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Senior Mentorship Program Takes Off

Northwestern Alumni Association pilot program connects seniors with recent alumni mentors.

Kalina Silverman Hero
Kalina Silverman ’16 participated in Grad Chat to share her story with seniors.Image: PHIL CHANNING

Spring 2021

When Jade Hostein ’21 received an invitation to join the Senior Mentorship Program — a pilot program launched by the Northwestern Alumni Association last fall to connect seniors with recent alumni — she heard Professor Gerry Chiaro’s words echo in her ears.

“He told my marketing class that we should find an executive board for ourselves,” says Hostein, a communication studies and psychology double major who is pursuing a career in marketing and advertising. “That resonated with me. I wanted to find someone who I could talk with and ask questions about my job search.”

Hostein joined the mentorship program and met Abi Watt ’15, ’18 MS, one of two alumni mentors paired with Hostein’s cohort of seven classmates. As an international student who is deciding whether to earn a master’s degree or find a job in the U.S. or abroad, Hostein says she gained valuable insights about Watt’s experience working in Hong Kong and navigating the visa process.

The Senior Mentorship Program is among many NAA programs that engage the global alumni network to help seniors prepare for the next step amid a pandemic that has diminished job prospects.

Last April, Kalina Silverman ’16 participated in Grad Chat, a series the NAA launched after the start of the pandemic to foster virtual conversations between recent alumni and seniors about life after graduation.

After a faculty-led trip to Germany, Silverman, a broadcast journalism major, created videos of herself walking up to strangers and asking serious questions such as, “What do you want to do before you die?” The project led to a Fulbright scholarship in Singapore and the creation of her business, Big Talk, which helps facilitate meaningful conversations and empathy across cultures.

She participated in Grad Chat in part to help students realize they don’t have to figure out their path right away. “It’s OK to be a bit messy and learn and talk to people,” Silverman says. “I’m still figuring it out, but it really helps to have mentorship, guidance and support along the way.”

One student who attended her Grad Chat was inspired by Silverman’s leap of faith to create a company with a social mission. Last summer, David Eng ’20, a communication studies and economics double major, reached out to Silverman on LinkedIn to ask how he could help grow Big Talk. Today Eng, a project manager for Epic in Madison, Wis., is helping her develop an internship program and expand marketing outreach.

“You never know where a conversation or a connection might lead, and everything I’ve done so far at Northwestern has proven that to me,” Silverman says.

Other NAA programs have featured alumni with careers in social justice, business, education and the arts. These programs were developed in partnership with Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Austin J. Waldron Student-Alumni Connections Program, which helps undergraduate students connect with alumni for career exploration and learning. And in a panel held in May 2020 with The Garage, Northwestern’s incubator for student startups, alumni shared personal experiences from the 2008 financial crisis.

In February the NAA launched the Affinity Leaders and Learners Mentoring Program, an identity-based mentorship program that connects undergraduate students with alumni leaders. The pilot, which runs through June, pairs underrepresented students seeking mentors who look like them or have had similar career or life experiences.

The NAA also offers Financial Foundations and Renting Essentials, two series of alumni-led talks that provide practical advice on topics such as how to set up a budget or rent an apartment in a particular city.

Ultimately, such programs provide opportunities for seniors to make new connections and leverage the Northwestern network during a time when people are unable to gather in person.

“Northwestern has instilled in me the importance of talking with as many people as I can,” Hostein says. “I hope to meet alumni who had the same experiences as I did at the University so I can learn how they navigated their careers.”

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