Ithaca College’s new online mentoring program, “IC Mentoring Network,” will expand to cover six additional fields of study in the coming month. The network currently covers students in six fields: law, physical and occupational therapy, education, integrated marketing communications, finance and theater.
The IC Mentoring Network, which was launched on May 3, is part of IC 20/20, the college’s strategic plan for its vision of the year 2020. The network seeks to give current students an understanding of professional life early in their college careers through collaboration with alumni.
The college has yet to announce the new fields of study that the network will cover. Gretchen Van Valen, associate director for alumni mentoring programs, said these fields were chosen based on input from students in Spring 2013.
The network works through online group forums hosted on LinkedIn. There are currently 786 alumni and 120 students on the network. President Tom Rochon said he expects this ratio will soon shift.
Rochon also said alumni have often told him they regret not having spent more time taking classes outside their chosen fields. In contrast, he said current college students often expressed desire to focus solely on one field of study. The new mentoring network will allow alumni to pass along these types of reflections to current students and alumni, Rochon said.
“I shouldn’t be the one translating from alumni to students,” he said. “I would rather students hear from respective professionals, their views on this and why.”
Van Valen said while the mentoring network is open to all students, first-year students in particular should make use of the resource.
“I would encourage the freshmen who join — any student, but freshmen especially — to use the mentoring network,” Van Valen said. “We have well over 750 alumni who are making themselves available … It’s a really nice and easy way to say ‘Hey, I’m just starting. Any quick advice?’”
Christopher Biehn, vice president of institutional advancement, said the main foreseeable challenge to the network is a lack of awareness.
“The biggest challenge we face is helping undergraduate students realize the value of it and connecting them to it,” Biehn said.
Meanwhile, Van Valen said alumni have said they are happy to be giving back to the college.
“Alumni want to help mentor students,” Van Valen said. “They want to be able to provide their experiences to students, because they know how powerful and important it was for them that they saw alumni in the classroom, how that has stayed with them.”
Rochon said he had been speaking to alumni for three years before launching the network.
“I talked on the road with alumni about a number of the exciting ideas that the campus community had come up with,” he said. “The resonance among alumni for this idea was great. I knew immediately that many alumni would be thrilled to serve as mentors for our current students.”
David Thalberg ’87 said he is looking forward to working with his fellow alumni through the network. He also said first-year students should take advantage of the four years ahead of them.
“You will never experience a four-year period like you will these next four years,” he said. “Get noticed … this will help you through your years at school and as you look to enter the workforce.”
Junior Samantha Gibble, a communication management and design major, said she has been able to benefit from what the network has offered so far.
“One thing I have learned in college is that it is all about networking,” Gibble said. “Today it’s all about knowing the right people … I received great feedback from alumni, and I know I will be implementing their advice in the future.”
Van Valen said through the network students can learn about aspects that are just as important as academics. She said the alumni mentors will share their lived experiences to teach students.
“They are not only teaching you the traditional way but they are teaching you what made sense to them, through their stories, through their examples,” she said. “That is so powerful.”