Alumni Association | Nov. 13, 2012 | Spotlight

Picture of students participating in the CSULA Speed Mentoring Event.

Speed mentoring event helps students, alumni find a quick match

Well-dressed and looking to make a good first impression, 19 Cal State L.A. students attended a recent match-making event on campus hoping to find “the one.” However, they weren’t on the hunt for soul mates, they were looking to be paired up with career advisers as part of the CSULA Alumni Mentoring Program.

The mentoring program was started in 2008 as a way for alumni to share their valuable work experience with current students through discussions on educational options, career choices, goals and networking. Today, more than 500 people participate in the program.

Pictured: Mentor Hugh Williams and mentee Tommy Chen during the Speed Mentoring Event.

L-r: Mentee Tommy Chen listens intently to mentor Hugh Williams during the CSULA Speed Mentoring Event on Nov. 1.

The Nov. 1 Speed Mentoring Event, hosted by the CSULA Alumni Association and co-sponsored by the CSULA Associated Students, Inc., sought to put matching on the fast track for students and alumni who have signed up for the program but have not yet found a partner, according to James Cuaresma, coordinator of alumni and student outreach.

It was Alumni Association’s fourth event to follow the speed-dating model and provided participants with several short-structured meetings to assess compatibility. Other professional development events are offered throughout the year, including mixers, networking and seminars by industry experts.

“The program enlists an in-depth matching process … but sometimes what the student is looking for is either too specific or we just don’t have the mentor with the background,” said Cuaresma. “The speed-mentoring events are great because we don’t tell them the background, major, or business and (matching) is purely based on the conversations they have with one another.”

Each student was given a set of questions to guide a five-minute conversation with an alum. After the student met several possible mentors, Alumni Association staff made an assessment to determine good pairings. The quick-paced interviews allow for more focused and direct introductions than a traditional mixer, where the atmosphere is more casual.

Cuaresma said 36 people attended the event and 12 potential matches were made as a result.

Some of the students, such as senior finance major Tommy Chen, were on the lookout for a professional who could offer career counseling.

“I was hoping to find guidance on how to break into the industry. A lot of students don’t know how to get their foot in the door,” said Chen. “You want to find someone who has done it all and will guide you.”

Chen, dressed in a sharp black suit, met a banker who gave him tips and told him who to contact in the financial industry.

Meanwhile, Stefanie Cruz, an accounting major, discussed career goals with the alumni and got answers to her most pressing questions.

“They told me I was on the right track,” said Cruz, who will graduate in December. “My goal is to work for the Internal Revenue Service, and since it is on a hiring freeze the mentors talked to me about getting in through another way.”

A CSULA alumnus, Hugh Williams said he was impressed by how engaged the students were.

“Some students weren’t clear but had a sense of the next step, which is really good. When I was younger I didn’t have a clue of what I was going to do,” said Williams, who owns a professional photography company. “They were focused on how to get there; they just needed some clarification or direction. They needed a feedback of ‘yeah, you had a wonderful idea.’”

But the program doesn’t just groom students for future success, it benefits the alumni, too.

Through mentoring, alumni learn how to lead and motivate, give constructive advice, cultivate interpersonal relationships and sharpen problem-solving skills. It also gives alumni a meaningful connection to the University that helped start their careers.

“It was inspiring and I got to meet a lot of nice people,” said CSULA alumnus James O’Grady, founder and president of Braemar Wealth Management. “I’m loyal to my university and always give back.”

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