|Mentorship Program Gives Economics Students a "Comparative Advantage" in Their Career Search
November 25, 2008
by Emily Matras ‘12
Situated in a small town at a college with an enrollment roughly equal to most public high schools, it can be difficult for Davidson students to connect to the “real world.” Comparative Advantage, a student-run program sponsored by the Omicron Delta Epsilon economics honor society, is trying to change that.
|(l-r) Bank of American employee Rasheeda Hasan serves as a mentor for Danielle Lokaj ’09.|
Comparative Advantage pairs economics majors and minors, and others with a demonstrated interest in economics, with mentors in the Charlotte community, all of whom are alumni or friends of the college. Created in 2001, the program has its largest involvement ever this year, with 18 student-mentor pairs.
Professor of Economics Vikram Kumar, faculty adviser for the program, explained how relationships with mentors offer students significant benefits. “They will have a much better understanding of the difference between being a student and being someone companies can depend upon to carry out missions,” Kumar said. “I hope students gain a deeper sense of independence, and a realization that they must make a way for themselves in this world.”
The offices of Alumni Relations and Career Services help recruit mentors. Student applicants for the program write about their interest in economics, background and reasons for seeking involvement in the program. The goal is to ensure that each student is paired with a mentor with similar interests. “We wanted students to have someone to go to with questions about professional life,” said Grace Pittinger ’09, a Comparative Advantage officer.
Mentors were introduced to their mentees at a reception recently at Kumar’s home in Charlotte. Students and mentors enjoyed 90 minutes of meet-and-greet chatting about the world of work, career paths, Davidson life and job searches. Mentors were encouraged to maintain contact with their mentees throughout the academic year through informal meet ups and possibly visits to job sites.
Students enjoyed the opportunity to see beyond the Davidson “bubble.” “Davidson doesn’t offer a degree in accounting, so that makes this program all the more important for me,” said Hillary Maul ’10. “I’ve never really talked to an accountant before, and with Charlotte being so close, it’s an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the field.”
|(l-r) Jack Purcell '02 serves as mentor to Evan Mintz '11.|
Alicia Sparling, visiting assistant professor of economics, reinforced the importance of learning early about careers in economics. “I think many students are clueless when it comes to financial work, and they glamorize certain jobs like banking,” she said. “I hope that the mentors can talk with students about what they learned in college that has helped them in the workplace.”
Sparling also noted the problems that job-seeking students may face in light of the economic crisis. “It’s more important to have Comparative Advantage now,” she said. “Mentors will give more pragmatic, skeptical advice, and students can connect with people actually working through the crisis.”
Thomas Okel ’84, managing director of Bank of America, talked about the increased importance of networking. “Everyone has to be more proactive now in job searches,” he said. “Hopefully my advice is more valuable now than it was two years ago, when it was easier to get a job.”
Okel’s mentee, Bryant Barr ’10, a double math and economics major with an interest in actuarial science, is grateful for the program. “I’m a junior, so I really want to start networking, and find out what to expect out of the next two years,” Barr said. “I want to pick his brain about his job and the market. His experience can really help me out.”
Mentor Dave Cable, a Davidson parent who works as executive director of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, stressed the value of Davidson’s liberal arts education in light of the economic crisis. “The older I get the more I realize the strength and potency of a liberal arts degree,” he said. “The Davidson family is an incredible network and can be an antidote to these bad economic times.”
|Thad Sieracki '09, president of the ODE economics honor society, addresses mentors and students during the gathering at Prof. Kumar's house. |
Cable added that the mentees aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program. “This model is a powerful tool and a win-win for everybody,” he said. “Hopefully I will make a little bit of a difference in somebody’s life and learn something myself.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz