What I’ve Learned: Lessons from Alumni Mentorship
February 22, 2023
By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS
How the bonds formed between Rollins students and alumni are jump-starting personal and professional success.
Before his first day of work at the testing company Prometric, Nick Johnson ’20 had wrangled his way into an unlikely scenario: hitting the links with the chief operating officer and one of the vice presidents of the company.
“I was on that course because Will pushed me to,” says Johnson, referring to William Moore ’99, his mentor through Rollins’ Career Champions program and co-founder of Doorstep Delivery. “I wasn’t much of a golfer at the time, but Will told me I needed to make a splash and crack down on building those relationships because they’d pay dividends in the future. I knew they went golfing all the time, so I reached out and told them I’d be willing to meet up with them any day, anytime to play a round.”
Turns out, Moore was right. Johnson, who started out as a sales rep, was promoted to a sales manager within a year, and then promoted again only eight months later to global sales manager.
“That round of golf helped accelerate everything,” says Johnson. “We’ve played a few times since then. Now I love golf and have a direct relationship with our COO. And it’s all because Will pushed me to do stuff like that during our monthly meetings.”
According to studies by Gallup, college graduates are two times more likely to be engaged at work if they had an encouraging mentor. Alongside faculty, staff, and peer mentors, alumni mentors play an important role in helping students achieve meaningful lives and productive careers. That’s why in 2017, Rollins launched Career Champions, which has since paired 250 students like Johnson with alumni working in their field of interest.
“We do personal matching as part of Career Champions, and we’ve had several success stories of students getting jobs and internships as a result of the program,” says Cheyenne Morman, who manages the program as assistant director of career exploration in the Center for Career & Life Planning. “But we also have plenty of students who report that their mentor helped with things like the job application process, served as a reference, gave them life advice, and generally were available to answer questions. That’s really what we hope students are able to get out of the experience.”
The program has been such a success that the College has since expanded alumni mentor opportunities to include Women in Finance, which helps female students secure internships and explore career pathways in the finance sector, and the Share the Light campaign, which was launched in response the pandemic’s devastating impact on career opportunities for graduating seniors.
All provide important forms of philanthropy and engagement—and one more way alumni can give back to their alma mater by sharing career and life advice that helps bolster the chances of personal and professional success for fellow Tars.
Mariam Tabrez ’18 was paired with George Sciarrino ’07 as part of the Career Champions program’s initial cohort. Sciarrino’s guidance led Tabrez to a full-ride scholarship to attend his alma mater, New York School of Law. Through their monthly mentorship sessions, Tabrez zeroed in on intellectual property law as her focus. After completing her JD, she added a master’s in intellectual property and information technology, which led to her current role as a product security strategy lead at Meta.
“You never know where a little direction will lead. George suggested I read a specific book, and I referenced that book when I wrote my personal statement in applying to law school. I’m sure it was a significant factor in earning the scholarship from New York School of Law.” — Mariam Tabrez ’18
Jamie Ngo ’18 initiated a meetup with Pat Loret de Mola ’78 ’80MBA her senior year when de Mola was in town for Alumni Weekend. The two bonded over similar upbringings, and Ngo credits de Mola, a serial entrepreneur with a long career on Wall Street, for opening doors in the finance industry. Ngo is now the youngest vice president in the history of Asante Capital, where she advises on capital raising solutions for sponsors and depends on the relationships she’s built with some of the largest institutional investors around the globe.
“The work we do is all about relationships. By way of her actions rather than actual advice, my mentor has taught me the importance of forging meaningful business relationships—and how putting the person ahead of professional interests is key to the depth and longevity of those connections.” — Jamie Ngo ’18
Be True to Yourself
Elijah Noel ’20 was paired with Kirk Nalley ’93 ’01MBA as part of the Career Champions program. Today, Noel works in the hospitality industry, most recently accepting a role in food and beverage operations at The Alfond Inn as the hotel revs up for its expansion. He also serves as an appointed official for the City of Winter Park and a board member for the Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Mead Botanical Garden. Noel credits Nalley, a regional vice president at the cloud-software company 3CLogic, for teaching him about authenticity, a trait he considers critical for everything from staffing, promotions and hiring vendors in the hospitality industry to making informed financial decisions for cities and nonprofits alike.
“One of the best pieces of advice Kirk gave me was not to sacrifice myself, my morals, or my values for any goal. Trusting your conscience, your heart, and leaning on the ‘board of life governors’ will take you where you want to be. — Elijah Noel ’20
Let Go to Grow
Nick Johnson ’20 put the advice he received from William Moore ’99—serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Doorstep Delivery—into action by turning over control of his pressure-washing company to his brother, who could manage day-to-day operations while Johnson focused on school and building a career. He credits that mindset for guiding him today in his role as a global sales manager at Prometric, remembering that as a manager he doesn’t have to do everything. Instead, he needs to find the right people to take over what no longer makes sense for him to do, so he can stay focused on taking his team and work to the next level.
“I had started a pressure washing company when I was in high school and was excited to be paired with Will because I thought he’d help me sell it. Instead, he made me realize I wanted to keep it. But also that I couldn’t do everything by myself—school, my business, and starting a career—and that I didn’t have to. He really taught me that if I wanted to grow and scale, I had to let go of some things.” — Nick Johnson ’20
Become the Expert
As part of the Women in Finance program, Stephanie Block ’22 met Cameron Dawson ’10 ’12MBA in New York City during a site visit to Fieldpoint Private, where Dawson was chief market strategist. Block now works as a risk management associate at Macquarie Group, and she’s taken Dawson’s advice to heart by spending her free time studying Securities and Exchange Commission rules, which govern the work she does in compliance. And it’s paid off. Block recently used a law she read to successfully inform a change in tactics for a transaction her boss was leading.
“The biggest piece of advice I received from Cameron is to become an expert. Confidence can get you only so far, but at the end of the day, you have to have your facts right. Knowledge makes it easier to command a room—and harder for people to discredit you or brush you off.” — Stephanie Block ’22
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
When Jacob Battad ’18 started at Rollins, he thought he wanted to become an engineer but kept his physics major even when he realized that wasn’t the right path for him. With the advice and mentorship of Jeff Tabatabai ’01, executive vice president at Hill Dermaceuticals, he was able to apply the knowledge he gained at Rollins to land a job as an IT specialist at Darden, where he went on to build on that and other experiences in digital marketing. Today, Battad is a customer engagement manager for strategy, planning, and integration at Disney.
“I had this very niche degree in physics and didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time. He showed me how my studies and all the experiences I had would translate to different jobs. He was super helpful in building my confidence so I could sell myself to different employers.” — Jacob Battad ’18
By the Numbers: Career Champions
Six years after launching, the Career Champions program is celebrating with some pretty impressive results, delivering on its promise to forge meaningful connections between students and alumni and increase graduates’ opportunities for success after Rollins.
Total number of mentor-mentee pairings
Percentage of mentors and mentees who would recommend Career Champions to a peer
4 in 5
Student mentees landed, identified, or learned about an opportunity with help from the program
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