Written by Kara Illig
Students at the Saint Francis University
Shields School of Business are getting invaluable guidance and a jump-start on their careers long before they graduate. And it’s all thanks to distinguished alumni who are eager to give back to their alma mater, one student at a time.
Through the SAM: Flash Forward mentorship program, Shields faculty have made it possible to connect the past and future of Saint Francis by carefully pairing current business students with accomplished alumni. The result is career, internship and academic support from former students who have both deep ties to Saint Francis and vast experience in the professional “real world”.
“I started this program two years ago,” said
Dr. John Miko, Associate Dean of Business/Chair of Undergraduate Business Programs/Associate Professor of Management. “I recognized that one of our strengths as a university—and especially within the Shields School of Business—is the incredible success of our alumni and their strong affinity for our school and programs.”
Working in conjunction with the larger-scale
Backpack to Briefcase program, SAM: Flash Forward strives to foster personal bonds and professional exposure within the Saint Francis community. Mentors advise students on how to use their education to prepare for work outside the classroom. For alumni, working one-on-one with students provides a unique way to give back, reconnect, and strengthen their relationship with the university.
“SAM is just one of many programs under the Backpack to Briefcase umbrella which also includes our
Executive-In-Residence program, business-focused study abroad trips, and internships,” said Dr. Miko. All are designed to provide professional development opportunities for students, emphasizing the many ways a business degree can be applied in the real world.
How It Works
Students and alumni participating in the SAM program are paired in an educated, mindful way to ensure the match benefits the student’s personal and professional goals.
Business students can apply for the program at the beginning of their junior year. In their application, among other items, students provide their career ambitions. With that information, several departments come together to hold a “match meeting” to find the best alumni mentor for each student.
“A team that consists of faculty from the Shields School of Business, members of our
Advancement and Alumni team, and our
Career Services department identifies alumni contacts that we feel would be a good mentor for particular students keeping in mind their professional aspirations and backgrounds," Dr. Miko explained.
Once a match is made, students and mentors communicate on a regular basis by phone, email, and text. During these mentor check-ins, students share their thoughts and concerns about their current classes, upcoming scheduling, internships, and job interviews. Their mentors are there for them along the way, providing guidance and support through the eyes of former students who have faced those same challenges, and who have turned those challenges into successful outcomes.
Since its inception in 2016, the SAM program has seen great success with students and alumni alike. Dr. Miko is proud of the results.
“As an educator, it is exhilarating and exciting when an educational program or initiative hits its target and makes a positive contribution to the development of our students.”
The Makings of a Good Match
Accounting graduate Patrick Koehl ‘97, lives in Chicago, Illinois and is a Director at leading lending and finance firm NXT Capital. He joined the SAM: Flash Focus program as an alumni mentor, and was soon paired up with then-junior business management major Kyle Sulecki.
Though unsure which direction he wanted to take his career, Kyle‘s work ethic and willingness made him an ideal mentee.
“I enjoyed talking to Kyle. He was clearly very ernest and wanted to do a good job,” Patrick said. “I want him to be successful, and he wanted to be successful. When you have someone who’s really interested in getting a job and making progress, you’ll do whatever you can to help him out.”
Patrick suggested Kyle get his foot in the door with an internship, and gave him crucial advice on how to write a resume, advice only someone with Patrick’s experience would know. It led to an internship at
“I probably see 100 resumes a year when we interview folks, so it’s very easy for me to look at Kyle’s resume and compare it to others I've interviewed. I wanted to let him know, based on my experience, some tips that I thought would really differentiate him from the other interns.”
Throughout the internship, Patrick and Kyle continued to speak regularly by phone, text or email. While having an internship is common among college students, Patrick’s advisement helped Kyle turn his internship into a job in finance. He was offered a job at S&T Bank in the trust division.
“After my internship at S&T bank and talking to Pat, my post-graduation plans changed,” Kyle said. “He encouraged me to learn as much as I can, and to ask questions at the internship. I let him know what was going on every couple of weeks. It ultimately led to my getting a job post-graduation at S&T as a Trust Services Specialist.
After more than a year of phone calls and career advice, Patrick decided to make the trip from Chicago to Loretto for the
blessing of the new chapel doors, an event made possible due to his generous donation to Saint Francis. He reached out to Kyle, hoping they could use the opportunity to finally meet face-to-face.
“I was really excited to meet him in person. I hadn't been back to campus in 15 years, and this was worth it.”
After a warm handshake, the two men talked as if they’d known each other forever. The meeting ended with a photo, aptly posed in front of the chapel doors.
“Many people have no clue what they want to do when they graduate. Or they have a plan and it may not be feasible right out of college. Pat has been an incredible help in giving me advice and direction, and was always there for me when I called. That ultimately led to my getting a job post-graduation.”
For both men, the university's new theme
“Become That Someone” has never been more apparent.
“It’s been incredibly fulfilling to watch Kyle evolve from student to professional, said Patrick. “I am so appreciative of what SFU has done for me. 10 minutes on the phone every two weeks is the least I can do to give back.”
If you are a Saint Francis alumni and are interested in participating in the SAM: Flash Forward mentorship program, contact Eric Horell, Director of Alumni Engagament at email@example.com.