Graaskamp Center Launches New Mentor Program
With a vast pool of successful alumni and an enthusiastic group of MBA students with a wide range of industry interests, the Graaskamp Center found a way to bridge the two generations with a new Mentorship Program that connects MBA students with alumni “mentors” who share their career interests. Currently, there are about 40 mentor and mentee matches, one to cover every MBA student and some undergraduates.
The idea for a mentor program has been in the works for several years and finally received full attention last spring with motivation from a group of MBA students. Second-year MBA students Matt Wachter and Tim Bruss helped conceptualize the program by exploring similar ones at peer universities and designing a web-based survey for students and potential mentors that would help match industry and location interests. Wachter brainstormed with the leaders of the program, Gary Dreher, principal at TOLD Development Company and president of WREAA (Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association); Chris Dicks, Executive Director of WREAA; Sharon McCabe, senior lecturer and associate director at the Graaskamp Center; and Shari Crivello, vice president at Colliers Bennett & Kahnweiler, to develop the framework and implementation plan for the new mentorship program.
Dreher calls the program a "huge benefit for students," and something he wished he would have had access to as a student. "I recall from being a student that you may love a certain aspect academically, but you don’t know what it’s really like," Dreher said. "With the program, we can help that student have a full appreciation of what something looks like once you're in the industry."
McCabe, who facilitates the program and mentor matches, said the idea with the matches is to make a perfect fit between what an alumnus does on a daily basis and a student's career goals. "Ideally if a student is interested in development in San Francisco, I’d like to match the student with a grad who does development in San Francisco," she said. However, when ideal fits aren't possible, McCabe matches a student with an alumnus who fits either the student's industry or location interest.
The principal importance of the program is the student's connection with a real industry professional, she said. "The real estate industry is one where it's really about who you know, and my hope is that with the mentorship program the students will know at least someone."
McCabe said the program has inspired many alumni to get involved. "The program just clicked with people," she said. "I got so many responses from alumni, many of whom weren’t previously involved." Alumni who graduated 30 or more years ago are participating, as well as recent MBA graduates less than five years out of the Real Estate Program. "It's an opportunity for alumni to give back," Dreher said. "Many alumni have had mentors and I think they get it. They appreciate what their UW education has done for them."
Michael Feinstein, a 2002 graduate who works at Buchanan Street Partners, a real estate investment management firm headquartered in Newport Beach, CA, is currently the mentor match for Eric Yao, a first-year MBA student interested in investment and acquisition. Yao turned to Feinstein for advice on an academic case study he was working on for a national real estate competition. "When Eric began his research, he was trying to answer the type of question we're faced with every day at Buchanan – how to assess risk in potential investment opportunities," Feinstein said. "We talked about Buchanan's approach, and I think it helped give him a better perspective."
Mentors can also provide inspirational advice about how to break into a certain industry. Jihad Alaily, a first year MBA student who hopes to start his own development company, shares an interest of working in a Wisconsin market with his mentor Jake Griswold, vice president of development at Pabst Farms Development Inc., in Oconomowoc, Wis. "We talk about the challenges of becoming a developer," Alaily said of his e-mail conversations and lunches with Griswold. "He understands that I want to be an entrepreneur in real estate and is helping me to identify an angle I can pursue."
The project insight and contacts Alaily has received through the mentorship program have given him direct access to the real estate working world, he said. "They are networking opportunities, which otherwise can be very hard to find on your own."
According to McCabe, the Mentorship Program provides two great benefits to the Wisconsin Real Estate Program – it helps alumni to stay connected to the program and it helps connect students to the real estate industry. In the future, the program leaders hope to institutionalize the program and continue to attract enough mentors to open the program to all real estate undergraduates.