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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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Making a Difference

SDSU alumni are making a difference in the lives of students through the Aztec Mentor Program.
By Tobin Vaughn

“It’s very fulfilling, and I think everyone should be part of it.”

No program on the San Diego State University campus can rival the growth of the Aztec Mentor Program (AMP) in recent years. Since 2013-14, when it matched 50 business students with alumni mentors, the AMP has expanded to all colleges and is expected to initiate more than 2,500 student/mentor matches in 2017-18.

The program has taken off like a rocket, and its popularity among students is approaching stratospheric. On the mentor side, alumni participation has grown to almost 1,500, but with the increased student demand expected this fall, more volunteers will be needed.

AMP administrators say mentors from all professions are wanted, but right now engineers and fine arts graduates are in particularly short supply.

Confidence is key

Meigan Mell (’11) knows the difference a mentor can make in a young person’s life. She had a mentor who taught her many of the basics of doing business.

Now the founder of her own digital marketing and market research company, Mell is mentoring students through AMP.

"I love this program,” she said at a recent mentor appreciation event in Mission Valley. “It’s very fulfilling, and I think everyone should be part of it."

With Mell at the gathering was her spring semester mentee, Savannah Schefke (’17), a recent SDSU graduate from San Jose. Schefke was asked what her mentor had done for her. "What hasn't she done is the better question,” Schefke replied.

Mell tapped her professional network to arrange a job interview for Schefke. That resulted in the former marketing major landing a position with a La Jolla-based event management platform.

"Meigan is like a very helpful guide who never tells you directly what you should do. On my resume and my cover letter, she offered some themes and guidelines, but she wasn't a micromanager. She made me use my critical thinking skills and she definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me.”

Mell is a huge proponent of boosting the confidence in young people.

“It’s the number one thing,” Mell said. “I think as long as you are confident and you know how to speak about the skills you have learned, you will do well in (a job) interview.”

First-generation challenges

James Tarbox, SDSU Career Services executive director, agrees that confidence is an essential characteristic for mentors to help build, especially among students who are the first in their families to attend college.

"It is important for mentors to keep in mind that many of our students are first generation, and the challenge is that they may not see all of the options that are available to them,” he said.

“Even once they start to see those options, they may not understand how to get where they want to be. They may not believe in themselves.”

Tarbox said it’s a story he has heard from some recruiters. They come to campus and have a successful meeting with a student, but when the student is invited to meet upper level administrators, he or she might lack the confidence and preparation to make the best impression.

“They freeze or they don't know how to have a conversation,” Tarbox said. “So what we need are first-generation alumni to talk to our students about what they do to move themselves forward."

It is the kind of advice that can make all the difference in helping an SDSU graduate launch a successful career.