Graduate Alumni Mentoring Program
Graduate alumni and students connect and thrive through new mentorship program
This spring, UC Davis Graduate Studies launched a new Graduate Alumni Mentoring Program as a way to address the expressed desires of both the graduate student and alumni communities at UC Davis.
Sociology Ph.D. candidate Gillian Moise realized the need for a university-wide mentorship program for the graduate community after her experience running a similar program for the UC Davis Cross Cultural Center. There Moise ran a mentorship program to connect graduate students of color with faculty members.
“One thing I learned from that program is that graduate students are constantly looking for ways to diversify their mentorship pool,” Moise said.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, Moise was selected to be a Graduate Student Advisor to the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Chancellor, which afforded her the opportunity to work on expanding the graduate-focused mentorship program to be university wide.
As Moise worked to build the program, staff from the Graduate Studies alumni office shared that advanced-degree alumni are always looking for ways to engage with current graduate students. Seeing a way to fill “an untapped area and a gap that needed to be addressed,” Moise pivoted her mentorship program from being faculty-based to being alumni-focused instead.
“Knowing that graduate students are interested in having more opportunities along these lines and also knowing that UC Davis alumni were really interested in playing this more substantive role in the current graduate student community, that’s how the idea came to be,” Moise said.
The inaugural cohort includes 28 people—14 advanced-degree alumni and 14 graduate students. Moise paired these individuals based on their stated interests and objectives for the mentor-mentee relationship. This selection process considered more than just disciplines of study, which program participants appreciated.
“The program did an excellent job at pairing me with my particular student mentee,” said alumni mentor Marie Vasi Stillway, M.S. '20. “We got along very well and discovered that we had very similar experiences in academia even though we are from different parts of the world and our backgrounds are in different disciplines.”
Stillway added because of this selection process, “I really felt that my experiences were relatable and that my mentee was able to benefit from our relationship. It was a great experience for me.”
A Beneficial Experience for Both Mentors and Mentees
Alumni who serve as mentors have diverse professional backgrounds. While some work in academia as professors or administrators, many work in sectors outside of academia including government, industry, and non-profit sectors. Mentees state this was an added benefit of the program.
“Having a mentor outside of my department and institution, but who is intimately familiar with academia has been invaluable,” said mentee Allison Fulton, a Ph.D. candidate in English.
Although the mentors and their mentees had to meet via Zoom or phone calls this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversations and relationships made were no less meaningful. They discussed topics ranging from professional development and thesis writing to finding work-life balance and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although a virtual mentorship program was not originally part of her plan, Moise said it created an unintended benefit because it opened up opportunity for more alumni from all over the world to participate in the program. As such, Moise expects to keep a virtual component to the program so alumni who live outside the Davis-Sacramento area can participate.
Both alumni and student participants gave a resounding “yes” when asked if they wanted this pilot program to continue and grow. According to Moise, many mentors and mentees expressed interest in keeping relationships with each other after the formal program ends.
“What I’ve enjoyed most is making a connection with a fellow Aggie and the good feeling of being able to help guide the mentee using my own UC Davis experiences,” said alumni mentor Janelle Belanger-Sandoval, M.S. '94.
“It's been lovely! My mentor has helped me grow immensely,” Fulton said. “I am thinking totally differently about the relationship between the professional skills I've cultivated thus far and who I am as a person.”
Moise is looking for a new cohort of alumni to volunteer for the program. The time commitment and structure of the mentoring relationship is very flexible, so it can easily accommodate anyone’s schedule.
“Graduate students are really looking to connect with UC Davis alumni,” she said, “and those who decide to participate would be contributing in such a meaningful way that would have a long-term impact on the life of a graduate student.”
To express interest to participate in the 2021-22 Graduate Alumni Mentorship Program, please sign up here. We will notify you when mentor applications open in Fall 2021.