Networking is a skill that can help students pave their career paths, but it can often feel like a daunting task. It can be intimidating to proactively meet and build relationships with professionals, especially when doing so requires an unsolicited email or LinkedIn message to a stranger. However, putting effort into networking can result in a powerful resource for career growth—a mentor.
SIS’s international network of more than 25,000 alumni is rich with experts and leaders who have valuable connections and knowledge to impart. That’s why, in 2019, the SIS Office of Career Development began a mentoring program, which streamlines the process of networking by matching participating students with alumni mentors. The student/alumni pairs then spend an academic year building a mentoring relationship, which is meant to help students better understand what certain careers are like, learn how to create networks to support their professional goals, and move forward in their careers.
Shaine Cunningham, the former SIS director of career education and employer relations who launched the program, views this form of mentorship as a safe space for students to work on their career development skills: “We’re not throwing students into the program expecting them to know exactly how to approach such a relationship. We give them a very clear outline for an initial conversation with their mentor so that they start thinking about the goals that they want to accomplish over the course of the year and how often they’ll meet.
“We're giving them the information and some tools to start practicing these career development skills with a group of mentors who understand that, for some of the students, this is their first mentor-mentee relationship. This is an environment in which they can get direct feedback if something doesn’t necessarily go the way they expected or if they approach something in a way that may not be well-received in the professional world.”
The program has evolved since its initial launch in 2019, helping foster mentoring relationships even through the pandemic. We spoke with two alumni mentors and a student mentee who participated in the 2021-2022 cohort to learn about their experiences.
Matched by Interests and Similar Backgrounds
Lina Abisoghomyan, SIS/BA ’17, is a senior consultant at Deloitte who works primarily with government and public sector clients within defense, security, and justice, focusing on issues of emerging technology. She became a mentor in the program because she wanted to impart the knowledge she gained navigating the DC foreign relations professional scene. Abisoghomyan specifically wanted to mentor women and immigrants who were interested in a career in defense.
“I’m really passionate about empowering women, immigrants, and minorities within the defense space because I can relate with people in these communities, and my experiences would be most relevant and helpful to them,” says Abisoghomyan.
Ultimately, she became matched with Soukayna Lakhsassi, SIS/MA ’22, a Fulbright Scholar from Morocco in the SIS International Affairs Policy and Analysis program. Lakhsassi applied to the mentoring program because she lacked experience networking in the US and wanted to learn from an SIS alumna who could help her craft applications for American hiring managers. She was also interested in Abisoghomyan’s background of diverse professional experiences.
“Her career is really amazing,” says Lakhsassi. “She’s had experiences in think tanks and NGOs, and she’s now in consulting. I also want to get into consulting, and I was fascinated by how she combined those different experiences.”
Jeffrey Moeller, SIS/MIS ’18, works at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response as a senior intelligence analyst. He was driven to become an SIS mentor because he experienced difficulties finding good mentors for his own career path and wanted to give back to current students at his alma mater.
As a veteran who served in the Marine Corps on active duty for 13 years, Moeller isn’t a stranger to making big career transitions—for this reason, he wanted to focus on helping mentees make transitions between careers as well. That’s why he wanted to work with Connor Liva, SIS/MA ’23, who had worked in consulting and served in AmeriCorps before coming to SIS and who has his sight set on a future career in the public sector.
“I really respect Connor’s desire to serve his country, and he’s had different types of work experiences before going into grad school,” says Moeller. “I thought he had a really cool background—he’s someone I’d want to work with, and I wanted to learn more about him.”
Providing Valuable Guidance
Both Abisoghomyan and Moeller helped their mentees professionally grow and achieve career-related goals. Along with reviewing Lakhsassi’s resumes, cover letters, and emails to prospective employers, Abisoghomyan helped her mentee better understand what kinds of job opportunities could bring her closer to her long-term goals.
With Abisoghomyan’s support in the application process, Lakhsassi was able to land a competitive research internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in which she focuses on Middle Eastern countries working to rebuild parts of the power infrastructure damaged during conflict. Abisoghomyan provided information on what kinds of applicants Lakhsassi would compete against for the internship and helped her structure and write a resume that would set her apart from the competition.
“Lina has this drive and energy that’s almost contagious. She’s helped me become more confident and persistent about going after what I want for my career,” says Lakhsassi.
Moeller shared insights about his career field with Liva, showcasing what kinds of foundational experiences would be considered valuable by prospective employers. Liva was then able to secure a legislative internship in a senate office on the Hill with Moeller’s insights on what this sort of role would entail: “I spoke with Connor about the difference between what the role’s description states and what it’s actually like on the ground.”
Mentorships That Are Lasting
Though the program lasts only a year, the mentoring relationships that develop from it have the potential to continue. Abisoghomyan, for instance, still keeps in touch with Lakhsassi: “It’s very important that you make a name for yourself when you land that internship at a big-name think tank. I was really proud to see that Soukayna was able to publish an article at CSIS so soon into her internship. She's been doing great, and we're already looking into the future together to see what's next for her.”
Moeller has enjoyed getting to know and support Liva and continues to stay in contact with him: “Connor’s got a really bright future, and I feel invested in hearing about the progress of his career. He’s the kind of person I potentially want to hire down the road.”
The SIS mentorship program has helped connect numerous students with experienced alumni who want to give back to the SIS community. And by growing their networks and increasing their professional development, students who take part in the program can become even more prepared to lead and wage peace through their careers.
“The success of the mentoring program at SIS speaks to the dedication of our alumni to support current SIS students and mentor emerging leaders. We look forward to stewarding new relationships with our fall 2022 cohort of mentors and mentees,” says Matthew Meekins, senior director of strategic partnerships and career services.
For more information about the SIS mentoring program, email the Office of Career Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.