New mentoring program pairs students with alumni for valuable career advice
USC Dornsife alumnus and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Wright (left) poses with his mentee Will Chambers, a philosophy, politics and law student. Wright recently hosted a group of USC students for a tour of the courts. (Photo: Courtesy Laury DeSanctis.)

New mentoring program pairs students with alumni for valuable career advice

A growing network of Trojan alumni are working with USC Dornsife students to ready them for interviews, help them forge career connections and provide helpful coaching.
ByMargaret Crable

In brief:

  • The mentoring program currently has about 100 mentor and mentee pairs participating.
  • Students are paired with alumni who are working in industries the students are looking to enter.
  • Organizers encourage alumni who would like to be mentors to contact them and help grow the program.

If you’re a cognitive science major at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences but also want to go into the entertainment industry, how do you get your foot in the door?

For junior Lauren Liang, the answer to this question came through the new USC Dornsife Alumni Mentoring Program offered by USC Dornsife Career Pathways in partnership with USC Dornsife Alumni Relations. The mentoring program matches each participating student with an alum working in an industry the student shows interest in.

Liang paired with Donegal “Donee” Chin, who graduated from USC Dornsife in 2019 with a degree in psychology and who is now an agent trainee in the brand endorsements department of Williams Morris Endeavor, a leading talent agency. Over this past semester, Chin has provided Liang with career advice, suggested ideas on what area of the industry she’d want to enter, and coached her on interviewing for internships.

As Asian American women who both grew up in Southern California, and who majored in similar fields, they’ve also found a lot of common ground beyond just their career aspirations.

It’s exactly the sort of match the founders of the program were hoping for when they launched a small, pilot group of pairings for economics students in 2020. The program expanded to the entire college at the start of the fall 2022 semester with about 100 pairs currently participating.

Match-makers pair alumni mentors and student mentees

Laury DeSanctis manages the mentorship program and processes student applications, hunting for just the right mentor. “Sometimes I’m able to find someone working at the exact company a student wants to work at. I call those my ‘golden matches,’” says DeSanctis proudly, as she flips through a color-coded Excel spreadsheet she uses to track her pairings.

Each mentee and mentor pair work together for 10 weeks, choosing from a list of suggested activities like reviewing the student’s LinkedIn profile, discussing business etiquette or listening to a podcast together. Mentoring can be in-person or virtual. (Chin dials in from New York City, for example.)

During the pilot program, several remote connections actually met in person. Mentees flew to meet with mentors during spring break, and some mentors returned to campus for the recent homecoming and met their students.

The program is already producing the sort of results it set out to generate. “One student was interested in advertising. With her mentor’s help, she was able to get a coveted internship at BBDO which, if you want to work in advertising, is where you want to go,” says DeSanctis. “Her mentor had a connection out there, helped her get the resume to the right person and helped get that student ready to present well for the interview.

Alumni mentor program caters to international students

Lawrence “Larry” Goodkind ’84 is chair of the USC Dornsife Alumni Advisory Council’s Mentorship Committee, which provides advice and guidance to the program. Goodkind, who has a degree in political science from USC Dornsife and broadcast journalism from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is also a mentor. Both of his mentees have been international students, and he feels mentoring can be especially important for this demographic.

“I think there’s a high level of career anxiety with a lot of mentees to start with. When you throw in the international student background, you have a whole different layer of anxiety. The way we do things here in the United States may not be the same as how a student growing up in another country experiences things. That’s important, and you can help as a mentor,” says Goodkind.

He recently had his current mentee spend a day at the Fidelity Investments office where Goodkind worked for 25 years. Getting comfortable with office dynamics helped his mentee feel more prepared to enter the U.S. workforce.

Goodkind says it’s not just the mentees who benefit from these sorts of relationships. “You feel you’ve got a hand in the future of where USC students are going in their careers and their lives,” he says.

Superior court judge mentors students

For many mentors, the program is helping them return a favor they received as a USC undergraduate. Victor Wright ’88, who currently mentors philosophy, politics and law major Will Chambers, received a degree in economics from USC Dornsife and a degree in broadcast journalism from USC Annenberg. Now a judge with the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Wright says a USC mentor helped set him on a rewarding career path.

“One of my mentors is Jon Kotler, a professor of journalism at USC,” says Wright. Kotler is also a USC Dornsife alumnus. He graduated in 1979 with a master’s degree in liberal arts and in 1984 with a master’s degree in history.

“Jon and I are still in contact and remain close to this day. He inspired me to pursue the job that led to my judicial appointment. I want to do the same for Will, and for any other USC students with whom I might have contact.”

Wright recently hosted a day in court for Chambers and a number of other students in the program who are interested in law careers. “I loved seeing the smiles of the students who were able to put on a robe, sit in the judge’s chair, hold a gavel and take a picture that might inspire a future career,” says Wright.

Mentoring program organizers hope to increase the number of pairings in 2023 to 150 or more. They’re currently looking for more mentors to sign up. Interested alumni should fill out the program’s online form. Students who would like to participate should first join the Trojan Network, then go to “programs” and complete the mentorship program application.