In 2016, SWAG To College launched the Young Professionals Program to supplement the High School Mentor program, as it is crucial to not only help students gain admission to colleges, but also to ensure college students receive career guidance while they are in college.
Currently, only 9% of first-generation college students graduate from college, largely because they lack a support system and self-efficacy. SWAG To College aims to solve this problem by providing our college students with young professional mentors in their prospective career fields. These mentors come from similar backgrounds to the college students and have professions that align with the majors and career interests of their mentees. The young professional mentors support their college mentees in transitioning from college to the workforce. In addition to providing guidance to their respective mentee, the young professionals are expected to listen to and nurture their mentees’ ideas and future ambitions.
What Mentorship Looks Like
We match young professionals with college mentees based on shared career interests, geographic location, same university, gender, and long-term goals. Young professionals and college mentees contacted one another an average of two times per month predominantly via phone call and text. Conversations between the young professionals and college mentees covered topics including school work, extracurricular activities, family, summer ambitions, and general life advice. During times of high stress for the mentee (finals week, upcoming midterms), young professionals noted that communication would dip. This is not an issue of concern with the professional mentors when told of the upcoming stressor in advance. Furthermore, mentors and mentees are expected to complete bimonthly surveys on the progress of their relationship with one another.
In addition to supporting their college mentee’s transition from college to the workforce, the young professional also provides important organizational and life advice to their mentee. These pieces of advice include how to increase productivity, where to find internships, how to cultivate relationships with influential people, and how to make the most of the college experience.
Mentor Survey Results
[Seventy-six percent] (76%) of our current young professional mentors would like to retain their roles as mentors. Of the 24% of mentors who no longer want to be mentors, “fell out of contact” and “never ended up connecting” were the most common reasons they decided to no longer be mentors.
Almost every mentor who connected with their mentee talked about classes and extracurricular activities. The second most frequent topics mentors and mentees talked about was life advice and personal life. In addition to providing life skills, mentors who had older mentees demonstrated an eagerness to help with post-college preparations such as applying for graduate school.
There were seven young professionals who either fell out of contact with or never met their mentee. To avoid this problem in the future, SWAG To College is developing resources that are discussed more in depth in the “Recommendations” portion of this report. This graph illustrates that the most frequent reason young professionals decided they would not like to remain mentors was losing contact with their mentee closely followed by a lack of program structure. To avoid this problem in the future, SWAG To College is developing resources that are discussed further in depth in the “Recommendations” portion of this report.
[Young Professionals have a] diverse educational backgrounds.... SWAG To College has an abundance of diverse individuals, from lawyers to performers, who are ready to guide a prospective mentee.
Mentor Findings in Detail
At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, SWAG To College surveyed 25 young professional mentors. Some of our key findings were:
- Of the 26 young professionals who responded to the survey, seven or 24% said they would not want to remain mentors.
- Of the seven that no longer want to be mentors, three of them included in their feedback for the program reasons along the lines of better structure and better reminders for the mentors and mentees to stay in contact.
- Of the seven that no longer want to be mentors, the average time they committed to their mentee was one interaction per month by phone, email, facetime, or other technological medium.
- Of all 25 surveyed, “classes,” “extracurriculars,” and “(future) plans” were the most common topics for their conversations together.
- All mentors contacted their mentees roughly 1 time a month.
- General Feedback:
- There were not enough face-to-face encounters.
- Young professionals thought there should be some sort of training involved in the transition to being a young professional mentor.
- The most common conversations that were held with mentees included talks about classes, extracurricular activities, and fitting into life at the college.
- There were multiple mentors who reported that they had lost contact with mentees and in some instances never even heard back from their mentee. This was a recurring problem because there is no formal incentive for the mentees and mentors to respond to one another, thereby allowing some mentors and mentees to go months without ever speaking to one another.
- There were some young professionals who wanted to be paired with a student who either lived in their area or went to the same university they did.
- Mentors felt that their relationships with the mentees were one-sided because their mentees would always ignore their texts or respond very late.
- Young professionals wanted more information for ways to reach their mentees as opposed to just a phone number. This includes email, Facebook, or kik information.
Mentor Feedback Analysis
Statement 1: “Of the 26 young professionals surveyed, seven or 24% said they do not want to remain mentors.” (19 said they would like to remain mentors.)
Firstly, 70% is an acceptable rate for young professionals that want to stay on. The most important part of the sentence is rather the reasons as to why 24% of the respondents said they no longer want to be mentors. None of the mentors listed “time” among their reasons for no longer wanting to be in this program. The preponderance of their responses to the feedback mentioned “loss of communication,” “mentee did not seem interested,” “better organization,” and “more reminders to interact with mentee.”
Statement 2: “All mentors contacted their mentees, on average, one time a month.”
This feedback relates back to the common concern young professionals had that they did not have structure to their relationship with their mentee. Additionally, 25% of the young professionals mentioned that they developed terrific relationships with their mentees, so much so that they wanted to take on bigger roles in the program but did not know what that would look like.
Mentee Survey Results
Of the 16 young professional mentees called, eight provided feedback and eight have not yet responded.
- When asked if face-to-face contact would improve the program, no mentee gave this high priority. Many indicated this would help build a relationship, but also felt it was not necessary and that matching by career goals was more important. One also mentioned this would make the program less accessible for all.
- Four mentees spoke positively of their relationship with their mentor; one had mixed feelings (due to lack of communication); one had not communicated with her mentor due to being abroad for the semester.
- Topics discussed included possible career paths, resumes, networking, internships, cover letters, and graduate school applications.
- Mentees listed several positive aspects of program: learning more about fields they were interested in, getting one-on-one help with grad school applications, getting tips for interviews and networking, and getting rational advice from someone they did not know personally.
- Mentees did not feel SWAG To College needed to reach out directly to them more. Rather, they emphasized the importance of SWAG To College reminding mentors to reach out frequently. They wanted phone conversations with mentors at least once per month.
- Two mentees suggested providing both mentors and mentees timelines as to what to talk about. The mentee timelines could include opportunities and access to tools first-generation college students might not know about otherwise. These timelines would also provide talking points so that conversations can be longer.
- One mentee suggested that mentors and mentees fill out an informational document about themselves to be provided to one another before the initial phone call. This will make it easier to break the ice in the first phone call and ensure they do not start the phone call with no knowledge about one another.
- One mentee thinks SWAG To College should focus more on pairing by background and values (first-gen status, family income, long-term career goals) rather than just looking at the industry the mentor is currently in.
Mentee Feedback Analysis
- SWAG To College needs to ensure that mentors reach out to the mentees frequently. Mentees were most positive or critical of mentors depending on how often they reached out.
- SWAG To College can also help more in building the relationship of the mentors and mentees initially (ex: giving them more comprehensive information about each other). If the mentor has similar interests and backgrounds as mentee, the relationship will also be improved.
- Mentees consistently said face-to-face meetings are helpful but not necessary. More critical to building a successful mentorship is providing both mentors and mentees more guidance and conversation points.
Recommendations for the Improvement of YP Program
1. Mentor-Mentee Retreat
A weekend-long retreat early on in the year similar to what Posse and Gates Scholars do to get the mentees and mentors acquainted with one another and to set the relationships off to a good start.
2. Yearly end-of-year dinner celebrated with mentors and mentees
An annual, summer dinner where the different mentor and mentees get to discuss their growth and the donors can be appreciated for the work they do.
3. One counselor for every 5-6 young professionals
For every 5 or 6 young professionals, there could be a counselor of the (YP) mentors to keep them in check and remind them of their obligations. This can apply to the mentees as well.
4. Monthly email to college counselors at partner high schools
Monthly emails to the college counselors at the high schools partnered with SWAG To College to follow up on how their alumni (college young professional mentees) have responded to their mentorship.
5. Additional considerations for pairing mentors and mentees
Including locational and collegiate aspects to matching young professionals and college mentees. Most young professionals would prefer having a college mentee who lived in their town or went to their college, or both.
6. Networking database to archive and connect current and past YPs
For the mentors who want to get more involved with the programs, SWAG To College can archive the mentors and mentees and have a networking database. This would establish a SWAG To College network that could aid in recruiting more young professionals one day.
7. Preliminary formal contract between YP and mentee
A formal contract between one another that guarantees a commitment until graduation. This contract would have an opt-out clause for either party at the end of a school year that would have to be agreed upon by both sides. Opting out can result from reasons including lack of time for each other, emotional affairs (tragedy in one’s life, health problems), flagrant disrespect, and any acts of cruelness from either party.
Additionally, there can be two contracts: The first would be between SWAG To College and any potential mentors and mentees. Before being paired, all potential mentors and mentees agree in a general contract to fill out the monthly survey from SWAG To College and respond to personal calls/emails from SWAG To College within a week. The second would be a contract between each mentor and mentee which they would send to SWAG To College. During the first phone call, mentors and mentees could work together to fill out and sign a specific, joint contract where they agree on topics such as how often they want to talk, what topics and goals they need to discuss over the next year, and how often each would like to receive reminder texts from SWAG To College.
8. Intro email with all communication information of YP and mentee.
On day one, we could provide both the mentees and young professionals with the: email (college email depending on preference), phone number, and Facebook names (or any other social media IM platform) so they do not fall out of contact.
Additionally, we could have mentors and mentees fill out a document where they tell about themselves and outline their goals and expectations for the mentorship. This will ensure that mentors/mentees spend less time in the first phone call learning about one another, and more time setting expectations for the mentorship. Provide the completed document to mentors and mentees in the email with the contact info.
9. Include all SWAG To College contacts for mentees and mentors as an outlet for questions.
Provide mentors and mentees with a list of names and google voice numbers of SWAG To College Young Professional team members who they can reach out to when they have concerns; they should also put these numbers in their phones so they will be more likely to answer calls from SWAG To College. Let them know who their counselor is (see #3).
10. Provide YP and mentees with scheduled timelines
Provide mentors and mentees with monthly timelines indicating discussion topics, when to start applying for internships, etc. This could also include a list of resources such as job search sites and career fair info.
11. Create a google drive folder for contracts of each mentor-mentee contract/documents
Create a google drive folder which the mentor, mentee, and their counselor (see #3) can all access. In this folder, include any contracts or documents the mentor and mentee have signed. Mentors and mentees can also put any documents they choose in the drive. For example, the mentor might put notes from each of their phone meetings on what their goals are for the month, or the mentor and mentee could keep a running list of internship opportunities.
12. Semesterly feedback surveys for YP and mentees
Once per semester, have mentors and mentees fill out feedback surveys, both to help SWAG To College improve the Young Professionals program, and to ensure that the mentors and mentees are developing a positive relationship.
13. Monthly fill out google survey for mentees
Mentees should fill out a monthly google form survey like the one mentors do. It could be in the middle of the month, while the mentor one is at the end of each month. This is critical because sometimes it is the mentors, not the mentees, who are not communicating. Additionally, mentees can let SWAG know if their career plans changed and they could benefit from changing to a mentor in a different industry.
SWAG To College has demonstrated a positive impact on college students around the nation, and has been able to retain a majority of its young professionals for another year of mentoring. SWAG to College has increased access and knowledge of summer opportunities and internships for college students of all disciplines, exposing them early to professional life. Overall, mentees enjoy the wisdom of their young professionals and the majority would like to remain paired. Accordingly, the young professionals enjoy cultivating relationships the mentees.
Report written by Chidozie Alozie