Michele Gianforcaro didn’t have an easy task ahead of her when she launched a pilot mentorship program for female business students at Villanova University’s School of Business back in January of 2014.
Just under 100 female students initially signed up for the pilot the first year, and she spent long hours over the next few weeks to make sure she and her staff found each student a mentor who aligned precisely with the students’ career goals, the geographic area where they wanted to work and other preferences listed in their applications. They used survey tools and databases to help them manually match the students with the 400 women alums who’d volunteered, but it still proved a difficult task to find each student the perfect fit.
“We joked it was Match Madness during March Madness,” says Gianforcaro, assistant director of professional development at Villanova’s Charles and James V. O’Donnell Center for Professional Development.
PARTNERSHIP WITH MENTORSHIP PLATFORM, CHRONUS
The program grew to 200 students the following year, and when it came time to scale the program this year so that all of the 400 students in the current sophomore class could be paired with a mentor, Gianforcaro knew she needed a way to make the process more efficient. While researching vendors in the marketplace, she learned of Chronus, a company with mentorship software that uses a matching algorithm called “MatchIQ” to automate recommendations for mentorship matches based on users’ profiles and interest. Villanova had recently received funds from an alum to support the expansion of its mentorship program, and Gianforcaro was eager to bring Chronus, dubbed by some as the “match.com” of the mentoring world, on board.
“It got me out of the matchmaking business and is a saving grace for me with efficiency,” says Gianforcaro.
While many companies and nonprofits are now using mentorship software programs to help them grow their in-house mentorship programs, universities have been an untapped market until recently. Mentorship programs for undergraduate business students are increasingly being seen by business schools as a powerful tool to help give students a competitive edge in the job market as well as increase alumni engagement, explains Chronus CEO Seena Mortazavi.
“It is becoming an important selling point to attract students to universities,” says Mortazavi. “It’s not just enough to have the best professors or best facilities, but they also want that hands-on mentorship experience and someone who can help guide them through their career.”
B-SCHOOLS ARE THE EARLY ADOPTERS ON CAMPUS
Chronus is moving aggressively into this market, and has been successful at getting the attention of university administrators like Gianforcaro who often struggle with the day-to-day logistics of making mentorship matches in a large-scale programs. The company was founded in 2007 by engineers from Microsoft and Oracle who’d undergone successful mentorship experiences during their careers and wanted to build a platform that could help others easily connect to mentors. In the last few years, Chronus has made inroads on dozens of university campuses, with undergraduate business programs paying particular interest, Mortazavi says.
“Undergraduate business programs are often the first to jump on, and then it spreads to other schools on campus, and in some cases across the entire undergraduate population,” says Mortazavi.
Villanova is using the Chronus software for the first time this year, is also piloting the mentorship program in the MBA program, says Gianforcaro. They will also eventually use it in their Master of Science in Finance degree program. According to Mortazavi, other undergraduate business programs using the software include the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
The company’s software pinpoints five top alum matches for each students, and then the student is able to select the mentor of their choice and send them an e-mail and personal invite to be their mentor. Once the mentor accepts the student’s invite, the software helps them develop their relationship by prompting the pair to e-mail each other, organize coffee dates and set specific goals. Mortazavi says in some cases, the mentors and mentees will even sign contracts agreeing to commit time to the relationship.
MENTORSHIPS SPREADING FROM D.C. TO COLORADO
Georgetown University has been using Chronus software for its undergraduate population since 2013, dubbing its mentorship program “Hoya Gateway,” says Matt Kelly, associate director of Georgetown’s alumni career services office. Between 750 to 800 students make requests for alum mentors each year, and about 17% of the students using the program are from the McDonough School of Business, Kelly said. Many of those business students have recently switched majors and are looking for career advice from an alum in the field they’re interested in pursuing. Students using the program feel empowered because they get to pick their own mentor, and the software makes it easy for them to keep track of their goals, Kelly maintains.
“Having some kind of technology-based program makes it kind of exciting and easy for students to use,” Kelly continues. “They like the fact that they won’t hear radio silence on the other side when they reach out to a mentor, and that they can play around with the matching tools and profiles.”
At the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, which has been using the Chronus platform since 2009, more than 2,000 students have been linked with alumni through the school’s various mentoring programs and over 50% of Leeds undergraduates are participating in one of the Leeds mentoring programs, Chronus said in a press release. At Leeds, the mentorship program appears to have more than just short-term value for the students. In an Educational Benchmarking study conducted by Leeds, students who participated in the school’s Professional Mentorship Program were 40% more likely to secure a job than non-participants.
VILLANOVA PROGRAM AN ‘ALL AROUND WIN-WIN’
At Villanova, Gianforcaro is hoping that Chronus will yield similar benefits for the school’s undergraduate business students and forge more relationships like the one between Kristin Bianca, a finance and economics major and senior at Villanova, and Heather Gravelle, a Villanova alum who works as a senior client associate at Wells Fargo’s wealth management and investment planning practice in Charlotte, NC.
Bianca signed up for the mentorship pilot program back when she was a sophomore, and has leaned heavily on Gravelle over the last two years as she looked for an internship and later a full-time job. According to Gravelle, Bianca frequently called upon her for career advice during coffee dates on campus and spending hours honing Bianca’s mock interview skills.
“It was an all around win-win,” Gravelle claims. “The people who step forward to mentor want to do it, and it helps energize alumni who are interested in making an impact.”
MENTORSHIP LEADS TO ENTRY-LEVEL ERNST & YOUNG POSITION
Bianca credits Gravelle’s advice and cheerleading in helping her sharpen her interview skills and land a dream job in the human capital division at Ernst & Young in New York City. “Honestly I think my interview with Ernst & Young would have been quite different if I hadn’t worked with her,” says Bianca. “I don’t know if I’d have that job today without her.”
Villanova officially introduced the Chronus platform to sophomores a few weeks ago and so far over 150 students from the sophomore class have signed up, a number Gianforcaro expects will grow as word gets out about the program. Participating students will be able to set semester goals with their mentors, and the mentors and mentees will be expected to brainstorm together about how to achieve that specific goal, whether it’s gaining a leadership position in a student club or targeting companies they want to intern at in the summer.
“Who is not going to do better with an individual coach,” questions Gianforcaro. “It is very appealing to millennials to feel that they are special, and this program will help them feel special and give them that unique one-on-one relationship.”
Article written by Alison Damast on March 28, 2016. See original article on Poets & Quants.