Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
MBA students typically bring a wealth of experience to school with them. At the MIT Sloan School of Management, undergraduates can benefit from that resource through the Sloan Undergraduate Management Association's MBA-Undergraduate Mentoring Program.
"We are trying to bridge that gap between MBAs and undergraduates," said senior Noelle Kanaga, the Sloan Undergraduate Management Association (SUMA) Class of 2006 representative. Kanaga, who served as one of this year's program coordinators, said the program has offered her and other undergraduates a way to get to know their MBA counterparts.
"We do have classes in the same room, and that helps a little bit. But you don't typically interact with them; you're not in the same dorm or house with them," she said. "It's just a different level, because they've had so much more experience, and they've gained so much more insight on the world than we have at this point."
SUMA began the mentorship program three years ago to tap into that insight, and in that time the program has grown into a successful part of the undergraduate experience.
"This year we had a record number of participants," said sophomore Jenny Chen, director of marketing for SUMA and project manager for the MBA-Undergraduate Mentoring Program. "Sixty-six MBA students offered to serve as mentors, and 80 undergraduates registered as mentees," she said. All undergraduates were paired with mentors, with many mentors agreeing to help two students.
Kanaga's mentor from last year, Brian Duncan, said he felt called to volunteer because mentoring has played an important role in his life. "I've always found a lot of power in my life through being able to communicate with people not only of different backgrounds but also different ages," he said.
The voice of experience
Students can and do talk about anything with their mentors, including how to handle interviews, search for summer placements, and make long-range career choices. Chen's last mentor, Tony Xu, met with her several times to help her with her internship search. "It was really great to hear about the financial services industry from his point of view. He has also helped me to understand what I'm looking to do after college."
Kanaga turned to her mentor for help weighing two attractive job offers. "At some point it's hard to go to your parents or a friend who doesn't really understand the industry, doesn't really understand the difference between two opportunities, so he was really able to provide some insight for me."
For their part, the mentors say they gain as much from the program as the undergraduates they work with. Duncan, who's 36, said he appreciates the chance to soak up some of the youthful energy and idealism that Kanaga and her classmates have.
"There are things you lose as you work longer, as you get older, like you lose that kind of rosy-eyed look at the world and you don't have the idea of, 'I'm going to change the world,'" Duncan said. Through mentoring, he said he's been able to reconnect with that idealism.
"I may not think I can change the world anymore, but I can change my little piece of it, I can make my little piece better," he said.