A Community of Connection and Guidance
Bronco engineering undergraduates now have even more opportunities to seek advice, guidance, and insight throughout their entire college experience thanks to the School of Engineering’s Mentor Collective Program that began last year. Knowing mentoring relationships are difficult to establish, the School of Engineering is partnering with the Mentor Collective organization to develop a successful mentorship program. The Mentor Collective organization has worked with universities nationwide on programs that prove fulfilling for both mentors and mentees alike. Our goal for this program is to facilitate meaningful relationships for students with mentors who are invested in their success, who have the experience in their situations at Santa Clara, and who obtain the knowledge to help guide the students through personal, academic, and professional endeavors.
We seek to obtain this goal by offering two Mentor Collective programs: the First-Year Experience (FYE) and the Career Program. To get things going, we started the Career Program for second-year and transfer students last fall. Within the first month, we faced an unusual problem: the amount of alumni wanting to offer mentorship exceeded the amount of second-year and transfer student sign ups. This problem was nothing but an opportunity - the program quickly expanded to include third-year students, and by the start of this second year of the program, was open to all engineering undergraduates. The program allows participating students to tap into our extensive engineering alumni network, matching student mentees with alumni mentors based on academic and professional interests.
We opened the FYE program along with the Career Program this fall. Where the Career Program focuses on matching alumni/ae to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, the FYE program facilitates first-year students with connections to their upper division undergraduate peer mentors. This is a role that our second-year students will typically assume going forward; however, due to Covid protocols, most of our current second-year students also had little or no on-campus experience; most are still familiarizing themselves with the SCU environment just as the first-year students are. As a result the program reached out to our class of 2021 engineers and in Bronco fashion, many of our recent graduating class stepped up to fill the FYE mentor roles. Nonetheless, the temporary pivot for this year’s FYE program is enabling valuable connections that help ease our first-year engineering students' transition into college life. For both our programs, mentors are matched with mentees based on personal profiles and algorithms that identify similarities in academic experience, as well as factoring in student interests and alumni professional experiences for the Career Program. Uniquely, the final determination for every match is made only after an expert from the Mentor Collective organization evaluates and advocates for the match.
Having expert evaluation and avocation makes an impact. In its first year, participants in our Career Program demonstrated higher levels of engagement within their mentoring relationships when compared to a cohort of similar mentoring programs at other universities throughout the country. Aside from getting to know each other, the topics of conversation range from coursework insights, resume building and interviewing tips, research opportunities, work-life balance, and even connecting specific coursework to relevant professional roles. However, these connections are personal as much as they are professional. Insights revealed mentors and mentees discussed dealing with mental health struggles, as well as dealing with the difficulties of finding a job, and the effects of Covid-19.
As our Mentor Collective program embarks on year two, it is proving to be very advantageous for students. An upper division student in the Career Program notes, “My mentor has been really supportive of my internship journey and helped a lot with getting my resume set up and also with getting prepared for interviews. I'm grateful for his advice as well as his words of encouragement.” This program does not exclusively benefit students, though; alumni often reflect on their experiences, are thankful for the support they received, and want to pay it forward. The Mentor Collective provides them this opportunity, as one mentor from last year explains: "I am volunteering as a mentor because I had many, many people support me and guide me throughout my time at SCU. So, I'd love to help and give back in any way I can.”
Our engineering community at Santa Clara continues to grow as Bronco alumni/ae pass along wisdom and knowledge, help ease the college terrain, and enhance the overall experience for current Santa Clara engineering students. Partnering with the Mentor Collective to deploy this program provides Bronco engineers with the space to both seek guidance and to give guidance, to build and strengthen community, and to grow into a connected network of engineers - with competence, conscience, and compassion who will, together, build a more just, humane, and sustainable world.