UMN ASCE Career Fair in Rapson Hall

Engineers Mentor CEGE Students Online in Summer of '21

Restrictions of 2020 gave rise to some creative new approaches for reaching out to students. One such program was designed by CEGE’s Industry & Pre-Major Coordinator Michelle Anderson and Shannon Wolkerstorfer, CEGE’s External Relations Officer. They designed the CEGE Career Preparation and Mentor Program to help bridge a gap in summer opportunities and internships that resulted due to COVID-19.

Anderson and Wolkerstorfer had two main goals for the program. “First, we wanted to ensure that any student with an interest in a CEGE-related career would have an opportunity to network, to build career preparation skills, and to learn from some of our fabulous industry leaders. Second, we wanted to provide industry mentors with connections to our excellent CEGE students. They are the workforce of the future.”

Last summer’s program was a great success. An overwhelming 100% of mentors who participated reported that they would recommend the program to colleagues. And one student noted that they would recommend the program “Not only my classmates, but to myself, meaning I’ll definitely do it again.” One mentor noted they had picked up skills they could apply on the job: “I learned mentoring skills that I can use internally with our engineers and scientists.”

Part of the excellent feedback was based on the thorough and thoughtful preparation done by the Anderson and Wolkerstorfer. They prepared information for both students and mentors, providing a framework, outline, and specific talking points to guide the mentor/student sessions.

The program is being offered again this summer. Students attend virtual career-development training once per month in June, July, and August. The monthly webinars are put on by the CSE Career Center. This year the topics include (1) Utilizing Your Mentor and Networking Strategies, (2) College to Career Transition, a conversation with recent CEGE alumni panel, and (3) Navigating Internship and Job Offers. The virtual sessions give students some valuable information and prepare them for sessions with the mentors. Students are expected to connect with their mentor at least 4 times during the summer. Students and mentors set the parameters of those interactions, which could happen via Zoom, phone, email, in person.

At the end of last year’s program, all parties were asked to complete an evaluation. Outcomes shared here are from the evaluations at the end of the program. Quotations were lightly edited for readability and length.

Some students and mentors indicated that they would continue connections after the program ended.

“[The student] is still exploring specific career options, and I believe that we will stay connected as she does that.”

“I feel like I really strengthened a professional connection that I will be able to keep utilizing. My mentor was very informative and helped me learn a lot more about the professional consulting industry.”

Students were articulate about what they had learned and what they valued about the program.

“Meeting with my mentor and her willingness to answer any and all questions as well as connect me with people (especially other women!) in the industry made this opportunity valuable … she has also unexpectedly connected me with a recruiter from [company name] who went through my resume with me and gave me tips for the application process, and she is planning to introduce me to an engineer who has worked in both the public and private sectors (and can offer a comparison between the two worlds), as well as two engineers who work in the areas I am interested in. It has helped me network in a way I’ve never had access to before, and I'm so grateful for her time and help.”

“I really valued everything I was able to learn from my mentor, especially what steps I can be taking now to further my career development and what skills I can emphasize when applying for opportunities even though I lack direct experience in the field. I was able to take the lead during our meetings as well and ask about the things that were important to me while still getting input from her about things she thought were important. I also appreciated that we were able to have meaningful conversations about things like gender discrimination and the general lack of diversity in the field. I was able to learn many important lessons from our meetings that I will certainly be looking back on.”

“The program also allowed me to interact with a real environmental engineer for the first time and learn what my career could possibly look like.”

“Most valuable I would say was finding out how many transferable skills I had…I am more motivated to finish my degree. My mentor has shown me what the day to day would be like, what software they use, and has even shown me a project the company was working on. This really motivated me. I felt like without this program, I would never have that opportunity.”

This year’s program began in June and will continue through August. Twenty-three students and mentors are participating. Many of the mentors are returning from last year.

Upon successful completion of the program, students and mentors receive a certificate, but the more tangible outcome is the skills students – and mentors – take with them.