Increasing Connections

June 01, 2019

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Ellie Rushing ’19 with her Career Champion Ann Marie Varga ’82 ’12MHR.
Ellie Rushing ’19 and Ann Marie Varga ’82 ’12MHRPhoto by Scott Cook.

Behind the scenes of the second cohort of Career Champions, the Rollins mentorship program that empowers alumni to champion the next generation of leaders.

Cassie Burns ’09 has never forgotten how, as a psychology major, several mentors with ties to Rollins made a huge difference in her life.

Today, as head of the College’s thriving Career Champions Mentor Program, she’s paying it forward by connecting students with accomplished alumni who share personal and professional interests.

Burns developed and launched the highly popular program, which is the result of a partnership between the Center for Career & Life Planning (CCLIP) and the Office of Alumni Engagement, in fall 2017. The program’s second iteration wrapped up this past spring, raising the bar even higher by adding more student-alumni pairs, more diversity, and more networking events.

Perhaps the biggest change, however, was opening the student application process—which had been invitation-only—to all sophomores, juniors, or seniors in both the College of Liberal Arts and Hamilton Holt School.

This produced “significantly more applicants than we expected,” says Burns, assistant director of alumni career engagement in Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning. “We ended up with 48 student mentees (up from 35 last year). We also had more representation of majors and minors, a larger group of international student mentees, and more students of color.”

Under the guidance of their mentors, students toured workplaces, conducted on-site shadowing, obtained industry-specific feedback on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and met other professionals in their mentor’s network. They discussed graduate school, learned tactics to improve their presentation skills, reflected on strengths and weaknesses, crafted business plans, received interview tips, and much more.

“Most importantly,” says Burns, “they got the chance to hear the real-world perspective on their goals and career from a relatable person in their field who is invested in their success.”

Once again, the feedback was impressive. Every mentee who responded to the post-program survey felt they grew professionally, enhanced their ability to set educational and professional goals, and would recommend the experience to a classmate. Likewise, 100 percent of the mentors who responded to the survey said they would consider recommending the program to a peer.

When classes resume in August, Career Champions will expand from one semester into a full academic year, and another 48 mentees have already been selected.

Here’s a look at how the second year of the program impacted three pairs of alumni mentors and student mentees.

Brandon Burns ’08 ’09MBA and Harrison Loew ’21 discuss careers in finance.
Brandon Burns ’08 ’09MBA and Harrison Loew ’21Photo by Scott Cook.

The Money Guys

When Harrison Loew ’21 needed help navigating the interview process to land a prestigious internship with Evershore Financial Group, he knew exactly where to turn. Through Rollins, he and Brandon Burns ’08 ’09MBA had developed a “positively rare” connection, says Loew, built on shared interests and a “friendly, candid relationship.” Thanks to his mentor’s advice, Loew was able to take a big step toward his goal of working in private equity management and financial advising. “What we’ve really built is camaraderie that not only addresses work-related topics,” says Burns, “but more importantly, everyday life experiences. Though this year’s program has ended, our relationship has really just started to emerge.”

The Mentee: Harrison Loew ’21

President of Rollins’ Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO), vice president of X-Club fraternity, and founder of Orthodontic Angels
Majors: International business and economics

What I Learned

Always ask questions. Brandon suggested that the only way to learn in professional environments is to display genuine curiosity. If you ask advanced and specific questions in the professional environment, you are assured to have a step up on your competition.

Interpersonal skills are one of the few marketable skills that will advance your career unquestionably. Having the ability to connect with individuals, and generate mutual respect, is essential to success in corporate America.

Not everyone is going to like what you say. Knowing your audience can be the difference between being hired or not for a job opportunity. 

The Mentor: Brandon Burns ’08 ’09MBA

Associate portfolio manager for City National Rochdale, a boutique investment management services firm based in Lake Mary, Florida
Majors: International business and economics

What I Learned

The importance of challenging each other. A key element of mentorship is enhancing your point of view. Most successful individuals have an ability to see situations through multiple perspectives. By digging in and asking the tough questions, you’re able to have more constructive discussions that ultimately allow you to see things more holistically.

Mentorship programs don’t just benefit the mentee. Going into the program, I thought I would simply help develop a student’s career aspirations, but I never realized the positive impact it would have on improving my own skill sets. The experience not only strengthens skills such as communication and leadership, but most importantly it encourages self-awareness, and we could all use a little more of it.

Be approachable, available, and open-minded. I believe, in its essence, the Career Champions program reinforces a commitment to community. After graduating, it’s easy for all of us to move forward in our lives without necessarily looking back on how we actually got to where we are now. Consider the impact you could have on a student’s journey.

AnnMarie Morrison ’20 and Lauren Morris ’99, a Rollins student and a Rollins grad, perform improv exercises in a Winter Park, Florida, theatre.
AnnMarie Morrison ’20 and Lauren Morris ’99Photo by Scott Cook.

The Improvisers

A theatrically inclined mentor-mentee pair named Morris and Morrison who both love Star Wars and Mary Poppins. Sounds like an improv skit, doesn’t it? Lauren Morris ’99 and AnnMarie Morrison ’20 would probably take a crack at it. “Lauren helped me grow as a theatrical director,” says Morrison. “I was accustomed to planning everything out ahead of time, but she has reminded me that some of the fun of scripted work is in the spontaneity.” Through Career Champions, Morrison has been exposed to a variety of working professionals in the arts and theater industry. Morris, meanwhile, founder and director of Winter Park’s AdLib Theatre Company, is grateful for “the opportunity to reconnect with Rollins College and be reminded what a special place it is.”

The Mentee: AnnMarie Morrison ’20

Associate costume designer at the Annie Russell Theatre with a background in directing and marketing
Majors: Business management and theatre

What I Learned

Community is crucial. Lauren’s theater is successful because her performers, audience, and neighbors are such a tight-knit, inviting group. When I went to her theater, her audience immediately welcomed me in. I admired Lauren’s skill and dedication in creating that community.

Work ethic is important. The people who are successful are the people who decide to invest their time and energy into their work.

“Yes, and …” This rule in improv is all about being fully present in the moment, accepting what comes, and creating something fun, innovative, and insightful from what came before. Anyone can use this rule to stay connected to one another and to have a bit more happiness in her life.

The Mentor: Lauren Morris ’99

Founder of AdLib Theatre Company in Winter Park, where she serves as artistic and education director; created an inclusive program for individuals with disabilities
Major: Sociology

What I Learned

We’re in good hands. Our future leaders are passionate, excited, and willing to work for the betterment of arts and culture. The students of Rollins College have a unique experience, and the connections they make today can last them a lifetime.

It’s great to give back. My own journey, when explored, has many moments that help create learning opportunities for others. My experience in the industry has deep roots, and I’m grateful to share these experiences with others.

My mentee and I have a lot in common. Knowing that AnnMarie is as passionate as I am about inclusion, raising each other up through collaboration, and support for the arts makes our connection unique. We have a shared passion for theater, being in the service of others, and our entrepreneurial spirit.

Kirk Nalley ’93 ’01MBA and Elijah Noel ’20, a Rollins graduate and Rollins student, discuss international business careers.
Kirk Nalley ’93 ’01MBA and Elijah Noel ’20Photo by Scott Cook.

The Business Buds

The bond forged by mutual respect and a good, hearty chuckle can make the mentor-mentee dynamic seem more like a longtime friendship. Elijah Noel ’20 and Kirk Nalley ’93 ’01MBA know this to be true. “Our conversations are easy and our laughs are genuine,” says Noel. “Kirk’s likely the most personable man I’ve ever met, a true inspiration.” Nalley praises his mentee for “taking the initiative and demonstrating an ownership of building and nurturing his professional network.” The whole experience, says Noel, has shown him the value of always putting his best foot forward, striving to make a meaningful, lasting impression on every person he meets.

The Mentee: Elijah Noel ’20

Student-athlete (men’s basketball), career ambassador in Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning, and aspiring Crummer student
Major: International business

What I Learned

The consciousness to leverage relationships. Whether it’s my advisor, professor, faculty member, or an alumni connection, it’s important to forge meaningful, quality, and lasting relationships with not only those who can possibly lend a helping hand but, rather, everyone you interact with.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t be hesitant to reach out to second- or third-party connections. Turns out alumni (and people in general) are very willing to assist current college students. Those who have graduated from Rollins have obviously been in the same shoes as me and therefore can relate to the lifestyle, struggle, and glorious time that is college life.

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” That quote, recently stated by Dwayne Johnson and exemplified by Kirk Nalley, means that just being a kind, empathetic, and considerate person can enhance your life and help you directly make the world a better place. Kirk is not only a friend, but he is also a role model. Empathy is only one of the skills that makes him such an inspiration.

The Mentor: Kirk Nalley ’93 ’01MBA

Vice president of sales at Fairchild Resiliency Systems, a software company specializing in business continuity, disaster recovery, and managed services
Major: English

What I Learned

My mentee is a well-rounded, all-around good guy. Elijah’s work ethic, commitment, and focus on his academics, athletics, part-time job, and full-time internship make him very likable because we all wish we could do what he is doing while maintaining an infectious, positive attitude.

It’s all about networking. Rollins students can benefit from Rollins graduates giving their time and sharing their personal and career resources to enhance the Rollins experience. Much like learning the discipline of saving money, building a reliable network cannot happen early enough in life, and the network will experience compounded growth over time.

More alumni should get involved in this program. The time commitment is manageable, and getting back to campus is a great experience. All of us have something to give back to Rollins, and the most valuable may be our time and attention to the current student body.

Mo Coffey ’08 and Isaac James ’19, a Rollins graduate and Rollins student, discuss public policy careers.
Mo Coffey ’08’s mentorship through the Career Champions program helped prepare Isaac James ’19 for a Truman Scholarship, the premier graduate scholarship for aspiring public service leaders in the U.S.Photo by Scott Cook.

Career Champions

Learn more about the program that is proliferating the powerful partnerships between Rollins alumni and students and find out how you can get involved.
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