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Corporate Mentor Program spurs student success

Tampa, FL (January 16, 2013) — In an economic environment where many recent graduates are just struggling to find jobs, first-generation students at the Muma College of Business are setting the bar high for success.

Corporate Mentor Breakfast

Of the 14 students in the Muma College of Business's Corporate Mentor Program who graduated in December, all of them have jobs, and 13 have jobs within their field of study. Corporate Mentor Program Director J.R. Haworth said not only did these students have job offers upon graduating, but many of them students had multiple companies hoping to hire them at above-average salaries.

Haworth is quick to say that it's to his students' own credit that they have job offers. The Corporate Mentor Program doesn't have to ask companies to hire its grads: their achievements are a testament to their own merits, the positive peer pressure from their fellow students, and the mentoring relationship that helps keep them focused through four years at USF.

"The program is really gaining momentum," he said. "It's not really a goal anymore — it's an expectation — that the average corporate mentor student has more than one offer when they graduate."

For 25 years, the Corporate Mentor Program has been connecting first-generation students at USF — students who are the first in their families to attend college — with professionals in the community for a yearlong mentoring relationship. These students receive a higher level of support that helps them make a successful transition from college to working life. Relationships with professionals from companies including Raymond James, Nielsen, and Wells Fargo help the students make clear goals and visualize what life in the corporate world is like. Wells Fargo also recently gifted $25,000 to the program, increasing the program's ability to host events for its students and do outreach to local middle and high school students.

And it's not just this fall's Corporate Mentor graduates who are seeing success. Other former students have gone to work for top companies such as JPMorgan and Nielsen and have snagged high-profile internships at companies including Goldman Sachs. At Nielsen, two Corporate Mentor students recently entered the Emerging Leaders Program, where new hires are trained for leadership roles by doing six-month rotations in various sectors of the company.

JR Haworth & Davina DeWitt

One of those students in the Nielsen Emerging Leaders Program, Davina DeWitt, said the Corporate Mentor Program was life changing for her. Like all other corporate mentor students, she was the first generation in her family to go to college, but in a family where her parents didn't graduate from high school and half of her siblings didn't either, she said she had even more to learn.

"I was the first in my family to reach out and go to college, so there was a steep learning curve when it came to professional development," she said. "A lot of things that I didn't know naturally because my parents weren't in professional jobs, I got from the Corporate Mentor Program."

In fact, DeWitt met Nielsen's Global Strategic Program leader through a Corporate Mentor event and said the confidence and soft skills she gained through the program led her to a job interview with the company. Her mentor, who was also a Nielsen employee, helped talk her through any questions she had about job interviews or the corporate world, DeWitt said.

"It was so important to have someone I could get professional advice from, because in my family, there's no one," she said. "It was a great opportunity."

Charles Bryan Thomas

Charles Bryan Thomas, one of the fall 2012 Corporate Mentor graduates, said the Corporate Mentor Program helped him build the network he needed to succeed. He had two job offers after graduating with his management degree and now works as an executive in training for guest experience division for Target.

"My goal was to graduate and to have a job offer when I graduated so that when I walked across the stage and shook President Genshaft's hand, I wouldn't worry once I got to the other side of the stage," he said.

Thomas said he didn't see the value of being involved in the college at first, but saw friends graduate with high GPAs who still had trouble finding jobs. He realized at that point that graduating wasn't enough to ensure employment. His three mentors helped him learn how to get involved in a way that would benefit him professionally, he said.

"I didn't have someone to look up to in terms of how to go out into the corporate world and how to interact with people. I didn't really have that exposure," Thomas said. "They all gave me a lot of insight into how to be successful, and the most successful people are people that network."

The mentoring relationship and other opportunities the program offers helps students learn soft skills that set them apart from the average student, Haworth said.

"When you develop the underlying things, the goal takes care of itself," Haworth said. "The expectation is just normalized."