Mentoring connects students with Purdue ME alumni
“When I got the email about having a mentor in industry, I jumped at the chance,” said Jennifer Ascher, who graduated in Spring 2022. “Neither of my parents are engineers, so it helps to talk to someone who’s been through ME and who I can relate to.”
Jennifer was paired with Katherine “Kat” Frangos, who finished her BSME at Purdue in 2014 and is now a project manager for H2 Green, an energy startup in Scotland. “I love Jennifer’s energy,” said Kat. “We had a lot of shared experiences; for example, we were both in PMEA [Purdue Mechanical Engineering Ambassadors]. So we both understand the ups and downs of being an ME student.”
“Down the road, I would like to be in management of some sort,” said Matthew Kuebel, a Spring 2022 graduate. “A lot of the skills needed with that are hard to come by in a class setting. That’s why I was so happy that Tom allowed me to pick his brain.”
“I wanted to give back to Purdue,” said Tom Wright (BSME ’82), an engineering manager with EXILE Technologies in Houston, who also has years of experience at Motorola and Eastman Kodak. “I remember being in those classes. There are so many things I wish I would have known back then, but you can only learn through years of experience. Now I get the chance to share that experience with Matthew.”
Stephanie Winder serves as the “matchmaker” for Purdue ME’s mentoring program. “We provide the students a list of our alumni mentors, and based on the alumni's LinkedIn profiles, students can choose who might be their best match,” she said. “After we introduce the mentor/mentee pairs and share a few guidelines, it’s really up to them to determine how they proceed from there.”
On the Purdue ME Mentoring website, they offer suggestions for things to talk about, and venues to meet, such as such as having coffee (if they are local) or a regular Zoom chat or phone call. There are no mandatory requirements or timetables to be met; each mentor-mentee is allowed to pursue what works best for them.
“I prefer to keep it casual, and I really appreciate that they give us that flexibility,” said Jennifer. “Most of the time we just talk about our lives, and what is stressing us out at the moment, and how we can deal with it. I learn a lot from those talks.”
“Sometimes it’s formal, but a lot of times we end up talking about personal things,” said Matthew. “Work-life balance, and stuff like that. It’s great to get a perspective from someone who’s been through it.”
One good mentor deserves another
One particular mentoring relationship actually led to a change in the ME curriculum. In an earlier incarnation of the program, Jennifer agreed to be mentored by Beth Hess, who is now associate professor of engineering practice. “Every time I talked to Jennifer, I came away energized,” said Beth. “It made me a better instructor, because I heard experiences from the students first-hand. I got so much out of it, it definitely went both ways!”
At the time, Beth had just started teaching ME290, the first class that sophomores take after transitioning from First-Year Engineering to Mechanical Engineering. Jennifer and Beth discussed what a “mentoring” program in ME290 might look like.
“We spend so much time pouring into our students,” said Beth. “By the time they become upperclassmen, we don’t want that institutional knowledge to go away when they graduate. We want upperclassmen to be able to share with sophomores, ‘This is what I wish I knew when I was beginning in ME!’”
They organized a pilot program where Jennifer became a “mentor” to a group of incoming ME290 students, sharing life tips with them in the same way that her alumni mentors shared with her. Feedback was so positive, that they decided to make this a permanent aspect of the class. Now every incoming sophomore in ME290 is part of a group that is mentored by an upperclassmen, giving them a built-in support system from day one.
“It’s amazing how this happened,” said Beth. “Our own mentoring relationship is now going to have a lasting impact on ME students for years to come.”
Path to success
“I very much look forward to these sessions,” said Tom. “There’s a distinct pleasure in being able to help others, especially since we share the common experience of going through Purdue. Even if I can help Matthew a little bit, he’s going to be so much more prepared for the workplace than I was! Doing this helps Purdue, helps these students, and ultimately it helps the engineering workforce. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?”
In Matthew’s case, Tom convinced him to go for what he really wanted: a career in motorsports. He eventually succeeded, recently joining Team Penske as a Design Engineer for their IndyCar team. “Tom was a huge help,” said Matthew. “He allowed me to share what I was thinking about my future career, and then offer objective advice from engineer to another.”
“Sometimes you just need a cheerleader,” said Jennifer, who now works for General Mills. “It’s easy to second-guess yourself. Kat and I talked about this a lot. She was always there, saying, ‘Yes, you can do it! It’ll be fine, just keep going!’”
And much like Beth’s experience, Kat found that the encouragement flows both ways. “When we first started, I had just moved to a different job, and so I had a lot of the same anxiety that Jennifer had,” said Kat. “It was great to have those discussions every other week. It’s very powerful to hear someone tell you, ‘You’re not alone!’”
Jennifer is also excited to “pay it forward,” and become an alumni mentor herself someday. “We are all standing on the shoulders of giants,” she said. “I was fortunate to build relationships with these amazing women, and I hope to do the same for others moving forward!”
Writer: Jared Pike, firstname.lastname@example.org, 765-496-0374
Source: Stephanie Winder, email@example.com, 765-494-6214
Purdue ME Mentoring: https://purdue.edu/ME/mentor