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Programs build across campus and give alumni a way to repay

By Chris Jenkins


When College of Business Administration junior Ryan Daulton linked up with alumni mentor Armen Hadjinian to learn more about entrepreneurship, he wasn’t looking for theoretical knowledge. Through his meetings with Hadjinian, who directs the entrepreneurship program at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Daulton ended up writing and submitting a grant proposal to Marquette’s Strategic Innovation Fund — and made it past the first round.

“He helped me do the business canvass and introduced me to a couple of people to refine the idea,” Daulton says. “There was actually one point when we were down at his office and he had three or four people there, all kind of just talking about the innovation fund idea. I had some great feedback.”

“As a mentor, it gives us a chance to not only give back but also to immerse ourselves for a year in the life of a student.”

Hadjinian, Bus Ad ’81, Grad ’05, was thrilled to help: “It was more or less giving him the tools to build his business ideas — as an equal. I didn’t treat him as a student.”

For nearly 20 years, the College of Business Administration’s Mentor Program has paired students with alumni for yearlong, one-to-one opportunities to work on career development. This year, the college and its alumni association facilitated 165 mentor-protégé pairs.

The business school program is just one of several alumni mentorship and job shadowing programs available to students across campus. Additional programs are sponsored in the Opus College of Engineering, Diederich College of Communication, Law School, College of Nursing and more.

The business program served as a model for another, broader alumni mentorship program that is gaining momentum. When actor Rondell Sheridan, Sp ’80, was a member of the Marquette University Alumni Association Board of Directors, he was one of several key leaders who pushed for a more comprehensive alumni mentorship program to replicate the business school’s success. The MUAA National Mentor Program grew out of those discussions. “I knew about the business school’s mentoring program and I thought it was such a great program,” Sheridan says. “I really wanted it to be something that was happening elsewhere at Marquette.”

Now nationwide in its second year, the program has grown from about 30 mentor-protégé pairings in its pilot year to more than 70 this year, including many formed with students in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. Philosophy professor Dr. James South, an early advocate of the program, credits University Advancement Engagement Director Dan DeWeerdt with getting the program off the ground.

“This wouldn’t work if he didn’t put heart and soul and the kind of energy he puts into it,” South says. “The faculty buy-in has been excellent, the student experience has been good and the mentors are incredibly gracious with their time — which, too, speaks to a Marquette education.”

Life outside of the classroom

Engineering student Jessica Willard loves just about everything about writing computer code, with one exception: She sometimes gets caught in arguments with fellow students about minor details,
such as what to name a particular variable. “I’m always sitting there like: ‘Let’s move on. This is such a dumb discussion,’” Willard says.

Through a connection with alumna Dr. Katie Weiss, Eng ’01, Willard visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Imagine her surprise when she heard similar arguments come up in a staff meeting. “I’m sitting at NASA, around a table in a meeting, and they are discussing a variable name within their code,” Willard says. “It was really cool to see that what I’m doing at Marquette is entirely applicable to the real world.”

Willard participates in the Opus College of Engineering’s E-Lead program, a three-year opportunity for students to develop leadership skills. Students who complete the program earn a concentration in engineering leadership, which is noted on their transcript. As part of the program, each student does a pair of one-day job-shadowing experiences with engineering alumni in senior leadership positions. Willard was thrilled to connect with Weiss, a senior flight software engineer at NASA who was part of the team of NASA scientists that landed the unmanned Curiosity rover on Mars.

“You can be inspired by somebody like Katie,” Willard says. “She’s the first woman to lead a team to put a robot in space. It’s really cool to get the opportunity to be around such incredible professionals.”

Weiss’ main message to Willard, and other students, is to figure out where they want to go before they decide to go to graduate school or accept a job offer. “One of the things that I try to do when I talk to students is to say, ‘What is your plan? What do you want to do? And, then,” Weiss says, “I tell them to put a logical plan in place to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Nobody really did that for me.”

Inspired by Weiss’ advice, Willard is spending part of this summer planning where she wants to end up — and then she’ll figure out what it takes to get there.

That’s the real value of a mentor. They have life experiences to help fill in what can’t be taught in a classroom.

As a faculty member at the Medical College of Wisconsin, alumna Dr. Jennifer Schilling Connelly, Eng ’99, was the ideal person to help engineering major Martin Rodriguez Romero plan a medical career. “A lot of it is just kind of hanging out for an hour or so and talking about challenges with college, challenges with life, basing it on my experiences,” Connelly says. “I never tell him what to do. I give him different ideas and then ask him, I think, thought-provoking questions to get him to do what is the best thing.”

Business mentor Chris Setter, Grad ’11, helped senior Tony Everard polish his resume and advised him to consider waiting to get his M.B.A. until he had a few years’ worth of real-world work experience.

Setter, who works in sales at United Health Care, says it’s important for students to hear from alumni who are at different points in their careers, and not just from senior leaders. “I feel like I have a different perspective than what a senior leader in an organization might bring to a mentoring program, and I feel like that perspective is a very real-world one or nuts-and-bolts one that can help people who will be graduating soon,” Setter says.

Giving back, getting back

Several alumni mentors wish they’d had a similar guiding experience when they were students. “It’s very hard for young people to have access to professionals, especially in a forum where they can freely ask questions,” Setter says.

Weiss was especially happy to work with two women engineering students. “Being a role model for young women who are going into engineering and going into technical fields that are still very male-dominant, I think that’s really, really important to me,” Weiss says. “I didn’t have that when I was an undergrad, some-one in industry, a female who is doing the type of thing that I wanted to do.”

For Connelly, taking an hour out of a busy schedule to focus on Rodriguez Romero’s career development was a chance to reflect on her own path. “I didn’t get to where I am right now by myself,” Connelly says. “It takes a lot of support. To now be in position to be someone who can give back is very rewarding and really an honor. Sometimes I’m still like, ‘Gosh, what could I possibly teach this kid?’ He’s so smart, he’s so energetic.”

Hadjinian enjoys having a connection with a student. “It gives me the ability to see what Marquette students are like now,” he says. “As a mentor, it gives us a chance to not only give back but also to immerse ourselves for a year in the life of a student. You see, compare and contrast what you went through and what they’re going through, and you want to make that transition worthwhile as well as say, ‘Hey, I made a difference.’”

For Sheridan, the ultimate goal is to create a cycle of giving back: “Twenty years from now, I want that mentee to know his obligation and go, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got to pay back.’”


Interested in becoming a mentor? Here are a few programs:

Marquette University Alumni Association Mentor Program

Establish a relationship with a current student in this mentoring opportunity.

> Contact Dan DeWeerdt at or (414) 288-4740.

CIRCLES eMentor Network 

Students and young alumni connect with mentors via a CIRCLES eMentor LinkedIn group. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much time you can give.

> Visit

College of Business Administration Mentor Program

Junior-level students learn about business from experienced professionals. Also appreciated: alumni to host office visits for students.

> Visit

Opus College of Engineering E-Lead Program

E-Lead is a three-year curricular leadership program. Students shadow two engineering professionals in C-suite leadership positions.

> Contact Kate Trevey at

Diederich College of Communication Mentoring Program

Students gain valuable insight into career choices, helpful tips on the career search process and practice networking skills with mentors.

> Visit

Law School Alumni Mentoring Program

This program partners alumni with students based on practice area. Alumni can be resources for students on questions related to practice, legal markets, law school and job searches.

> Visit

College of Nursing Project: BEYOND

Here’s an opportunity to serve as a role model, share knowledge, provide direction and promote development within the nursing profession.

> Visit

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  1. Don’t understand the “Medium” comment at the end of the New Deanship article, but I don’t think I”m interested in signing up.

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