Humphrey School Mentor Program Marks 30 Years of Making Matches
April 19, 2017—Since its quiet beginning 30 years ago, the mentor program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs has grown into one of the most distinctive in the country. Over the past three decades, thousands of students have gained valuable insights into career planning in public service through relationships with one of hundreds of dedicated mentors.
Since 1987, the Humphrey School Alumni Association has sponsored the mentoring program, which matches Humphrey School students with mentors in various professions who share similar interests.
The school’s mentor program is the oldest at the University of Minnesota, and one of the oldest among public affairs schools in the United States, according to Jen Guyer-Wood, director of Career Services at the Humphrey School.
“When a student comes to me and they’re struggling to find a career path, the first thing I do is see if they’ve got a mentor,” Guyer-Wood said. “Our mentors are really good. They welcome students into their networks as peers. They provide advice and guidance for students who are not quite clear yet on their goals.”
Each year, the program matches nearly 100 Humphrey School students with mentors both locally and globally. Some of those mentors have been involved in the program for 20 years or more, while others are brand new.
“Usually our mentors were mentored by others before them,” said Guyer-Wood (pictured below). “There are new people coming in as mentors who appreciate the relationship they had in the past. They had a great mentor experience and want to give back to the school by working with new students.”
She added the Humphrey School’s mentor program is unique because of its focus on meeting the individual needs of each student participant.
“Both students and mentors apply to be part of the program. It’s really a specialized and intentional process to match students with the right mentors,” she said. “Magic happens when they first meet. We can see them click immediately.”
Josie Shardlow (MPP ’13) has been a mentor for two years, and echoes that sentiment.
“The best thing about the mentor program for me is developing a relationship with a current student and feeling their excitement for the field of public service,” said Shardlow, who is a community engagement coordinator for the city of Brooklyn Park.
Students typically gain a wealth of career advice and guidance from their mentors, as well as professional connections that can lead to an internship or a job after graduation. But it’s the personal relationships, many of which remain in place long after the mentorship is over, that often are the most valuable takeaways.
“One of the best things about my Humphrey experience was the relationships I developed with my mentors,” said Akua Asare (MPP ’15). “They encouraged me to dig deeper into my assumptions.”
Even after 30 years, Guyer-Wood said her office is always working to improve the mentor program.
“Every year we aim to make it more effective and efficient. We pay attention to the feedback we get from students and alumni,” she said. “We recruit new mentors every year because our students’ interests change.”
One current focus is on increasing the diversity of participants.
“We’ve asked mentors if there’s a part of their background they would be willing to share with their students; for example, their ethnic background, LGBTQ status, or whether they are first-generation immigrants,” she said, “so we can better reflect the backgrounds of the students enrolling in the Humphrey School.”