One of Graceland’s distinctions is the family of alumni who genuinely want to help their fellow Gracelander. Connecting current students to alumni isn’t a new idea, but coordinating the pairing thorugh GU4U is a renewed effort. The idea germinated with Mike Wiley ’83, Cal Closson ’82 and Joe Booz ’86, who is co-chair of the Alumni Board of Directors’ Alumni Engagement team.
Initially, they were engaging alumni to help with recruiting for Graceland. Mike Wiley had already been working with faculty and students in science and math, connecting alumni for interactive seminars, internships and mentoring. Their idea was to roll this across all of GU. Mike Davis ’10 joined the team to help make things happen for business students. The humanities area is opening up with the help of faculty member Professor Tim Robbins. The program is evolving and gaining traction with students and alumni from more areas; Graceland family roots are expansive.
The mentoring program found resonating excitement with the student Enactus (formerly SIFE) team, and they’ve focused on it as one of their team projects. With a student-made video and kickoff at the 2015 Fall Burn event, more than 80 students have signed up to be part of the GU4U mentoring program, and professional alumni from all over the U.S. have been connected. The program webpage gives information for both mentors and students to become engaged.
Enactus student Matt Bear says, “It’s been really empowering to work on the GU4U team; to create an opportunity for students to connect with someone who went to Graceland and is now successful out in the real world. Connecting with people who got their degree from this same small liberal arts school, and who are making a difference in the world, makes me feel like it’s something that I can do as well.”
GU4U continues the experience for many Gracelanders to know they’re a part of a larger family and that someone is looking out for them. At Graceland, it’s what we do.
Dr. Mike Wiley ’83 is giving back and feeling great about it. He’s giving his time, knowledge and contacts through Graceland’s new GU4U alumni/student mentoring program. Wiley’s been at this for several years, and mentoring comes naturally to him. He realizes that navigating the science field, with its unlimited options and diverse directions, can be very daunting. It’s not just the coursework involved, it is the preparations, decisions and contacts that need to be made. He feels really lucky to be where he is – a Research Fellow for Eli Lilly and Company. He is aware that many Graceland students don’t have family influences or support to help carry them through grad school and into careers.
Mike explains what happens when he mentors a student:
“Mentoring involves establishing a relationship. I am intent on learning about the student through conversation, listening, reflecting back and, honestly, just giving time. Helping develop young people is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job. Likewise, assisting students in their journey to achieve their highest and best potential definitely has its rewards. I open up to them and offer my contacts – my network of professional people – to give them more experiences to tap into. I share my stories of struggles and let them see that success can happen in a variety of ways and at different times. The path isn’t always straight and easy, but persistence and focus will be some of their best assets.”
Wiley has mentored quite a few Graceland students and has also set up several internships at Eli Lilly for many of those interested. June Wiley ’13, Sydney Brock ’15, Darcy Volz ’16 and, this summer, Keely O’Keefe ’17 and Sidnee Smith ’17 will be entering the same program. Wiley is on the Graceland Alumni Board of Directors and part of the GU4U subcommittee heading up the science area. Connecting Graceland graduates to current students is a win-win for everyone.
“My expectations at the beginning of this mentoring process were uncertain. All I knew was that I wanted guidance; in work, life and school. Once I started working with Communications Specialist Brooke Sutherland ’03, I became submerged in several communication mediums. Being able to have my own creative flow in the direction of assignments was refreshing. Using my knowledge from class experiences was helpful as well. I didn’t expect how much field experience I’d gain in a few short months.
As a mentor, Brooke has helped me to confidently follow my gut with projects and to learn new skills with technology. She keeps me focused, goal oriented and constantly onto the next big thing on our agenda. Working with her has boosted my confidence in my work and my self as an independent adult.
I know from working with her this school year, I’ve increased my communication skills as well as continued to learn the mechanics working in several platforms and using the different outlets.”