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An enthusiastic student with Marc Adler, MA ’83, MBA ’82 & BA ’79, former president of the UB Alumni Association, during a Hump Day Hangout session.
Mentoring program a success story for alumni and students alike
Story by Laurie A. Kaiser; photo by Gina Cali-Misterkiewicz, MA’05
Helping people has always come naturally to Elizabeth Caruso, BA ’10. Through UB internships and volunteer gigs, Caruso has worked with children with autism, troubled teens and developmentally disabled adults, and loved both the individuals and the opportunities.
But three years ago, the then 27-year-old experienced career-related struggles of her own—related to her career and profession—and she needed guidance. She found this assistance through UB alumni mentor Rita Andolina, MSW ’88 & BA ’80, who recently retired as the treatment team leader of the Family Care Program, Western New York Developmental Disability Services Office. Since the two connected, Andolina has been more than a mentor to Caruso, who plans to pursue a master’s in social work. Indeed, she has become a guiding force.
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“Without her support and pushing me to excel, I would not have obtained my degree,” says Caruso, who also interned under Andolina’s tutelage at the office, as well as performed fieldwork within the Family Care Program. “Rita just made the experience seem more as an enriching journey, so to speak, than a ‘degree requirement’ because of her enthusiasm and the wealth of knowledge that she had and continues to share with me. She is truly a role model to follow.”
Andolina is one of 560 UB alumni who serve on the university’s Mentor Network, a joint effort of the Office of Career Services and the UB Alumni Association. Representing a cross-section of fields, participating alumni help students navigate the sometimes murky waters of job-searching, skill development and networking.
While Mentor Network has been in place since 1991, UB Career Services is now strongly focused on growing the program. Arlene Kaukus, MBA ’87, who took the helm of Career Services one year ago, has a goal to broaden the relationship with other constituencies on campus, including alumni relations, and this is part of that effort.
“We are really taking a look at who we’re serving,” says Kaukus, who served as the president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County before joining UB. In this economic downturn, students and young graduates are not the only ones seeking advice; mid-career alums also have tapped into Mentor Network’s services while trying to reinvent themselves.
As for the mentors, “it isn’t only alumni who participate,” Kaukus says. “They can be community members or parents of students. Even if they are not graduates of UB, they want to support UB.”
For alumni, mentoring provides a natural way to give back and to stay engaged with the institution, says Jay Friedman, EdM ’00 & BA ’86, associate vice president for alumni relations. “No matter where they live or where they are in their careers, all it takes to participate is a phone and a desire to provide guidance.”
From the mentoring program to Career Conversations—a networking event with alumni held annually in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and New York City—students have myriad opportunities to make valuable face-to-face connections. Despite the proliferation of Internet job boards, this is a crucial step in launching a career, considering that an estimated 70 percent of jobs are never posted, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
In fact, the challenge is getting students to take advantage of the opportunities. “Too many students wait until they graduate and at that point, they may not realize the alumni association is at their disposal,” Friedman points out. “We understand that students are rightfully focused on academics, so we are ramping up our efforts dramatically to ensure that they recognize [these opportunities] exist for them.”
Angela Falk, a tenacious 20-year-old accounting major, is one who clearly understands the importance of networking. Last summer, Falk attended a Career Conversations event in downtown Buffalo armed with freshly printed resumes and the determination to talk with professionals in her chosen field. There she met certified public accountant Dan Tirone, BS ’81, a partner in the West Seneca, N.Y., bookkeeping firm MyBooks.
“I was dazzled by her,” Tirone says. “I went back to my office and said, ‘If we don’t hire her, we’ll end up working for her some day.’” Two months later, Falk started with MyBooks part time and has done everything from bookkeeping to income taxes, while carrying a full load of classes and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
“I’ve gotten a bunch of different experiences I wasn’t expecting, and it definitely sets a good foundation for any job in the accounting field,” Falk says, “whether I go public, private or even stay with this firm after graduation.”
Similarly, Molly Duggan, BA’10, landed an entry-level job in January with DK Publishing in New York City through alumni mentor Rachel Kempster, BA ’97, director of marketing and publicity for DK’s U.S. office.
But it didn’t happen right away. When Duggan first contacted Kempster, the mentor’s father was very ill and died months later. “I felt really bad that I had all this stuff going on and couldn’t meet with her [in person],” Kempster says. “But Molly had been very good about following up. She was persistent.”
When the two women did sit down for what Kempster calls a standard mentoring meeting, Kempster felt like Duggan would make a good fit for a job that had just opened up. “We got her resume to HR, and she emerged as the best candidate.”
Adrian Rangl, a junior finance major, also got a career jump through a UB connection. After considering becoming a financial adviser, he wanted to know exactly what one did. He got answers from Primerica agent Joseph Andrade, BS ’87, whom he met for coffee for the first time last January. After three hours of talking, Rangl says he knew he had found his mentor.
Likewise, Andrade was impressed with Rangl. He thought his questions were insightful, and Rangl had followed up with an e-mail thanking him for the meeting. “He was very professional,” says Andrade, noting that some students looking for advice don’t follow through after that initial contact. He helped Rangl set up as an independent contractor with Primerica, where he can sell life insurance and retirement plans even before he finishes school.
Whether students shadow a mentor for a day or intern for a semester, immersing themselves in a workplace “creates an opportunity for students to discover the nature of the work and to experience the business environment,” Kaukus says. “The student can then decide if it is right for them.”
Although landing a job or internship can result from a mentoring connection, it isn’t the norm. Helping Duggan land her job was a first for Kempster in her 10 years as a UB mentor. Primarily, she gives advice about the publishing field, along with sharing her thoughts on graduate school (she earned a master’s degree in literature from Brown University), and the benefits of working on the marketing side of publishing. Her most frequent piece of advice? “If you want to make a career as a novelist, have a backup plan,” Kempster says with a smile.
Joseph Bellanti, MBA ’94 & BA ’85, a technical project manager for Moog Inc. in Elma, N.Y., was one of the first graduates to join the alumni mentoring program. When UB contacted him about 15 years ago, he says he was eager to help. A couple of jobs and 50 mentees later, he still is. He gets many requests to review resumes, along with inquiries about engineering jobs and what to expect in those jobs.
“On my first job, I was terrified,” Bellanti recalls. “You are not thinking at the time that they will teach you what you need to know—but they do.”
Now he finds the mentoring experience to be rewarding on so many levels.
“If I’m able to explain what I’m doing and the student gives me feedback, it boosts my confidence,” Bellanti says. “By the same token, when the questions are harder, I realize that there is something I should check up on and not become too complacent.”
For her part, Kempster remembers how daunting the publishing world seemed to her when she was starting out. She didn’t know a soul in the industry and attributes getting her first position as a publicity assistant, a job she found advertised in The New York Times, to sheer luck. She reassures job-seekers that you don’t have to have an Ivy League degree to break into the publishing world, nor is it as “clubby” as some might believe.
Kempster’s advice is the kind of information students can’t glean from a class lecture or a textbook. It must come from a real person with real-world experience. Who better to provide that than a UB alum?
Laurie A. Kaiser is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.
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