Pathways Connects Students and Alumni

Pathways is an alumni-student mentoring program that launched in Sept. 2013 after four years of collaboration between the Career Center, Alumni and Parent Programs and Information Technology offices.

The mission of Pathways is to connect students with alumni mentors through a structured framework and to encourage critical and reflective thinking about academic, professional and life goals for both students and alumni.

Through this mutually beneficial engagement, students have the opportunity to gain perspective on their fields of interest, develop insight about the Amherst experience and potentially foster a long-term relationship from which they can gain invaluable assets. In other words, students will have someone older and more experienced to talk to about pretty much anything.

This isn’t anything entirely new. We already have plenty of opportunities, the majority of which we do not take advantage of, to talk to those who have useful information and advice to offer.

However, Pathways is the first platform to formalize connections between students and alumni. It is an easier, more innovative, and more effective way of incentivizing students to further take responsibility for their learning by engaging with alumni mentors. It also eliminates some of the intimidation and obstacles involved in a student’s networking effort.

In a way, it is almost refreshing; we can talk to people who have graduated from Amherst and are currently, in a very much real way, doing real things in the “real world.” It is also reassuring to know that the mentor of yours, having graduated from Amherst, just like you will in due time, has a reasonably interesting and lucrative job.

Despite its promising start and admirable missions, Pathways can’t be guaranteed to provide all participants with a life-changing experience. After all, it is a new initiative, which has just gotten back the first round of reviews and feedback from last semester, and the alumni mentors are not vetted in any way. This might be of concern, since it is possible that we might end up with an inexperienced and relatively unenthusiastic mentor. I know some people who haven’t even heard back from theirs.

Personally, I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, especially since we are given the freedom to choose our own mentors after reviewing their profiles online. In addition, we are not stuck with one mentor permanently. Pathways functions on a cyclical basis that allows students to request a new mentor for each term, twice a year. Of course, there is a bit of luck involved, but installing a filtering system for the mentors based on a set rubric in an attempt to, say, ensure higher quality mentorship, might undermine the accessibility and the diversity that make this program unique. Ultimately, it is up to the students to try to make the best out of this opportunity.

And we should. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t, besides laziness. The difficult part — the part where you register, make a profile and request a mentor — takes about an hour or two, maybe more if you’re bent on finding the perfect mentor.

After that, if the mentor accepts your request, it’s the fun part where you actually get to know your mentor. Quite possibly, and hopefully, the relationship will prove to be long-lasting and mutually beneficial. If not, you get another try in the next term.

According to a representative from the Alumni and Parent Programs, the survey conducted recently after the conclusion of the fall term showed that both mentors and mentees generally reported strong satisfaction with Pathways and said they would recommend it to others.

70 percent of mentors and 48 percent of mentees have responded to the survey, and those responses will be used to further consider ways to communicate the benefits of the program and to improve its quality for all participants.

The evaluations were predominantly positive, with both the mentors and mentees expressing that Pathways has proven to be enriching and constructive in many ways.

From what I have heard from others, the mentor-mentee interactions mainly consisted of emails, phone calls, and, if feasible, meeting in person. They were typically not so exciting or mind-blowing, but were moderately pleasant and beneficial.

A friend of mine majoring in physics found a mentor, an ’03 grad and also a physics major, with whom he could talk about academic careers and shared interests. Though they were both pleasant people, he felt that the interactions were somewhat formal and mechanical, and that the mentorship was not as nurturing as he had expected it to be.

A different friend of mine, interested in finance and consulting, found a mentor working in those fields and discussed internships and career options. During family weekend, he got to spend time with the mentor and his kids, and he plans to continue the mentorship outside of Pathways.

A third friend of mine, passionate about business and finance, found a mentor who had recently graduated as a triple-major and talked to him constantly about his work and internships. The mentor’s mother happened to be my friend’s counselor from high school, and they plan on continuing their interaction outside of Pathways.

Needless to say, there is a wide range of experiences, and, like most human interactions, the experience depends on the parties involved.

My mentor was a recent graduate currently working in New York City, and after numerous emails and phone calls, we met up for lunch in the Plaza Hotel over Thanksgiving break.

Over the past few months, I have definitely learned a lot, from the stories about his time at Amherst, from his academic and professional advice and from our casual conversations. He keeps me updated on his accomplishments at work, and I keep him updated on my own development.

Through Pathways, I have found a long-term mentor whom I can rely on for support and advice, and I encourage everyone, especially those who have not given it a try, to make a profile and request a mentor. The deadline for the current open-enrollment is Feb. 14.