Seawolves Offer Support

From left: Maicel Fuhriman, project management graduate student, and Jessica Jacobsen, B.S. Construction Management ’13, M.S. Project Management ’19.
Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Mr. Miyagi and Daniel LaRusso. Plato and Aristotle. Throughout history and fiction, mentorships have opened doors for people to discover breakthroughs or assuredly move in the right direction.

Looking at the numbers, university students who have mentors are 14% more likely to graduate. In the workforce, mentees are promoted five times more often than those without mentors. The benefits swing both ways, as mentors themselves are promoted six times as often. All in all, of both mentors and mentees, 87% feel empowered by their relationships.

In May 2020, UAA launched Seawolf Mentor, a program hosted through Mentor Collective, a nonprofit that runs peer mentorship programs for colleges and universities nationwide. Originally focused on pairing freshmen and first-time students with experienced undergrad mentors, the success of the pilot program allowed it to expand to include graduate student mentees and alumni mentors.

As of September 2021, more than 178 undergraduate and graduate mentees have been partnered with 71 student and alumni mentors, logging in nearly 3,000 conversations and texts.

For those who are returning

Before Seawolf Mentor, opportunities to seek mentorship or offer guidance were limited. Events like Career Networking Night sometimes filled the gap, where alumni would come to campus to answer questions about their careers to undergrads interested in pursuing those fields. Another solution was College Survival Skills, a since-discontinued prep course specifically designed to help new students transition into university life.

Alyeska Pipeline technical maintenance planner Jessica Jacobsen, B.S. Construction Management ’13, M.S. Project Management ’19, credits College Survival Skills with her own successful traversal of undergrad. It was so important, in fact, that when she returned to UAA to pursue her graduate degree after some time away, she was disappointed to see that it was no longer offered, much less that no equivalent for master’s students was available.

Jessica Jacobsen headshot
Seawolf mentor Jessica Jacobsen, B.S. Construction Management ’13, M.S. Project Management ’19.
Maicel Fuhriman headshot
Seawolf mentee Maicel Fuhriman, project management graduate student.
“College Survival Skills helped me navigate the university system so I could not fail. But they no longer offered it when I came back for my master’s. It was pretty much you’re on your own, you should already know,” said Jacobsen. “Then for the end of the degree, the capstone, that was a doozy. So I wanted to make sure that if I had a chance to help other students prepare for what was coming, maybe they wouldn’t have to go through what I had to. I’ve never had a mentor my whole life, so I wanted to provide something that I was never able to have.”

Among the earliest to enroll in Seawolf Mentor, today Jacobsen mentors nine mentees, including Maicel Fuhriman. Similar to Jacobsen, Fuhriman is a fellow project management graduate student and returned to work toward her master’s degree after taking a break, moving to Alaska from Idaho in the process. Fuhriman explains that mentorship has always been a key part of her trajectory, having consistently had a mentor in teachers and professors from kindergarten all the way to undergrad.

“I’ve always needed to give myself a backboard to bounce off. I’m always going for the corner shots that I need support for, so mentors are super beneficial,” said Fuhriman. “I’m glad I have Jessica in my corner because it’s like I have somebody I can lean on, somebody I can bounce ideas off of, somebody there to help even if I didn’t ask. The greatest thing about having her as a mentor is all the ways she helps without knowing, through all these conversations about the most random things that help during school and even outside school.”

Of the many school- and life-related topics the pair talks about, what’s been most helpful for Fuhriman is picking Jacobsen’s brain about how to approach certain professors and projects, all of which are still very fresh in Jacobsen’s memory.

“I wish this was here when I was in school,” said Jacobsen. “I used to seek out professors as mentors, even though we never quite labeled it that. When the opportunity came up, I really wanted it, and now I can provide it.”

“I’m glad it’s here when I am,” added Fuhriman. “Especially with the pandemic, having somebody to talk to is important and can ease a lot of anxiety. In the future, I look forward to moving from a mentee to a mentor. I hope I can make that transition.”

For those who are juggling

After receiving a first graduate degree without guidance, working toward a second should be a breeze. However, Master of Public Health student Alexandra Edwards, M.A. Anthropology ’12, decided this year to try a different approach. Committing to saying yes to more networking opportunities that crossed her path, Edwards applied to be a mentee. Hoping to be paired with someone who could relate to the balancing act of pursuing higher education while parenting, she found exactly that in Steffi Kim, M.S. Clinical Psychology ‘18, Ph.D. Clinical-Community Psychology ‘20.
Steffi Kim and Alexandra Edwards talking at a small table wearing masks
From left: Steffi Kim, M.S. Clinical Psychology ‘18, Ph.D. Clinical-Community Psychology ‘20, and Alexandra Edwards, M.A. Anthropology ’12.
“I was hoping to be put in touch with someone like Steffi, someone who knows what it’s like to try and complete a program with young kids and who is in that early stage of their career and is a nontraditional student,” said Edwards. “What I found in both of my programs, because I was older than the cohort that generally went through and working full time, there was kind of a disconnect with a lot of the activities that were often offered. So being able to talk with someone about how to balance work life and student life and family life was valuable.”

A research associate at the University of Minnesota, Duluth studying successful aging in Alaska Native people, Kim is familiar with the benefits of mentorship, having had several faculty mentors throughout her own graduate and doctoral studies. Moreover, she understands the importance of having a mentor who is a little more informal and isn’t necessarily professionally associated with a mentee’s curriculum.

Alexandra Edwards headshot
Seawolf mentee Alexandra Edwards, M.A. Anthropology ’12.
Steffi Kim headshot
Seawolf mentor Steffi Kim, M.S. Clinical Psychology ‘18, Ph.D. Clinical-Community Psychology ‘20.
“I had very good experiences with mentors that really changed the ballgame for me. In general, mentoring can increase well-being, it can be emotional support, and professional development can be fostered. I had stretches of time where I didn’t have mentorship available to me and I really felt it,” said Kim. “With mentors that are more official within the faculty, there is for sure that bouncing of ideas, but there’s always that dynamic of being careful about what you ask and how you ask, and sometimes that leads to just not asking.”

In addition to relating in the realms of careers and parenthood, Edwards has found it especially helpful that they both can speak to the unique challenges of being an immigrant attending school in the U.S. — Edwards being from New Zealand and Kim being from Germany.

“Neither of us grew up in the United States,” said Edwards. “We’re both immigrants and I think both of us could say it’s possible for people who did go through education systems elsewhere to come to the United States and do well here, so that’s a perspective we share.”

For anyone who is thinking about enrolling in Seawolf Mentor but is on the fence, the pair suggest giving it a try anyway, if not for the benefit of having an outside perspective that can relate to what you’re going through, but also as a general way to support the personal and professional growth of others.

“Mentorship has also been a way of giving back to the community,” said Kim. “I received so much support and a great education and I wanted to make sure that I contribute to the other students that are coming through UAA.”