School of Communication upperclassman who felt uncertain about how to take her first professional steps.

“I was really nervous about how to message someone on LinkedIn and ask for their time or how to ask them about their role,” said Warren, who graduated in 2019 with a degree in public relations and advertising and a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation. “Navigating the waters like that by yourself, it’s difficult and it takes a lot of courage to do it.”

Having successfully navigated those waters and landed a position as assistant account executive with communications agency Sharp Think, Warren’s goal today is to help Purdue senior Nikita Clayton Robinson take those initial steps with confidence. Warren and Clayton Robinson are among 41 alumni-student pairings in the new Lamb School Mentor Program, which launched in fall 2020.

Since their introduction last August, the duo typically communicates by phone every other week, covering subjects like career goals, resume review, and interview preparation. Those conversations have helped Clayton Robinson get closer to goal of working for a public relations agency in Indianapolis.

“I truly believe that everything I’ve learned so far in the mentorship program are things I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” said Clayton Robinson, a senior from Lafayette who is majoring in marketing and minoring in communication. “College doesn’t really teach you the specifics of what a life as a working professional looks like, but the mentorship program has helped me adjust my expectations and prepare accordingly.”

Designed for seniors who are nearing graduation, the Lamb School program allows students to hear practical advice from communication graduates who share similar skills and interests. Thus far, the results have been exciting for graduates and soon-to-be graduates alike.

“The alumni have loved being able to connect back and see what the Lamb School has done. And I think for the seniors, it’s proving to be incredibly beneficial,” said Christi Eden, the Lamb School director of co-curricular engagement, who developed the program. “I know of at least four that have internships directly because of the program now. So, we’re seeing results, and hopefully it will just continue successfully.”

Amanda Garman echoed that sentiment after also launching a mentorship program in recent months through the College of Liberal Arts Career Center. As CLA director of career advancement, Garman encourages students across the college to begin working toward their career goals as soon after enrollment as possible.

For that reason, the Career Center program’s approach differs slightly from the Lamb School’s. Garman wants students to take advantage of mentorship opportunities early in their college careers.

“Let’s say there is a freshman student who is interested in pursuing a position in public relations. We make every effort to partner that student with one of our alumni who works in PR,” said Garman, who officially launched the program this semester with 16 alumni-student pairings. “If they spend five months together, we can expect one of two outcomes from that interaction: The student could walk away and say, ‘This experience has really reinforced that I want to be in PR. This is a great career path for me.’ Alternatively, that student may say, ‘You know what? Working in PR is not exactly what I thought it was, so I may need to pivot and look at other career paths.’

“To figure that out as a freshman is key,” she continued. “How many people graduate and go down this career path that they’ve had in mind for the last four, five, six years and then, once they’re in a role, they realize, ‘This isn’t exactly where my talents lie or my passions are?’ We’re trying to get ahead of that as early as the freshman year.”

Julie Dussliere
Among the alumni participants in the College of Liberal Arts Career Center’s mentorship program is Julie Dussliere, a 2012 Emerging Voice Award winner and chief of paralympics for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. (Photo courtesy of USOC)

That does not imply, however, that upperclassmen are unwelcome. Participant Maggie Walker expects to graduate in December in public relations and strategic communication, and she appreciates the feedback she receives from a mentor in the sports workforce: Julie Dussliere, chief of paralympics for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“My favorite part is just being able to get to know Julie and be able to have her as another set of eyes when I am trying to figure everything out,” Walker said.

Dussliere, meanwhile, said their partnership has been mutually beneficial, largely because both participants are engaged in the activity.

“Based on my experience thus far, I think the program has immense success potential,” said Dussliere, a 1994 graduate in Russian who minored in political science and English. “All mentorship relationships hinge on the time and effort that both the mentor and mentee bring to the table. When both are committed to the process, there is great opportunity for learning and support in both directions.”

Aside from the educational experience of the students involved, the programs have more similarities than differences. Both create outlets for students to gain much-needed insight from receptive alumni and, more importantly, they allow participants to expand their professional networks in fun, low-pressure environments.

“The No. 1 thing we see as a benefit for students is networking. Research shows that upwards of 80% of positions are filled through networking,” Garman said. “We also know just through simple observation and talking with our students that the idea of networking is so intimidating. We think this program really allows students to expand their network, but in a personal and approachable way.”

Eden pointed out that the networking benefits are not limited to students alone. For instance, a Slack channel popular among Lamb School alumni participants provided a welcome social outlet in the last year while most Americans were stuck at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The graduates’ unexpected free time benefited both the fledgling mentorship program and the Lamb School, in general, as participants sought additional ways to contribute.

“I’ve made so many really great connections, and now we’re starting to have some who are going to come in and talk to our pre-COM students about where you can go with COM,” said Eden, who also advises Purdue’s student-run public relations firm, Boiler Communication. “Another one is speaking at COM day, and another one joined the alumni consultant network I have for BoilerCom. We’re literally finding new ways for them to integrate into the school. It seems like once a week there’s a new idea. It’s going to turn out to be so great for our students.”

While helping students is the primary goal, of course, both programs also allow interested alumni to remain close to the academic programs that prepared them to become working professionals. Alumni maintain that connection with the added benefit of helping current Purdue students more effectively transition into the working world.

“It can be hard starting a career after graduation,” said mentor Jason Myles, a 2011 mass communication graduate and current news producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. “Those of us who are farther along the path should try to make it a little easier for our fellow Boilermakers.”

Slack responses
Lamb School Mentor Program leader Christi Eden shared a screenshot of alumni responses to a question she posed on their Slack channel concerning new hobbies they picked up over the last year. (Image courtesy of Christi Eden)

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