Bobcat Mentor Network

Bobcat Mentor Network pairs students with alumni to promote professional development

The inaugural year of the Bobcat Mentor Network has come to close.

The collaborative effort between the Office of Alumni Relations and the Office of Career and Life Planning was developed as another way for alumni to give back to the college and engage with current students. The Lees-McRae alumni pool includes many talented, successful individuals, and their expertise and insights could assist and inspire current students.

Through the program, students were connected with a Lees-McRae graduate who had a similar background or career path. By receiving individualized, one-on-one guidance from someone who had “walked in their shoes,” as Alumni Relations Director Katie Talbert puts it, students can learn what to expect from life after college.

Jeff Swicegood ’07, one of the mentors who participated, said, “This program has been a joy to me—I’m a Bobcat through and through and love that I can give back to my school in such a meaningful way.”

“I have so much pride and hope for the program because I’ve seen what a difference it’s made for students and alumni in one-on-one cases,” said Talbert. “We have alumni who are truly loving the connection and students who have loved having someone support them and have a vested interest in their success.”

For the 2020–21 school year, 17 students were paired with alumni for mentoring sessions. The students and alumni selected to participate in the program were encouraged to connect at least once a month. In addition to individual meetings, the Bobcat Mentor Network included a speaker series that invited alumni to address the students as a group.

“The goal of the speaker series was to take everything Career and Life Planning does to a new level,” said Talbert. “Each event focused on a different principle and made it personal with an alumni touch.”

The speakers included Rick Owen, the former mayor of Beech Mountain and town manager of Banner Elk; Annette George, the founder of Giving Juice; the Rev. Mark Knisley, a former adjunct faculty member and chaplain and the current pastor of Blountville Presbyterian Church; and Isaac Unruh, one of the founders of River Bluff Brewing.

Bringing in speakers who have a variety of different personal and professional life experiences allowed students to envision the many paths available after graduation and inspire them to take concrete steps to achieve their goals.

For alumni, the experience enabled them to reconnect with the college and to give back in an impactful way. Because both the individual meetings and the speaker series can be conducted virtually, it’s possible to participate from anywhere in the world.

In addition to getting training, professional coaching, and career advice, the participating students are able to build their professional network, discovering future job possibilities and demonstrating their skills and work ethic to potential employers.

The 2020–21 school year, though difficult in many ways, was the perfect staging ground for this new initiative. The virtual nature of the program meant that it could go on even during a pandemic, and involve participants from many different places. As one mentor said, “you don’t have to be on campus to leave a footprint.”

The first year of the Bobcat Mentor Network proved successful for all involved. Alumni could stay a part of their beloved institution. Students could grow from real-world information and work closely with someone who has been where they are. As the Bobcat Mentor Network continues in the future, the sponsors are hoping to adapt it to the needs of the current mentors and mentees and create an environment that best serves the needs of participants.

“We want to build an experience that models who we are,” said Talbert.

Learn how alumni can stay connected to Lees-McRae

By Emily WebbMay 06, 2021