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Match Point
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Program pairs BC alumnae with Generation Next

photo of BC students with their alumni mentors

In the spring of her junior year, business major Meredith Roberts '02 had a decision to make. Should she accept a summer internship with a research firm in New York City or take a six-week job in Australia through Boston College's international studies program?

Enter Compaq executive Kathy Power '72, who had recently been matched up with Roberts through BC Connections, a women's mentoring program. During a get-better-acquainted dinner at Vinny Testa's restaurant in Brookline, Roberts shared with her mentor the pros and cons she was weighing for each option. Australia was exciting but scary and would mean being distant from her family. New York might lead to a job offer after graduation, but she'd get no sense of the international business arena, where she aspired to work.

Power, Compaq's vice president of North American global accounts, did as BC Connections had instructed her to do during her mentor orientation--she listened. Then, dipping into her reservoir of experience, she prepared to offer Roberts her perspective.

BC connections grew out of the Task Force on Women and Boston College in 1999. The program teams second-semester juniors with alumnae for a two-and-a-half-year mentorship, a time frame that includes the students' transition from school to work life. In its first year, the program put together 25 pairs; this past January, it matched up 75, with aspirations for greater numbers in the future. Students are nominated for the program by their deans; mentors are nominated by members of the University community. The mentors have a minimum 10 years of professional experience in fields ranging from retailing, advertising, finance, and technology to education, nursing, and law.

The women meet their matches at a daylong convocation in mid-winter. Last January, a few alumnae laughingly admitted to being nervous as they scoured the campus conference room for their partners' name tags. "I feel like I'm on a blind date," one confided. But jitters soon gave way to earnest, if sometimes shy, conversations as the two generations met and tried to make a good impression on each other.

Power remembers worrying at her convocation two years ago that her age would be an issue. "I walked in and thought, 'She's going to say, Oh my god, she's old.'" In fact, what Roberts saw was a friendly, successful role model, someone who quickly became "a mother figure, a sister figure, and a friend."

The program calls for the partners to meet face-to-face five or six times a year. E-mail has proved essential for many, especially for the small percentage of mentors who live outside Boston, in cities like New York and Chicago. Distance hasn't been an impediment to Carroll School of Management senior Courtney Katsur and New Yorker Margot Morrell '74, a financial representative turned author (Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer). Morrell's location was an advantage when Katsur needed housing in New York during an internship there last summer. "I hadn't the faintest idea what I was going to do," Katsur recalls. "I was looking on-line for apartments and it was just overwhelming. I didn't know where anything was." Morrell made a few phone calls and in short order had a lead on dormitory space at Mount St. George in Brooklyn Heights. "It was a college setting and was close to work. It was perfect," says Katsur. "She was a godsend."

The connection between the two has been about much more than logistical support, however. "I've found it really stimulating. It's just a fun relationship," says Morrell, echoing the sentiments of many mentors who report feeling younger, invigorated, and grateful to share their knowledge with someone eager to receive it. As one alumna says, "It validates how far I've come."

For Katsur's part, learning to relate to a mentor has eased her dealings with her superiors in the workplace. "It helped me to get over that nervousness in approaching an older person, like my manager last summer, knowing it's really not that scary," she says. "It's given me courage." Morrell also made a difference when Katsur ran into a problem with another executive in the office. "He was arrogant and forward," Katsur explains. "Margot has been in this situation, and she told me, 'Just stay away from him and do your best job.' I took her suggestion. It was so [important in] determining how the rest of the internship went."

Even though similar career interests are a key factor in making mentor matches and in helping participants find common ground, the organizers hope BC Connections will foster a "life mentoring, not just a career mentoring" experience, according to Susan McManama Gianinno '70, who, with Mary J. Steele Guilfoile '76, cochairs BC's task force. Indeed, participants often discover qualities in each other that encourage deeper personal bonds. Monica Chandra came to America from India at the age of 24, received her MBA at Boston College in 1987, and is now executive vice president of product marketing at Whatifi Financial in Woburn. She and Arar Han '03, a Korean-born student in the Lynch School of Education, recognize a lot of themselves in each other. About a month after they met, Chandra invited Han home to meet her family and then took her to lunch at an Indian restaurant.

"We talked a lot about relationships between people, particularly between mothers and daughters and fathers and daughters," says Han, who has lived in America for the past 15 years. "She and I come from backgrounds where we've had to straddle two cultures. We talked about how, when you're growing up and your culture doesn't necessarily fit in with your mother's culture, there might be a willful holding back of certain parts of you."

Han not only found a sympathetic ear in Chandra, she also found someone she could emulate. "A lot of what I hold to be ideal in work and life, she is," Han says. "She is one of the rare female minorities who's succeeded on a large scale, and she has an enviable husband who's supportive. If she offered nothing more than just talking to me, the relationship will be a success of a huge dimension."

And as for the tantalizing choice pondered over pasta by Kathy Power and Meredith Roberts? Power advised Roberts to take the sojourn in Australia because, she told Roberts, the international experience would stand out on her résumé.

Since that night, the women have grown close. Power's willingness to share her family and private life with Roberts has made a big impression on the younger woman. "Before I met Kathy, I was going to be a no-nonsense businesswoman eating Chinese food out of a carton until 2 A.M., with no social life and no time for a husband.

I thought that was typical," says Roberts. "But after looking at how she manages to do everything, to be a mother, wife, friend, and highly successful businesswoman, I don't think that anymore."

Vicki Sanders

Vicki Sanders is the editor of Boston College Law Magazine. She wrote about historian James O'Toole's class on "Information Revolutions" in BCM's Winter 2002 issue.

Photo: BC Connections mentors and students, from left to right: Nicole Torniero '02 with Ellen Fador '79, a former elementary school teacher; Arar Han '03 with Monica Chandra MS'87, a vice president at Whatifi Financial; and Jessie Whitford '03 with Candy O'Terry '79, a broadcaster at 106.7 FM in Boston.

Gary Wayne Gilbert



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