Mentoring relationships are often lauded by career experts and students alike because of their value in networking, guidance, and reflection on life and career goals. Despite this, a 2018 Strada-Gallup poll found that just 22 percent of all college graduates strongly agreed they had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams during college, which is to say that eight out of 10 did not.

To address this mentoring gap — and in light of the social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — the Notre Dame Alumni Association collaborated with the Office of Student Enrichment, ND clubs and affinity groups, the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development, and the Monogram Club to host Interconnected ND. Powered by IrishCompass, Interconnected ND supports first-generation and low-income students to provide broad support and guidance on topics such as emotional wellness, the student experience, and life after Notre Dame.

“The Office of Student Enrichment has seen a need for our students to be able to connect with alumni who have had a shared experience of being first-generation or limited resource students themselves,” said Robyn Centilli, Assistant Director/Inclusion Specialist in the Office of Student Enrichment. “Our hope was to build a partnership in a way that we could together provide students support not just with career assistance, but also emotional support as they navigated this new world of COVID-related issues.”

Launched in the summer of 2020, the initial iteration of Interconnected ND featured cohorts matching two alumni mentors to four student mentees to provide peer and traditional mentor support. Mentors were asked to engage mentees through weekly meetings, goal development updates, and progress updates. Ultimately, 116 students and 75 alumni participated with matching factors including major, field of work, location, residence hall, ethnicity, and club and affinity group affiliation.

“From a mentor perspective, we felt this structure might help to ease any pressure mentors might feel to have all the answers for a student,” said Angeline Johnson, Affinity Programs Director at the Alumni Association. “This group dynamic would allow for more voices and perspectives at the table. Our alumni crave student and alumni connection and the group dynamic would allow for a single mentor to connect with multiple students within their mentoring group and simultaneously expand their alumni network with fellow mentors.”

During the pilot, which ran 12 weeks through October 17, 2020, participants of Interconnected ND found more than just a networking opportunity, but an outlet to connect over shared experiences and interests. Many of the relationships formed have continued despite the end of the initial program.

“Through the Interconnected ND Mentoring Program, I [have been] able to experience the kindness that is Notre Dame,” said Jason Mims ’75, a mentor in the program. “Two mentees and I shared our kindness gifts over the course of 12 weeks and we look forward to routine fellowships as they continue to pursue their undergraduate degrees. The presence of these emerging leaders inspires and nurtures my spirit and strengthens my connection to the Notre Dame family.”

 

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