Lerner Students, Alumni Reap Benefits of Mentorship

This article was written by Rhiannon Barlow.

While waiting to be paired with a mentor through the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program, graduate student Lauren Sullivan created a wish list of qualities with no expectation of finding someone who met them. “They’ll never find someone like this,” she said.

But the staff in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics’ Career Services Center, which runs the program, did. It was an instant click when Sullivan met her mentor, Susan Guariano, who earned her MBA in international business from UD in 1997. Guariano serves as a senior manager at Wilmington Trust, a provider of wealth services for M&T Bank and has been paired with Sullivan, who graduated from UD in 2006 with a history degree and is currently completing an MBA in finance.

“She’s amazing,” Sullivan said of her mentor.

In 2020, Brian Reiss, Class of 1994 who earned a finance degree from UD’s Lerner College, co-founder of Bridgeforce Data Solutions, was originally approached about joining as a mentor and decided to reconnect with his alma mater. Since then, he’s been paired with three different students and enjoyed interacting with them while they navigated their time as a student and planned for their professional careers ahead.

Reiss is currently paired with Will Velasquez, a sophomore majoring in management information systems with a concentration in finance.

Both Reiss and Guariano expressed that the best way to quickly connect with a mentee was to meet in person. Although Reiss resides in Florida, he made a trip to Delaware to meet Velasquez face to face early on. That gesture created a solid foundation to build their relationship upon.

Guariano invited Sullivan to visit her at Wilmington Trust and served as an unofficial tour guide. As they wandered through offices, they talked with people about the functions of their role at each location, highlighting the importance of networking. Guariano humbly suggested her network is wide, but not deep. When Sullivan expressed a desire to learn something specific outside of Guariano’s expertise, she invited a colleague to a meeting. “They had an engaging conversation and Lauren walked away enlightened, with actionable items,” Guariano said.

Velasquez has benefited from Reiss’s network by connecting with his colleague for an informational interview. Building a network early during the professional development process is a key to future success, and the program provides the framework to build the student mentee’s network.

While many students encounter supportive supervisors in part-time roles and internships, a mentor offers a different perspective. Velasquez and Sullivan both expressed an ease at which they can speak with their mentor about topics outside of professional development.

“The difference is, there’s nothing to hold back. You can be candid. You can be yourself and give them the full story and know they’re looking at it with the lens of what’s best for you,” Sullivan said.

Guariano and Sullivan connected on a deeper level, understanding that life and work are intertwined. For best possible results, Sullivan said, “Don’t try to be who you think they want. Just be yourself.”

Velasquez has opened up about the challenges he’s faced, and Reiss regularly reminds him to emphasize his story and how hard he’s worked to be where he is now. Being prepared to relay his story during an interview has provided Velasquez with the ability to set himself apart during the process – and landed him two internships to date.

“These internships are competitive. Brian helped me understand how to stick out among the competition,” Velasquez said.

For any mentors who doubt their skills are sufficient, Reiss said, “Some of the smallest skills we forget we’ve established, but [students] need help with. Your successes and failures are helpful.”

Guariano reminisced that she often tried to do things her way but was guided by her own mentors over the span of her career. She attributed maintaining her successful full-time career while balancing motherhood to mentorship in her professional realm. Her mentors became allies, and she aims to provide the same for Sullivan and her future mentees. “I was so fortunate to have those people. The least I can do is pay it forward,” she said.

The mentoring program is an ideal opportunity for Lerner students to connect with mentors in complementary fields. These relationships are allowed to develop more deeply over time – the mentorship lasts through the student’s graduation. All graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in the Lerner College are eligible beginning their sophomore year as long as they have two semesters of study remaining. Mentors come from all fields of business and qualify with 10-plus years of progressive career experience.

Mentors are expected to spend just one hour a month meeting with their student mentee, whether it be over the phone or in person. According to Guariano, it hardly seemed too much to ask: ““Everyone has time! We should all be helping and inspiring each other,” she said.

Reiss believed the value you can bring to someone – not academic value, but the life experience – is immeasurable. The program facilitates learning directly from a qualified professional 10 or even 20 years out from where Lerner students currently are. There’s so much more to learn than what is presented in the classroom – how to react to situations, how to make short- and long-term goals and how to navigate various scenarios.

Guariano recognized it’s “difficult to take on challenging opportunities when you lack the confidence to do so.” But mentoring can make the difference.

“She helped me turn my knowledge into confidence,” Sullivan said of Guariano. “She’s amazing.”

To learn more about the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program, visit https://lerner.udel.edu/lerner-executive-mentoring-program/

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