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Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, Published January 27 2014

Online mentor matchmakers soar at UND

GRAND FORKS — During a video shown inside the Pancratz Career Development Center at the University of North Dakota, a businesswoman is seen talking about her background in advertising, project leadership and marketing communications.

Mary Fischer, an independent strategic consultant for her own firm in Minneapolis, said she’s had a lot of opportunities to have a variety of goals throughout her career.

Still, “I think I’m best suited to help folks in the general marketing arena,” she said.

Fischer is one of 21 mentors involved in the UND business college’s Pancratz Mentoring Program, which career advisers say connects students with professionals in a meaningful way.

Students with at least a sophomore status can access an online database and browse through video profiles in a method reminiscent of online dating.

Mentors can offer a fuller picture of their background in the videos, said Kathy Lund, center academic adviser.

“If we just have a bio, it doesn’t mean much,” she said. “Those videos have been extremely useful for students because they get a feel for who the mentors are, and they can see what the connections between them may be.”

Although mentor programs at universities are common, this one and the center itself have notable success. Career advisers say they saw a 173 percent increase in the total number of students who contacted the center since 2011.

Sam Carr, graduate assistant career adviser, said the center expects the same numbers this year.

“It’s on track to jump in percentage this year over last year,” he said. “Probably not as big, but it’s on the rise.”

Right match

Staff members help students find the right mentor, whom they keep in contact with on a monthly basis through phone calls or video conferencing. To date, the program has established 14 relationships between mentors and students since it opened in 2010.

Nearly all of the relationships formed in 2012.

“The program has really grown with the center,” Lund said.

Mentors provide students with great help, as all hail from a variety of backgrounds that reflect majors offered within the college, advisers said. Sometimes, students can’t figure out the best direction for their careers, and mentors help solidify their career path by offering networking opportunities or an industry perspective, they said.

“They give them tips on what they as a hiring manager would look for in a successful candidate, or what the trends in the industry are,” Lund said. “They can really just give them insight.”

In addition to the mentoring program, staff members help students better develop their social media presence and let them practice interviewing with prerecorded questions. With more and more interviews taking place remotely, whether over the phone or online, making a good impression is important, advisers said.

Much to the chagrin of some interviewees, the sessions are recorded. But students find the method useful to gauge how long they take to answer questions, their body language during the interview and their responses.

“You can see improvement in students using this from the first question they answer,” said Carr.

The center and mentoring program continue to grow in popularity. Career advisers say the total number of students who have contacted the center — for the mentoring program and other services — has nearly tripled to 418 since 2011, though that includes repeat contacts, Carr said.

Since this fall, 251 students have contacted them and they only hope that number grows. Lund has attended conferences to make sure the center is serving the business students well, she said.

“Our main mission is getting students to use it,” she said.