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Learning life lessons from alumni mentors at UofGH

Crystal Parris

I thought this would be a perfect program to get involved with to see what others have done and what path they took.

When Ramona Ramcharran was a student at the University of Guelph-Humber, she recalls receiving valuable career advice from an older graduate as part of UofGH’s Student-Alumni Mentorship Program.

So after Ramcharran graduated from the Business program in 2017 and took on a position as financial analyst at Fengate Real Asset Investments, she did not hesitate to return to UofGH campus in Toronto to pay that mentorship forward to current students.

“When I was here and I had a mentor, I took so much away from that experience,” Ramcharran said. “I’m still in touch with him and he’s my go-to person when I need advice.

“I wanted to give that experience to somebody else.”

Exchanging wisdom

UofGH mentors and mentees alike recently gathered at the University’s Art Gallery for a lively event organized by Alumni Services that celebrated the mentors and allowed students and alumni an opportunity to network.

Crystal Parris, a second-year student in the Family & Community Social Services program, joined the Student-Alumni Mentorship Program primarily so she could learn from the career paths of people farther along in her field. Specifically, she was curious to talk to someone who had pursued a master’s degree, and as a mother of a seven-year-old daughter, she had questions about how to best balance life and school.

“I thought this would be a perfect program to get involved with to see what others have done and what path they took to get where they are, so I can see if that’s a path I should take or what things I should avoid,” Parris said.

Through the program, some of the mentors likewise saw an opportunity to calm students’ nerves about next steps after graduation.

“It’s nice to be able to put students at ease and say: ‘Hey, you’ll be fine outside of university,’” said mentor Nish Vairavanathan, a Business alum from the Class of 2009 who now works in the Bank of Canada’s currency department.

Other mentors say they volunteer because they feel a duty to pass on their experience to students who are in the same position they once were.

“It’s important to stay connected with your roots,” said Mike Nielsen, a Justice Studies alumnus who is now a police officer with Peel Regional Police. “Graduating at the age of 21, and now for myself it’s 10 years later, it’s important to look back and try to help the people who are in the shoes you were in.

“It’s our job as people who went here to help students progress and do well.”

Making new connections

Ultimately, the mentorship program is intended to help students prepare for their transition to work, strengthen their understanding of their field of choice, and give them an early advantage in developing and expanding their professional networks.

“Connecting UofGH graduates with current students is really important to us," said Alumni Advancement Coordinator Laurie de Fleuriot. "Our alumni love to give their time mentoring and talking to students – they’ve been in their shoes and know their challenges.

"It can be intimidating for students to reach out to potential mentors, but we spend a lot of time matching mentees and mentors who have something in common. At the very least, alumni and students can relate to each other based on their shared experiences during their time at UofGH.”

Parris says she has already made up her mind to continue in the program throughout the remainder of her education at UofGH.

“I figure, do it every year and you might meet someone new each time and have a different experience,” she said.

“Hopefully, when I graduate and move on, I can in turn be a mentor and be able to help somebody else.”