Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mentor program builds bridges between students, alumni, friends

Public affairs student Nate Inglis Steinfeld spent the summer before he started law school learning about the state of Wisconsin's employment relations through a mentoring program La Follette School career development coordinator Mary Russell set up for him and 12 other continuing public affairs students.

Nate Inglis Steinfeld

To help

To improve mentor matches, alumni and friends can be sure their job information is correct in the Wisconsin Alumni Association online directory and submit their interest fields by filling out the La Follette School's online form. They also can join The La Follette School networking group on

To get involved or learn more, contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 608-263-2409. Alumni and friends of the school interested in having mentors are encouraged to get in touch.

Russell connected Inglis Steinfeld with Jennifer Donnelly, director of the State Employment Relations. Her staff helped Inglis Steinfeld arrange meetings with almost every manager in the department. "The conversations I had were great at clarifying how a central policy office can try to distribute out information to a huge public organization," reports Inglis Steinfeld, who started the dual-degree program in law and public affairs in fall 2008.

This fall, 40 of the La Follette School's first-year students are just starting to work with mentors who are alumni and friends of the school, thanks to Russell's networking skills. "Many of our alumni and friends have indicated they want to work with our students," Russell says. "We appreciate their dedication to the La Follette School."

The expanded mentoring program is part of the one-credit professional development course she and associate director Donald Moynihan teach. Russell piloted one-on-one match-ups last summer by connecting 13 continuing students with alumni and friends. Some students and mentors have developed long-distance relationships via e-mail and telephone while others have attended meetings in Madison, Russell says.

Farha Tahir

Student Farha Tahir and 2003 alum Katie Croake have been e-mailing regularly. Tahir asked about Croake's academic and professional background, how she went about her job search process and about the specific work she does as a program manager National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, D.C. "I also sought advice on specific questions I have about my experience, networking and the current economic climate," Tahir says. "I'm really glad to have the opportunity to discuss these kinds of things amidst my job search."

Both hope to meet in person, ideally when Tahir goes to Washington in January. "It's been a pleasure to get to know Farha over the past few months," Croake says. "I've been really impressed with everything that Farha has already accomplished, and we share a lot of the same interests so it was a very good 'match' by Mary Russell."

Each student-mentor pair determines how they want their relationship to work, Russell says, but she envisions the student and mentor checking in with each other at least every couple of months. "Both parties should be clear with each other about what they want and expect," she says, adding that either person should contact her about problems, as well as updates with how well the match is working.

Russell says that participants shouldn't get discouraged if a student or a mentor doesn't follow up after an initial contact. "It's easy for a student to get bogged down with school or a mentor with a deadline and feel like too much time has gone by to rekindle the contact," Russell says.

La Follete School photo by Andy Manis taken July 9, 2009
Joanna Marks

Second-year student Joanna Marks has also appreciated learning about an alum's day-to-day work routine. "I'm able to think of real world applications for things I'm learning in the classroom — and look ahead to professional work next year," says Marks, who is paired with 2008 grad Alexis MacDonald, a health policy analysis with the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C.

MacDonald reports they have hit it off, albeit through e-mail. "We've talked about our common interest in health policy, I've offered advice about classes to consider taking during her last semester at La Follette, and we've begun discussing strategies for lining up a job after she graduates in the spring. It takes less than an hour of my time about once a month. I remember how much I leaned on a number of faculty, staff, and alumni as I contemplated my own 'life after La Follette.' I'm happy that I can give back by serving as a mentor for a current student."

Ideally, the relationships will flourish beyond the two years the students are enrolled at La Follette, Russell says. "We hope these alumni and friends can provide additional advice as the more recent graduates advance in their careers."

"This program is a great opportunity to stay connected to La Follette and help guide a student who is just starting their career," says Croake. "I'm also hoping to bring some young Arab women to Madison in the spring, and Farha has offered to help organize part of the program so I hope that we'll be able to work together professionally as well."