Tufts Engineering Mentors celebrate first year

Tufts Engineering Mentorship Program hosted its end of the year ceremony last night, wrapping up its first year with awards for its dedicated participants.

The mentorship program was started this fall by junior brothers Michael and John Kenny, who explained that they realized the school was lacking such a program after transferring from University of Massachusetts Lowell before their sophomore year.

“We were talking with my older brother, and he has sort of been a mentor to us, and we were talking about how we can make an impact on campus,” Michael said. “In our own lives we had noticed that there were a lot of things we found out too late, [things we] wish we had known sooner. It really started about a year ago … with going around, talking to professors, getting their ideas, talking to students, seeing if they were interested and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We were able to get some departmental support, even at the end of last year, to host this initial meeting that we called our launch party.”

John added that he and Michael looked into other school’s programs and discovered very few universities had similar programs.

“One of the biggest things you find is in huge corporate businesses, all of them are starting to incorporate mentorship programs if they don’t already have them,” John said. “That’s something that grabbed our attention. As we researched other schools, some of them have online mentorship programs, but none of them really have a peer-to-peer mentorship program where it’s students mentoring other students. … That’s something that we thought would be really cool … It’s really valuable having someone to kind of share the inside knowledge.”

John explained that the current program is limited to 70 students — 35 mentors and 35 mentees — and seeks to connect students on both a personal and professional level. He said the program began with a speed dating event, where students could find someone who shared similar academic and non-academic interests.

“We’d like it to be a relationship outside of the academic atmosphere,” he said. “We found the big problem with advisers was no one felt comfortable with their adviser … We wanted to build on top of that, as well as expand the reach of the mentor.”

Michael divided the program into three pillars, including peer mentorship, professional mentorship and career mentorship, and explained that each accomplishes a unique goal. One of the program’s major components is hosting biweekly events to encourage participants’ professional and academic growth. John added that the group has brought in various professionals, including a venture capitalist, to discuss the value of networking.

“The engineering school brings in speakers, but they’re really targeted to the graduate students and the professors,” he said. “We started to take in from our own network and our professors’ networks, and bring in these interesting speakers.”

Darryl Williams, the faculty adviser for Tufts Engineering Mentorship Program, said that the university is supportive of the students’ efforts, as it fills an important role in the School of Engineering.

“We basically see the value added in being able to develop a whole engineer,” Williams, who is also an associate dean for recruitment, retention and community engagement, said. “There [are] the technical aspects they’re gaining … but there [are] also the social skills that they need to be competitive students beyond their Tufts experience, so I think the Engineering Mentors Program is another avenue for them to gain those skill sets.”

Williams said that he hopes the program continues to expand and develop its mentorship objectives.

“I’m looking at it from the community engagement perspective, so I can really see how the school can leverage the program as a way of creating an environment that allows students to build those lines of communication.”

A major component of the program is branding, according to both Michael and John, who explained that they have sought to hold high caliber events.

“One of our main focuses has been building the brand, and we’ve put a lot of extra time into making sure that we don’t put anything out that’s not up to our highest standard of quality,” Michael said. “We’ve really worked to build our email list. We’ll have a speaker come in, and we’ll offer a door prize, and to get the door prize you’ll have to RSVP and show up to the event.”

Michael added that because the program is student-run, it is better equipped to reach out to students.

“The fact that it’s run by students, I think, makes other students more comfortable with it,” he said. “One of the things we’ve heard … feedback from the administration is … they don’t know how to move students … There’s all this social media stuff going on, so we have an advantage in being aware of what’s effective with students.”

John and Michael expressed gratitude for Williams and the program’s other advisers, including Associate Director for Employer Outreach and Engineering Career Services Robin Kahan. At last night’s ceremony, the program organizers handed out two awards, one of which was the Linda M. Abriola award — named for the dean of the School of Engineering — and was presented to Kahan.

The second award, John explained, was a blue jacket created as a symbol to distinguish the Tufts Engineering Mentorship Program from other groups.

“People who have shown a longtime commitment to the program are those who are considered for the blue jacket, which is really the ultimate thanks,” he said. “We’re really excited to be able to give that award out. It does take more time and [is a more of a] serious commitment than the typical leadership position.”12