UK Social Work’s Inaugural Alumni-Student Mentor Program Strengthens Connections, Fosters Support

In fall 2022, the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) launched its Alumni Association, known as SWAA. At the beginning of this year, SWAA introduced the first cohort of the Alumni-Student Mentoring Program, an initiative designed to match current CoSW student mentees with alumni mentors in order to promote purposeful, one-on-one relationships.

The program aims to help both students and alumni feel more connected to CoSW, as well as provide mentees with an opportunity to learn more about social work from an alumnus with experience and expertise in the field.  Applications for the Alumni-Student Mentoring Program were open from November through December 2022, and student-alumni pairings were announced in January 2023. Once connected, each mentor/mentee pair was responsible for agreeing upon their preferred communication methods using any appropriate communication mechanism (e.g., Wildcat Network message, email, phone call, text message) and meeting modality (e.g., in-person, Zoom, phone call).

They also shared expectations regarding communication and established at least one goal that they planned to accomplish during their time working together. Goals were based on the student mentee’s needs and covered a wide range of ideas and areas. Some sought to develop specific skills, while others were interested in learning more about community engagement or making new connections for future social work opportunities.

After the agreement was finalized, each pair committed to a five-month working relationship, with meetings scheduled at least once per month from January through May 2023.

During these meetings, mentors and mentees had the opportunity to discuss topics such as professional growth and development, accountability, career options, and any specific challenges and situations that the student might be facing. Using the Wildcat Network platform, pairs were able to track milestones as they were achieved, receive monthly email reminders, and be entered for incentives like CoSW swag.

A total of 62 pairs completed the pilot program, which included 62 student mentees and 57 alumni mentors that were spread across 27 states and two countries. Many participants have shared how helpful the match had been for them.

“She is a wonderful mentor,” student E. Andrea Solheim says of Allison Lohr, her alumni mentor. “I appreciate her guidance, her ability to listen and help me problem solve. She has given me vital information pertaining to the field of social work, the UK College of Social Work and other useful information. This is an outstanding program!”

The program also proved to be as beneficial to the alumni mentors as it was to the student mentees. One mentor shared that, “current students are always providing mentors with new learning experiences, especially when assisting with ethical dilemmas or understanding the social work process. My mentee was able to learn what it means to abide by the Code of Ethics and how professionalism and adherence to our ethics is essential to our profession and career.”

Participants completed a post-program survey at the end of the five-month commitment, and their feedback will be incorporated into the next iteration to ensure continuous improvement. Ultimately it is about making a difference in the lives of both students and alumni by offering this unique opportunity to connect.

“I learned how to better advocate for myself as a graduate student and an intern,” says a mentee. “My mentor’s influence has heavily impacted me and increased my motivation to become a social worker. Without my mentor’s guidance and UK’s support, I don’t think I would have made it this far in the MSW program, especially as a first-generation college student.”

With a successful initial run, the SWAA Alumni-Student Mentoring Program will continue next academic year.