Wahoowa Mentorship Program: What We Learned

What we learned from building our first alumni-student mentorship program

HackCville‘s Alumni Relations student team began the semester with an ambitious goal: design and launch a brand new mentorship program in just 3 weeks to connect Wahoowa alumni with HackCville students. While we have a long way to go, I’m happy to say our program was generally very well received by students and alumni.

The program design was fairly simple:

  1. Students and alumni sign up to take part in the program. 60 students and 96 alumni did.
  2. HackCville’s Alumni Relations team selects individual matches by hand.
  3. Student mentees go through a 90 minute training on how to manage a professional relationship over email and phone calls. They’re also introduced to their alumni mentor. We developed this training in-house.
  4. Mentees and mentors are required to speak to each other at least twice during the semester. After that, it’s up to them if they want to continue.

Throughout the entire program, we took a data-driven approach to measuring the program’s effectiveness. Here’s a bit about what we learned in each step of the program.

1. Alumni and Student Signups

96 alumni signed up for the program. We matched 60 of them with our 60 students. Here’s a breakdown of these two groups and how they compare. First, we looked at what schools they came from at U.Va.:

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In this way, the students and alumni matched up nicely. This helped when we tried to match up students by major.

The Wahoowa network as a whole is 61% male, 39% female. While that’s not where we want to be, it’s not a bad starting place considering how heavily male the tech industry is today. Based off of these numbers, we were surprised when we saw the data on the mentorship program signups.

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We were surprised that signups here skewed even more heavily male. We’re not sure why this happened, but we know what we need to do. We will work on targeted outreach to female alumni for next semester.

48% of alumni who signed up graduated within the last 5 years, and 74% graduated within the last 10 years. This reflected the young nature of the Wahoowa Network as a whole. While we don’t have exact numbers on this, many alumni expressed that this was their first time they had participated in a formal mentorship program.

2. Matching Alumni to Students

We spent a total of 18 man-hours matching the 60 students with 60 alumni. This was both the fun part and the hardest part.

We matched students based off a lot of criteria – personality type, industry interest, preferred cities, current projects, major, and more. What became immediately clear when we started the matching is we needed more data.

Many alumni and students filled out extremely short applications, which sometimes made it very difficult to make matches. We also wished we had asked students and alumni more about what age and gender they’d prefer, and if there were any other criteria that were more important to them than others.

I would have appreciated a mentor in the field of social/international development who can help me better understand the area and help me navigate the current challenge, finding an internship. – Third Year Student

We had a lot of students interested in careers at social impact companies (B-Corps, innovative non-profits, etc.) but very few alumni who worked in these fields. To us, this means we will need to do targeted outreach to these alumni in future semesters.

We tried to make our matches on which pairs would have both a good professional and personal fit. At the end of the process, the matches we felt the most confident about were for the mentors we had met personally. It’s an obvious thing to say, but talking to someone over the phone or in person makes a world of a difference in understanding their personality. We’re curious how we can get a better sense of all our mentors as our program grows. It’s a hard thing to scale.

3. Student Training Session

We required all students to participate in a 90-minute workshop on how to manage a mentorship relationship. Emails introducing each student to their mentor were sent during these workshops. We spent time during the workshop for them to respond to that email, so we knew that by the end of the workshop every single student had connected with their mentor.

The presentation answered every question I had going into it (and more questions that I hadn’t thought of yet). – 2nd Year Student

All students participated in a pre-workshop and post-workshop survey so we could measure the effectiveness of our class. By the end of the class, for those who weren’t already 100% confident to start:

  • 62% of students felt more comfortable about having a mentorship relationship
  • 64% of students felt more comfortable with professional phone calls
  • 72% of students felt more comfortable with professional emails

4. Alumni and Student Interactions

After the first call or meeting, we asked alumni and students to fill out a survey on how well they felt they were matched from both a professional and personal standpoint.

With a 70% response rate with a scale of 1-5:

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We required students to fill out a end-of-semester where they could share information about their experience with their mentor. While there were a few students that didn’t have a good experience, 76% of students were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their mentorship experience. We’re very happy about this!

On average, students said they were 57% likely to continue speaking with their mentor next semester. To be clear, we had always advertised the program as just one semester long. That being said, we were hoping that this number would be higher – it’s something we’ll aim to improve next semester.

Half of students requested to be paired with another mentor next semester. Most of these students were happy with their mentor but wanted to meet someone new. That’s cool!

A number of students shared great pieces of qualitative feedback, which we’ll share with you all below.

Positive:

I realized that no matter what you majored in, if you can apply your skills in a creative and effective way then there is a place for you at any company. – 1st Year Student

It was great to get insight from someone who went to UVA so was once in my shoes but has transitioned into a successful career as a software developer. Hearing his thoughts and his experiences were extremely helpful. – 3rd Year Student

My mentor went above and beyond in our call. Prior to our call, I felt as if I already was in the position that I wanted to be in career-wise, and didn’t know what help I was actually seeking until my mentor gave it to me…he probed me with questions to help me further explore my interest and motivations, beyond what I had already considered. Overall, I feel as if my mentor was a superb match and gave me the guidance that I didn’t know I even needed. – 3rd Year Student

Constructive:

I feel like I got matched with someone who was identical to me (young professional in the CS field working for a large tech company), so we didn’t have much to talk about. He couldn’t really give me great advice, b/c we were at about the same place. – 4th Year Student

I wish she had come into it with questions for me as well. I know that sounds weird but it was a lot of me asking questions and her answering and I feel like she didn’t get to know me that well. – 2nd Year Student

It would’ve been nice to be able to prioritize the different qualities we were looking for. – 4th Year Student

Although we are adults, I think a reminder (midway through the program) to meet with our mentors again would have been helpful. I honestly just forgot to reach out to him again, so we didn’t have a second conversation. – 3rd Year Student

We also asked alumni mentors to fill out feedback about the program. While responses are still coming in, we have some good information to share now:

I enjoyed being able to share my knowledge and experiences with a fourth year student as he undertook his career search for after graduation. I also enjoyed the exposure I was able to get to other students through the NYC startup trip, etc. – NYC Mentor

Mentoring has limited stickiness if the mentee does not have clear goals and a deadline. I would like to see mentoring that involves taking action and reporting the output. – Austin Mentor

That last piece of feedback we’ve heard a lot – many alumni wished their students had better defined goals for the semester. We’re planning on tying in this program more closely with the projects they’re all working on at HackCville next semester, which should be an easy way to address this issue.

Looking to next semester

We have a LOT of data on this program that could help us find trends and craft a more effective program. Perhaps relationships are more likely to be successful if the pair is within a certain range of age difference, or if they’re male/female, or if they talked over video chat vs. a phone call… you get the idea. We have all the data to run those scenarios and more over the next several weeks, and we’re excited to see what we can learn.

Finally, we wanted to say thank you to all of the students and alumni who participated in the program this semester and gave us so much excellent feedback. We can’t wait for next semester to see how we can make the program even better.

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