One of the greatest promises of a Swarthmore education is the chance to be a part of an exceptional community that extends well beyond the grounds of our campus. As many students have searched for opportunity in their lives after Swarthmore, this community has often proved an invaluable source of support. In 2014, two members of the Board of Managers, Rob Steelman ’92 and Ruth Shoemaker Wood ’01, initiated an effort to make this support system much more accessible to all Swarthmore students.
To help navigate the sometimes obscure path to post-undergraduate opportunities and careers, they launched the Career Collaborative — a formal program meant to match current students with relevant alumni mentors. After extensive discussion with the deans and other members of the Board, considering dozens of communities that alums already had strong connections to (including various Men’s and Women’s athletic teams and the BCC), the Greek Life organizations were selected to take part in a pilot version of the program.
The program has matched over 70 students with alumni mentors to date. While students’ requested professional or academic fields were given priority, the matching process was far more tailored, considering various other factors to ensure the best possible student-alum pairs. Steelman, with significant help from DU and Theta alums, Brandon Carver ’04, Chris Ciarleglio ’04, Melissa O’Connor ’14, and Ashley Gochoco ’14, spearheaded the matching process, devoting time to personally meet with students to understand their goals before connecting them with most appropriate alumni.
The program hopes to formalize and expand on the success that Career Services has had in the numerous networking events and Wall Street receptions it has organized in the past. In less than a year, the pilot has connected Swarthmore students with leaders in a broad range of professional and academic fields, including educational services, political activism, banking, medicine, marketing, law, and consulting.
One of the reasons that I can speak so easily to the success and benefits of the Career Collaborative is that it has proved, very literally, life changing to me. Late last year, I was paired with Zack Ellison ’04, a Director at Sun Life Investment Management. After taking the time to understand and flesh out my career objectives, Ellison personally reached out to and put me in touch with contacts he had at almost every major bank.
Three months, numerous interviews, and a couple offers later, I was accepting the opportunity to intern at William Blair & Co., a leading international middle market investment bank. Fast-forward another 7 months, I found myself with a full-time offer to work with the Technology Investment Banking group that I had spent my summer with. Having had the opportunity to meet my mentor in person since then, I know that the program has not only afforded me an incredible opportunity for my first years after Swarthmore, but has also given me a lifelong mentor, who is genuinely invested in my success and ambitions.
My experience is only a small example of the power of the connections the Career Collaborative has helped build. Jessica Seigel ’16 had similar results: “My mentor, Martha, provided me insight on how to navigate the job and intern search in Washington, D.C.. She was able to give me advice on the various types of careers that I could explore in politics, as well as ways to tailor my resume for these opportunities. Every industry and every city has different practices for networking and job hunting, and it’s enormously helpful to have someone to guide you through these processes.”
Braeden DeWan ’16 also weighed in on his experience and the value of the program: “Mark Bode ’80, my mentor, is genuinely involved in my career process. He has been a very reliable source of information and has helped me make many contacts that have led to interviews and offers. Through the program, Rob Steelman has assisted me in obtaining a summer internship, and introduced me to a variety of Greek life alums. My experience showed me that many alumni really do want to help, but do not always know how or the best way to do so. [The Career Collaborative] offers a structured way to make a difference.”
Recognizing the unique success of this program, Lenny Nathan ’92 is initiating a similar program for the Men’s soccer team. With the guidance of Alex Unger, an Associate Director of Leadership Giving at Swarthmore, Clarus Capital Investments, a student-run investment club on campus, also began a similar effort for its members. Both these initiatives represent an organic extension of the pilot program that will hopefully be folded into a broader version offered to all Swarthmore students in the near future.
Above all, the resounding success of the pilot’s first year is proof that we have an incredible alumni base that is eager to mentor and share their experience with current students. The Career Collaborative has proven itself a self-sustaining outlet for their energy and offers the chance to catalyze opportunity and, more importantly, build lifelong relationships within our community.