Elmhurst College: Readying Students for Professional Success

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Readying Students for Professional Success

The mentoring program at Elmhurst College’s Center for Professional Excellence has earned the Gold Accreditation, the highest level possible, from the International Mentoring Association (IMA), a professional organization for the mentoring and coaching fields. Elmhurst’s mentoring program, which matches students with professionals from fields of interest to the students, earned 100 out of an available 100 points in the IMA’s evaluation.

“This is confirmation that we’re doing all the right things for our students, and that we have best practices in place that are recognized,” said Julie Gonzales, coordinator of the mentoring program. “Our mentors help students learn what it means to be a professional.”

The program is just one part of the College’s efforts to prepare students for lives of professional achievement. Starting in their first year, students can gain on-the-job experience through internships, service-learning experiences, and more. According to a recent alumni survey, more than 93 percent of 2012 graduates were employed full time or pursuing an advanced degree within a year of their graduation.

The mentoring program makes more than 200 volunteer mentors available to Elmhurst students each year. About 150 students are participating in the program in the 2013-2014 school year, Gonzales said. Students meet regularly—some as often as weekly—with mentors who provide advice and insight into ways for students to grow professionally and personally.

“We connect students with mentors of high integrity and good character that model how to be a responsible person in a global professional world,” said Larry Carroll, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence. “This fits into the focus we have at Elmhurst on student development and professional preparation. We want students to learn from people who are out in the professional world.”

Gonzales said that the nature of each mentoring partnership is determined by the student’s objectives and needs. Some want to explore possible career paths; others look for advice on networking; still others seek guidance on preparing for specific professional fields.

“Every student is an individual, and every mentor is an individual. We try to create the best match, and we are very successful,” Gonzales said. “We meet students where they are.”

One of the program’s volunteer mentors said that tailoring mentoring relationships to each student’s particular concerns is the key to the program’s success.

“It’s about listening to what the mentee needs, because each is different,” said Debbie Carey, a senior learning consultant at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove who has worked with four different Elmhurst students since 2009. “I’m there to serve.”

Carey said that students come to her prepared to ask relevant questions about her typical work day and why she enjoys her job. “They’re getting perspective, and the more perspective you can gain, the better prepared you are. It’s phenomenal that a small liberal arts college offers such a wealth of opportunities,” she said.

One student who has participated in the mentoring program said she appreciated the opportunity to learn from working professionals. Eleni Vrettos, a junior secondary education and English major from Cicero who plans to become a high school teacher, worked with mentor Katie Jaeger, a teacher at Burnham Middle School in Cicero. Vrettos said that Jaeger helped her formulate a philosophy of teaching and pointed her toward thought-provoking books about education. Vrettos said that she was so impressed with Jaeger that she wrote about her in a scholarship application essay describing teachers she admires.

“Her creativity and willingness to learn impressed me,” Vrettos said. “She is always looking to grow and helping me to grow.”

Gonzales said that similarly enriching experiences are waiting for students who get involved in the mentoring program.

“There is an unbelievable amount of experience among our mentors,” she said. “It’s really mind-boggling how much they have to offer. Students who do this are making a great investment in themselves.”

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