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KAMP lights a fire
Kellogg Alumni Mentorship Program sparks rewarding, ongoing alumni engagement with students and recent graduates

By Ed Finkel


The alumni network at Kellogg is one of the school's great strengths. But how does a student or recent graduate gain access to those peers who might be most helpful in providing career advice? One way is by leveraging the Kellogg Alumni Network's recently improved online database and then cold-calling people.

While this method can yield results, many Kellogg alums have worked with the school to create another forum to bring their fellow graduates together in mutually beneficial ways that strengthen the network's overall bonds: a mentorship initiative.

A desire for increased connectivity among Kellogg grads led Jason Apple, and others in The Managers' Program, the Kellogg School's part-time MBA curriculum, to revive the concept of a mentorship program in the late 1990s. The goal was to match students and younger graduates with more senior alumni who shared the same industries, career paths or other commonalities.

"It's hard to say, 'I see you're class of '89; will you talk to me?'" says Apple, business development manager for Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP in Chicago and a 2000 TMP graduate. "The mentorship program is a good tool to promote interaction and target it to areas of interest. I encourage alumni to sign up for this opportunity. It's a great way to stay connected to the university. You give back to the school, and you meet really good people."

The Kellogg Alumni Mentorship Program (KAMP) began as a TMP initiative in 1997 and expanded to the full-time program in 2002. KAMP established more than 400 pairs of mentors and "mentees" last year, with hopes for 500 matches this year, says Gina (Chiasson) Bates, assistant director of corporate relations, who manages the program.

"It's a formal opportunity for students to develop a meaningful relationship with an alum," she says. "It's somebody they can reach out to, to help them with their Kellogg career or with career planning. They don't have to worry about the mentor being their employer. In addition, the alumni volunteer for this experience; the students know this when they're reaching out to them. This interaction is something both parties have agreed to do, which helps them to communicate and establish a stronger bond."

"We realized that Kellogg has this huge alumni network, but short of tracking someone down individually, there was no systematic way to be connected to someone who was more senior and able to give you advice in a buddy-buddy type of way," says Brian Fitzpatrick '03, who was among full-time students helping to migrate the program school-wide three years ago.

Fitzpatrick and John Gambs '74, a Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board member, say their own relationship, forged through KAMP during Fitzpatrick's final year at Kellogg, has been a win-win arrangement. They talk about once every six months.

"I always like to meet interesting people and folks who are serious about life and their work. That's a positive," says Gambs, retired executive vice president and chief financial officer of Charles Schwab Corp. "There's nothing tangible in the sense of a business contact or anything like that in it for me. But that's why I volunteer."

"I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a mentee relationship with John," Fitzpatrick says. "John, having had a long and successful career within financial services, is someone whose brain I can pick, someone who, to this day, I can seek guidance from, and off of whom I can bounce different career ideas."

Gambs says he is happy to serve as a sounding board for Fitzpatrick. "To the extent that he has issues, concerns or ideas about anything, I'm a safe person to talk to because I'm not his employer. [Our conversations] are mainly about things involved with his career goals and best strategies and tactics."

The program is also about networking. Gambs has been directly helpful in that regard for Fitzpatrick, who would like to work in Latin America when he finishes his two-year tour of duty as chief of staff for the customer engagement group at Citicard, a division of Citigroup, and thinks about his next move within the company.

"John put me in touch with a friend of his and fellow Kellogg alum, someone who works at Banamex, Citigroup's Mexico division," Fitzpatrick says. "His friend, in turn, put me in touch with other Kellogg alums who work at Banamex. That was an example of the network in action. I probably wouldn't have gotten in touch with them otherwise."

He adds that Banamex remains a "down-the-road [employment] possibility" for him. "You're always trying to build contacts, especially in a large company where you have to be proactive in your career planning. It's always nice to build those relationships early."

The concept of an alumni mentorship program had been tried before but with "lots of stops and starts" before the late 1990s, Apple recalls. KAMP started small, with about 50 to 100 students in the part-time program in each of the first couple years matched with the 150 to 200 alumni who responded to the then letter-based solicitation.

"We didn't have the same type of [electronic communication] tools that they have now," he says. They used "whatever database the university had back then to generate some names and labels." Apple remembers that it was "hard to do precise matching with the old system. As a consequence, [only] a fraction of the students who signed up felt satisfied."

But the idea made too much sense to drop again. "There seemed to be a big need for the students to get some type of career guidance, input on their choices about professors, input on their choices about course-work, and just how their decisions in class, as a student, could play themselves out in three, five, 10 years down the road," Apple says. "A lot of students would be in one, maybe two, industries before they started Kellogg. There was a big demand to learn something about another industry or focus."

In the years since, the program has not only gone school-wide but also grown considerably more technologically advanced with help from the Kellogg Alumni Network. This system provides significantly more updated contact information, including reliable e-mail addresses that ease solicitation greatly, Bates says.

Students enter the mentorship program for myriad reasons, Bates points out. "Their motivation could be anything from 'help me manage my career at Kellogg' to 'I'm interested in that industry, and I'm really interested in your experiences in the industry,'" she says. "Some students are looking for people working in organizations that they're also looking to be involved in. Some are interested in finding out about what leadership is like at a higher level."

The onus is typically on the student to reach out, Apple says, adding that each relationship develops individually. "It depends on how they click," he says. "It's still human nature. The computer can match you. I still see and keep in touch with the person I got matched with back in 1997. It runs the whole spectrum."

Gambs says he's been matched with mentees each year since Fitzpatrick but has not developed the same sort of relationship with them. One contacted him a couple times but "he's never had anything to talk about. I think he thought it was more of a job-hunt supplement," he says. "It all depends on the match-up. Of course, it's up to the student to take advantage of the offer. Some people are more naturally inclined to bounce ideas around and ask for input than others."

A current goal for the program is to widen the pool of alumni who participate beyond "folks who fit the typical buckets: general managers, consultants," says Alain Breillatt, a member of the TMP Class of 2007. Breillatt is a KAMP co-chair this year and business development manager at Macrovision. "There's been a desire to encourage those who might be in less typical roles."

This is great news for alumni from across all fields to make a special contribution to the Kellogg School network - and to individual students looking for their expertise and insight.

For more information on KAMP and to get involved, please visit the KAMP Web site, part of the Kellogg Alumni Network.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University