How to Build a Network of Mentors in College

864 1024 Ellen Ensher
  • 0

mentoring“You did it! You’re done! You made it! You’re Through. …Oh what a great moment … now what will you do??”- Sandra Boynton
One of my favorite ways to wrap up my last day of class is to read a children’s book to my students such as Yay You by Sandra Boynton quoted above. This might seem weird but in fact, I think the best children’s books are incredibly insightful and have very powerful messages. In any case, I like to keep my students surprised and let them know as they walk out the door that I care and offer some final advice. In a recent guest post, I suggested that every college student and graduate needs to have a network of different types of mentors. Specifically, I recommend that while you are in college you make a connection with these types of mentors: 1) Traditional, 2) Inspirational, 3) Peer and Step-ahead. I also recommend that while in college, you become a mentor to someone else. In this post, I will discuss exactly how you can make this happen. To paraphrase, Sandra Boynton, I recommend that when developing your network of mentors you look north, look south, east and west, look inside, and look behind.

“There are so many choices. The world is immense. Take a good look around and decide what makes sense. So, Look North.”- Sandra Boynton

First, when you are in college: Look North. In other words, look up from your desk and look to your professors to connect you to alumni who work for companies you are interested in working for. Connect with these alumni and start using these connections to develop traditional mentoring relationships. Use LinkedIn to connect to your professors and then get active and get visible. The more your professors see your name online liking posts, sharing articles and in general being professionally and socially active, the more your professor will remember you in class and long after you graduate. It is good to be known to your professors as most of us professors are also functioning as ad hoc employment agencies and constantly connecting alums and students. Also, look up and get active in the student chapters of professional organizations on campus. Go to the events, ask questions, and use LinkedIn to connect with the speakers who visit campus. Even if you can’t make the event, you can send speakers a LinkedIn request. Who knows, your future traditional mentor might be the awesome speaker who showed up for the Accounting Society event or the Speed Networking event hosted by

Now, Look South and East and West. In other words, who are your peers at your level? When I was in graduate school earning my Ph.D. I had a group of peer mentors and we called ourselves the dissertation support group (did I mention that we were getting Ph.D.’s in Organizational Behavior and NOT marketing?!) We met every few weeks and together we beat the odds as five out of six of us finished our doctorates and became professors. (Our number six was lured away to a research institution with an offer of big money and while he never finished his Ph.D. he did quite well for himself). The typical drop-out rate for Ph.D.’s is fifty percent and I am absolutely convinced our peer support group got us over this statistical hump. So my advice to college students is to look around the classroom, look at your roommates, your sorority/fraternity members and look to these folks for emotional support and connections. Also, keep in touch with your friends who recently graduated and are now officially members of the “real world.” These recent alums can be valuable step-ahead mentors for you which are great because they are close enough in age and experience to get what you are going through exactly and they also have connections and perspective that can help you.

Next, Look Inside…of your heart that is. In addition to a relationship with a traditional mentor, you need an inspirational mentor. This is someone who you aspire to be like and whose example inspires you. You may never meet this inspirational mentor in person but you can learn from them by reading about them, watching their talks or videos and following their examples. For example, many of my students mention their inspirational mentor for presentation skills are people like Ellen DeGeneris, Obama, and rappers and musicians like Prince EA. How can you find inspirational mentors? Read and expose yourself to thinkers both inside and outside your discipline. Go on a retreat, an alternative spring break or study abroad. Think about who you want to be like in your career. For me, I look at Amy Cuddy and Sheryl Sandberg as my inspirational mentors.

Finally, Look Behind. While you are in college and for the rest of your life, don’t forget to look behind and be a mentor to someone else. At LMU, my students often serve as mentors to elementary and high school students through Underwings, El Espejo and many other programs. You can be a mentor formally or informally. For tips on how to be a good mentor, you can see my course available at This course is free for LMU students, faculty and staff as LMU is a subscriber. If you are not at LMU, then your company may have a subscription. You can also sign up for an individual subscription too. In any case, happy mentoring!