Alumni are engaging with the University in myriad ways; mentoring is a standout
STUART COLVIN - volunteer, mentor, donor
There are many things Stuart Colvin wishes he had known earlier in life, particularly about what he refers to as his “purpose”. Now, with time on his hands and a wealth of experience under his belt, the Bachelor of Science graduate (1969) is mentoring students with the aim of helping them identify what drives them – before they enter the workforce.
“I’m trying to give back the things I have learnt,” says the director of leadership and financial literacy at Colvin Associates International. “There are a lot of things I wish I’d known then. I think, why can’t I give that [knowledge] back to people earlier in their life?”
Having returned to Australia after living abroad for 44 years, Stuart was inspired to get involved in the University’s various mentoring programs. While living in the US, he had envied many of his associates who had remained deeply connected with their universities long after graduating.
On reconnecting with his own alma mater some years ago, Stuart was pleased to discover a culture of nurturing and encouraging of next-generation entrepreneurs. He started getting involved, albeit from long distance, by donating to various University programs, but soon decided that should his circumstances change he would love to expand his involvement by becoming hands-on.
Now back in Australia, he has become very engaged with the University, continuing to donate, attending lectures and masterclasses, and mentoring students such as Leonard Zou. Leonard was in the final year of his Bachelor of Science when he was paired with Stuart through the University’s Science Industry Mentoring program, which connects students from the Faculty of Science with alumni and industry professionals.
Leonard was trying to determine what to do once he’d completed his Bachelor degree; Stuart was perfectly placed to lend a hand.
“He was trying to decide between postgraduate study or going into the workforce,” says Stuart. “He felt as though it was a real unknown.”
The pair met up and, together, looked into Leonard’s career and study options, working on his CV and teasing out what really motivated him.
Stuart says a key aspect of his role was simply to listen and ask questions – “just being able to talk it through allowed him to reach his own decision.”
Stuart had asked Leonard to focus on what was important to him. In doing so, he hoped Leonard would be better prepared for the ever-changing nature of the workforce, by identifying what mattered most. Chuckling, he quotes the oft-bandied prediction that people entering the workforce today are likely to have tasted eight different careers by the time they reach retirement age.
I try to help them through more purpose-thinking because they are going to be changing jobs,” he explains. “I remember when I started work, it was expected that I’d work for the same company for my entire career. I nearly did.
After working chiefly in software development over three decades, much of that time with IBM, Stuart formed a tech start-up with two partners called eScholar LLC. This allowed him to develop and put into practice his understanding of leadership and mentoring, during which time he and his wife started their own leadership training business.
Enriched by this experience, Stuart encourages his mentees through various programs – including also Access Connections and Welcome to Melbourne – to focus on “purpose-driven thinking”.
It was during one such discussion that Stuart learnt that Leonard hoped to use his maths and science knowledge to help others.
“I was helping him think through where he wanted to go in life,” says Stuart.
“Most people don’t have a clear purpose in life at that age. So we talked a lot about charitable efforts and a couple of charities that were looking for people like him.”
Inspired by their conversations, Leonard volunteered for an NGO to help combat human trafficking.
The pay-off for Stuart has been the reward of knowing that he was able to help guide Leonard through his decision-making. “I really liked that I could throw a couple of ideas out that he could move forward with.”
SUE PEDEN - volunteer, mentor
In 2014, when Sue Peden started thinking about additional ways that she might give back to the community, mentoring loomed as a no-brainer.
[It’s such] an easy way to contribute and something that’s really constructive and helpful for young people.
The prospect of being able to connect students with someone in their chosen field really appealed to Sue, a non-executive director and communications consultant with several years’ experience running her own business.
“For a lot of people coming into marketing or communications, they at least know someone who can introduce them to find out more about it,” says Sue, who graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor of Commerce. “But most of the mentees I work with have no connections like that at all.”
Working with the University’s Access Connections program, which matches alumni with students from regional or disadvantaged backgrounds, Sue has mentored six students; most recently, Media and Communications and Psychology student Chloe Tan.
Drawing on her many business connections, Sue was able to open a door for Chloe that gave her valuable insights.
“I was really after a practical experience and insight to my field of studies,” says Chloe. “So I applied for Access Connections and got paired with this amazing mentor.
“And that got me an internship, which really gave me an indication of what my future employers wanted from me and how I could improve on that. So, that was really a confidence boost.”
Sue and Chloe were paired at the beginning of 2017 and met twice during the official mentoring period and again several times towards the end of the year.
Sue says that although her six students have each wanted something different out of the mentoring experience, her role has remained fairly consistent; connecting them to someone in their preferred field, to help them decide if it’s what they’d really like to do. It may seem a relatively modest gesture, but is one that can have a huge impact in the lives of mentees.
“The students who apply for the program tend to be those who don’t have really good connections in Melbourne,” Sue adds. “Some are from outer suburban or regional areas, so they aren’t really tapped into the Melbourne business world.”
Having developed friendships with her mentees, Sue delights in learning of their progress and says she looks forward to seeing where Chloe’s future leads her.
They’re great, young people; they’re all fantastic. They’ve all got a different story and they’re all on slightly different paths, so I think that aspect [of mentoring] is really enjoyable.
She adds: “They’re all really enthusiastic, that’s the other thing. They are very gracious and grateful.”