Mentorship Program Makes a Strong Impression in its First Year

Dean Gregory Washington, Engineering Mentee Deysi Alvarado, Dean Hal SternAt a spirited June event in the Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom, a group of students from both the Samueli School of Engineering and the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences gathered with their mentors to celebrate a successful end to the two schools’ inaugural Undergraduate Mentorship Program.

In its first year, the Undergraduate Mentorship Program focused primarily, though not exclusively, on pairing up female engineering and ICS students with mentors in a variety of high-tech businesses. The proportion of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), both in academia and industry, continues to lag behind that of men. This is why the program began with a focus on women.

Linda Smart — senior director of research and development informatics services at Allergan, a UCI alumna and a member of ICS/Engineering Diversity Committee — was instrumental in the launch of the mentoring program.

“I had a real personal interest,” Smart says. “It’s a way for me to sort of reach back in time, think about who I was as student, and say, ‘How can I give young students the benefit of my experience?’”

Antigone Blackwell, director of development for engineering and ICS, says that the two schools have a strong interest not only in recruiting more female students in the first place, but also retaining those students once they arrive.

“The attrition rate is higher among women,” Blackwell says. “A mentorship program was seen as a cost-effective way to encourage women to stay in the Bren and Samueli schools by showing them how to make a successful transition from the academic world to the working world.”

As part of the program, all mentors conducted mock interviews with their mentees, reviewed their resumes and engaged them in career-track discussions. Many mentors brought their mentees out for site visits at their workplaces.

“These young ladies are amazing: very smart, hard-working, showed great initiative,” Smart says. “I enjoyed interacting with them. I hope it was rewarding for the mentees, because I know it was extremely rewarding for all of the mentors.”

Rachel Weiner, a student who just finished her sophomore year, was paired up with Smart as her mentor. “I would recommend the program to anyone,” Weiner says. “It opens you up to networking and mentorship, which can be hard to find otherwise.”

Next year, Blackwell says, the program will increase from 42 mentors to some 75 mentors, and the emphasis will expand as well. “We have been recruiting not only women, but students from other underrepresented groups,” she says.

Blackwell also notes that four of the senior students in the Undergraduate Mentorship Program were hired by their mentor’s company, and that several other students have been offered internships. “Our students have made a strong impression,” she says. “And the program has clearly been mutually beneficial for our industry partners.”

— Story by Ted B. Kissell