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Professional Opinion

Mentorships demystify college to career transitions

Alumni-student networks support preparation and launch
University Business, March 2018
David P. Angel is president of Clark University in Massachusetts.
David P. Angel is president of Clark University in Massachusetts.

Mentorship is widely regarded as a high-impact practice in various learning environments—from hospitals to science laboratories to leadership development programs. With proven examples of the power of mentorship in place, it is time to approach this educational practice more systematically and intentionally.

One area with tremendous promise for such a systemic approach is helping students to connect their liberal arts education to career paths after college. These “college to career” transitions are unnecessarily mystified for students. Mentorship is a way to fix this.

A liberal arts education does not require a trade-off between learning and doing. The capacity to think critically, to engage in rigorous analysis, to approach complex problems in new and creative ways, and to work effectively as part of diverse and global teams serves both purposes.

At Clark University and elsewhere, models are evolving that link liberal learning to the world of practice at every stage and in every dimension of the student experience. Guided, well-structured mentorship opportunities identify and convey the skills and capabilities students need to flourish in the economy of the future, and to compete in the economy of today.

Research has clearly connected answers to the following questions about college and career success: Did I have a mentor? Do I understand my own goals and strengths? Effective exploration and preparation are keys to finding the answers.

Making connections

Two years ago, Clark began building an initiative to expand the benefits of its focus on liberal education and effective practice. ClarkCONNECT brings together current students with alumni, parents and other university supporters who provide mentorship résumé review, job shadowing, internships, career and graduate school advice, and placement opportunities.

Each connection focuses on a specific economic sector and is guided by knowledgeable alumni and faculty co-chairs. A cutting-edge digital platform enhances the process.

According to a recent Gallup report, just 22 percent of college graduates strongly agree they had a mentor to encourage their goals and dreams; 29 percent strongly agree they had an internship to apply what they were learning.

Connections and experiences gained during internships provide obvious, powerful advantages. ClarkCONNECT’s efforts are structured around academic and career-themed disciplines, including biology and biosciences, law and regulatory affairs, markets and business, health, creative arts, and psychology.

Students are encouraged, within the curriculum, to explore their interests and to choose those communities that most closely align with their interests and passions.

Peers and partners

Alumni and nonstudent participants appreciate their gains, too. Benefits include access to talent and expansion of their own professional networks. They ultimately deepen their connection to Clark.

To date, nearly 1,000 alumni, 350 undergraduate students and 135 faculty and staff have joined ClarkCONNECT. Alumni are mentoring students in such areas as cancer research and nonprofit work, and are hiring “Clarkies” as interns and employees.

Intentional, market-driven mobilization of human capital reflects a cultural shift within and outside of liberal arts institutions. Success lies in our ability to create and strengthen opportunities for all involved, especially our students.

As I travel around the country, I consistently hear the willingness of alumni, parents and others to support Clark students. It is crucial that higher ed leaders listen carefully and develop ways to connect with, contribute to and collaborate with this community of peers and partners. They are essential for both students’ and the institution’s success.

Helping all to thrive will surely benefit society as a whole. 


David P. Angel is president of Clark University in Massachusetts.