During the Fall 2016 semester, USC chemical engineering students took part in an Alumni-Student mentoring initiative conducted through the online business networking site LinkedIn.
Dr. John Weidner, Department Chair and Chem E professor, conceived of the project two years ago as a way to connect with alumni, encourage students to ask questions about industries, and create networking opportunities for both students and alumni. He launched the initiative as a class assignment in October.
“Freshman and sophomore students don’t always listen to professors about research opportunities, co-ops and internships, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to ask professionals questions about the industry and how to succeed,” said Dr. Weidner.
Weidner had his Introduction to Chemical Engineering students create Linkedin profiles in order to communicate with alumni and upperclass students. He then tasked the students to come up with questions within the groups—about the benefits of a study abroad, which electives are most beneficial professionally, etc. By engaging with alumni, students developed the prospect of creating networks within the field and securing future professional paths.
15 mentor groups were created in order to create one-on-one communication between students and mentors. Students also communicated with upper classmen about their current paths and asked questions of them as well. Alumni shared their knowledge with a captive audience. Currently, 75 students are participating in the ongoing project. Since the introductory chemical engineering class is not taught in the spring semester, the USC Student Chapter of AIChE, (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), will continue with the venture and encourage students to communicate with their mentor groups.
The project also seeks to engage sophomore students, as Dr. Weidner feels there are not enough activities across campus to include them. “Freshman and incoming students are always being engaged through different activities provided for them, while juniors and seniors have already selected their paths and focuses. Sophomores have less direction and opportunities,” said Weidner. “It is a problem across campus.” The project allows for sophomores to narrow their fields of interest and create a path to success.
“The project still in the process of being improved, but the early returns are promising,” says Weidner. The current mentor groups will continue through the spring semester, and the project will be re-implemented with improvements next fall. The hope is to provide a working template for alumni-student mentor groups which can be scaled and implemented across campus as a tool for other disciplines.