Bringing a network of mentors to ASU students

ASU Mentor Network harnesses the professional expertise of Sun Devil community

November 15, 2019

After Arizona State University student Raj Kanaiyo Thakkar was injured in his first semester of college during a soccer game, he wasn’t able to get around easily to connect to resources and classmates in those pivotal first few weeks of school. But he was able to stay on track, despite a partial knee replacement, thanks to the guidance he received from a mentor, an MBA student he was matched with through the ASU Mentor Network

“It was really helpful for me to have someone who could guide me through that time,” said Thakkar, now a sophomore.   Zhengyu Wei, Tara Boucher and ASU Career Services' Alison Scott Dean pose at an ASU alumni and Career Services event in Seattle From left: Mentee Zhengyu Wei, mentor Tara Boucher and Alison Scott Dean, ASU Career and Professional Development Services associate director for corporate engagement and partnerships for the Western region, at a Seattle CPDS and ASU Alumni event. Download Full Image

His mentor helped him zero in on his major path. At the time, he was a business exploratory major and didn’t know what he wanted to concentrate on. Thakkar decided he wanted to study sustainability and logistics management because his family owns automobile dealerships, so it would be helpful to understand the logistics of the operation. 

“She guided me through it and helped me out. She showed me where resources were and how to plan out the semester,” he said. 

Education and career paths are built on skills and experience but also on relationships and coaching. Having someone to put in a good word, guide you through a process or give advice about your path can be an invaluable leg up.

That’s why in fall 2018 ASU Career and Professional Development Services launched the ASU Mentor Network. The initiative harnesses the professional expertise of the Sun Devil community to offer chances for networking and mentorship to current students and alumni. It was built with the intention of giving students and alumni a platform to make powerful professional connections within the Sun Devil community.

Experiences like Thakkar’s can be pivotal to educational persistence and also career success. Research has shown that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted and more likely to be enrolled in college.

“Our big goal is to have every Sun Devil in the ASU Mentor Network experience one or more meaningful connections that impact their career trajectory,” said Kimberly Scatton, assistant director of ASU Career and Professional Development Services.

Through the ASU Mentor Network, alumni and professionals fill out a profile and set availability preferences. Potential mentees then browse profiles and make a request for a connection. Students and professionals can connect via email, video, through group chats, events and more. Scatton said it’s a growth opportunity for the mentors as well as the mentees, since teaching others solidifies your own leadership and communication skills.

ASU alumna Tara Boucher, who graduated from ASU with a degree in engineering and management technology, said the impact is felt on both sides of the mentoring relationship. She signed up to be a mentor after establishing her career in technology working with the Starbucks corporate office, Visa and USAA because she loves the ASU Polytechnic campus and loves working with students. 

“The feeling of giving back is great,” she said. Boucher advises other alumni to sign up to mentor because it’s an opportunity they won’t want to miss. “They might learn something about themselves,” she said.

Boucher, who lives in San Antonio, connects with students and alumni remotely. Her passion for mentorship started when she was working for the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle. Boucher was one of the first ASU Online mentors for Starbucks partners who were pursuing a degree at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

Boucher said her own career has benefitted from mentorship and that young women especially tend to not know their own potential, so she enjoys encouraging mentees to get on-the-job experience and persist beyond rejection. Boucher said it’s important for people to have someone to bounce ideas off of, especially since young people might not know the boundaries of how much they should share with coworkers.

“It doesn’t always seem appropriate at work to open up and seek advice, so it’s great to be able to offer that to someone,” she said.

Zhengyu Wei, who graduated from ASU in May 2019 with her degree in business analytics, is Boucher’s mentee through the ASU Mentor Network. Wei, who is working as a data service engineer for Microsoft, said the experience has been invaluable.

“It is great that you have a professional mentor who works in the industry and can introduce you to others. Meeting more people means you will have more of a chance to get in the door,” said Wei.

Wei said she especially appreciates the opportunities ASU provides to network in her field, have resume help and get referrals because she was an international student and didn’t have a network built in the United States.

Wei, who now works in the Seattle area, said the connection she made through the ASU Mentor Network goes beyond graduation and even beyond professional development. 

“Long-term mentorship will become a friendship. Not only for careers but life,” said Wei. Boucher and Wei enjoyed connecting in person at a recent ASU Alumni and Career and Professional Development Services meetup in Seattle.

Boucher said that she encourages other Sun Devils to get involved as a professional development opportunity and a way to shake things up.

“I highly encourage people to get out of their desk environment, to get out of their day-to-day routine and try something new … and make that thing be mentoring,” said Boucher.

Mentees such as Thakkar say all ASU students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this resource.

“They’re there for you. …They’ll help you through it and guide you. They know what they’re doing because they’ve been through it,” said Thakkar.

Apply to become a mentor.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Follett donation to ASU Bridging Success helps students exiting foster care pay for books

November 15, 2019

Learning they’re eligible for a college tuition waiver would usually be enough to send any 18-year-old to the moon and back.

That’s how youth in foster care in Arizona likely feel after being told they’re potentially eligible for a tuition waiver at any of Arizona’s three state universities or any community college, courtesy of recent state legislation. After dealing with the difficulties many of these youth have faced, receiving a tuition waiver might be like winning a new car on a TV game show. Representatives from ASU Bookstores and Follett (man and woman) smile with student Allan Valles Sanchez while he holds up a criminology and criminal justice textbook Bridging Success student and criminology and criminal justice minor Allan Valles Sanchez (right) shops for textbooks with Val Ross, area director of Sun Devil Campus Stores, and Ashlie Singleton, Follett regional manager of sales and operations. Download Full Image

However, similar to winning a shiny new vehicle, a tuition waiver doesn’t cover incidental expenses that can be cost prohibitive. The reality is, although the tuition waiver removes one of the major barriers to getting a college degree, many students still must pay for books, supplies, academic fees and room and board on their own through additional scholarships, grants, work-study programs and other forms of financial aid.

Upon reaching adulthood, many of these young people are starting college with limited or no family, social and financial support available to help them through their academic journey at ASU. Because of this, these early steps into higher education can be extremely scary as they face yet another unfamiliar set of circumstances.

ASU Bridging Success, based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is a program that aims to stand in the gap for students coming to the university from the foster care system, said program coordinator Justine Cheung.

“We are here with a holistic, trauma-informed program that understands the child welfare system, the implications of what being in care means, the strengths our students bring with them and challenges they may face as they pursue their degree,” Cheung said.

“Over the years of running this program, one of the biggest concerns I hear from our students is how they will pay for their books,” Cheung explained. “But this year their concerns were addressed through a generous donation made by Follett Corporation to ASU Bridging Success.”

In early fall, Val Ross, area director of Sun Devil Campus Stores, and Ashley Singleton, regional manager of Follett Higher Education Group, met with Cheung to learn about the work Bridging Success does and the students they serve. The result of the meeting was a $25,000 grant to help students in the Bridging Success program cover book expenses. 

Students with foster care backgrounds who participated in Bridging Success Early Start, a partnership program administered by ASU University College that provides a six-day college transition experience for incoming first-year and transfer students, also received an additional $50 bookstore gift card. These funds make a significant impact toward offsetting the cost of books and supplies.

Bridging Success student

Samantha Sahagun

Financial concerns meant nerve-wracking days leading up to Samantha Sahagun’s first day of fall classes. A Barack Obama Scholar, she knew that program would cover her meals. But books and other costs were another matter.

“One thing I was scared about was purchasing my books,” the freshman social work major from Phoenix said. “But when we received the grant to get our books for the first semester, I started crying.”

For freshman Carina Jaramillo, students in her group already had an idea they were going to receive “a little help” to buy books, but learning about the grant and the gift cards transformed the experience.

“Books were expensive, and it was great just to know it was going to be off my plate, that they would provide it,” said Jaramillo, a medical studies major from Douglas, Arizona. “Many of us didn’t know how we were able to buy books.”

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Jaramillo said. “The scholarship from the bookstore really helped. Financial aid really helped me. Everything just fell into place after that.”

The two said Bridging Success continues to help them meet the challenges of college. For one thing, it enabled them to recognize there are many others like themselves.

“There are a lot more people who come from my background,” Jaramillo said. “My roommate has a lot in common with me.”

For Sahagun, Bridging Success is another vital support system.

“It’s there for when I need someone to talk to,” she said. “Two weeks before school, they showed us around MyASU (a platform on the ASU website), how scholarships work. They’re like my cheerleaders; they want me to succeed. They are definitely a major part of my education at ASU because I know they’ll be there if I fall.”

Bridging Success student

Carina Jaramillo

Jaramillo agreed.

“Coming into Bridging Success, I didn’t know what it was. But it helped me prepare for college. There were a lot of workshops to help me learn what college was going to be like. They are like a second family, basically,” she said. “We have an emergency fund, for example — it doesn’t have to be school-related, like if your car broke down — and for emotional support, too. They would be the hand that you need in case of hard times.”

Sahagun said that after “everything was handed to you in high school,” Bridging Success helped her learn how to be independent and responsible with her academic obligations.

“Anything you do is on you now. It’s not, like, who’s taking care of you. I feel I have to be more responsible. Being responsible isn’t as scary for me now because I know who to ask.”

Jaramillo said her advice to those coming out of foster care and seeking to enter ASU is to not be afraid to come out of their comfort zones.

“Don’t be afraid to tell people where you come from,” she said. “At ASU, it’s a new beginning, a new fresh start.”      

Make a contribution to the Bridging Success Emergency Fund.

Written by Mark Scarp