One of the most diverse colleges in the US, California State University, East Bay (”CSUEB”) is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (”HSI”) with Hispanic student enrollment at 37%. While students were away from campus during the pandemic, CSUEB’s Alumni Association saw an opportunity to boost student-to-alumni mentorship for its diverse community via online mentorship programs. By partnering with Firstly, CSUEB was able to provide career mentorship to 150+ college students without needing additional support staff.
California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 15,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty.
California State University, East Bay boasts a strong alumni community of 100,000+ graduates, yet there was no formal mentoring program established by the Alumni Association prior to the pandemic. CSUEB saw an opportunity to support current students as they progress through their college-to-career journeys. To ensure that students would develop the necessary skills and industry knowledge to succeed in the workplace, CSUEB sought to complement academic learning with career mentorship from its highly-engaged alumni body, creating a culture of collaboration across graduation classes.
CSUEB’s Alumni Association was introduced to Firstly via a referral from the campus Academic Advising and Career Education office. While the Alumni Association has considered other mentoring solutions such as PeopleGrove and Graduway, implementation of these platforms would be too time-consuming for CSUEB’s alumni office. Amidst a period of high turnover in higher education, CSUEB could not dedicate additional staff to project manage a completely new system while balancing existing initiatives, such as their CareerBOOST program.
CSUEB needed a way to implement high-impact yet low-lift mentorship programs given its resource constraints. Ultimately, the Alumni Association chose to partner with Firstly as their offering supported the full lifecycle of mentorship programs, including curriculum design, mentor and mentee recruitment, participant matching, and reporting of data and outcomes. Firstly was able to host live program orientations, speaker panels, and personalized coaching on behalf of CSUEB.
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Understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work for CSUEB’s unique student population, Firstly’s initial step was to learn more about the school’s potential mentees. Through dozens of qualitative interviews and data provided by the university, Firstly determined that:
(1) The university’s 64% first-generation college student population experiences psychosocial barriers that inhibit career development, such as impostor syndrome
(2) A majority of CSUEB students worked 20+ hours a week while studying
Thus, a successful program for CSUEB’s student body would encompass elements of confidence-building as well as flexible and self-paced involvement to accommodate for varying work schedules. Many students excluded themselves from accessing the career center because they did not feel ready for career development. We determined that a high program completion rate would signal success given these two attributes.
Firstly crafted a mentorship program with peer cohorts and identity-based professional mentor matches to build a student’s sense of belonging. Additionally, program deliverables included a first draft of a resume, interview answers, and a recorded elevator pitch so that students feel confident about applying to internships and jobs.
Additionally, the program included self-paced modules to help students create a first draft of their deliverables. Once the self-paced modules were completed, students then matched with alumni mentors to tailor their deliverables based on industry insights.
CSUEB and Firstly piloted this program with a small group of 8 Accounting students over the course of a five-week virtual program during the Fall semester of 2021. The completion rate for the pilot was 63%, which was significantly higher than other mentoring initiatives within the university.
This successful pilot resulted in a continuation and expansion of the program for Spring 2022 and Summer 2022. While we are still collecting longitudinal data, we have already seen initial successes from the mentee cohort.
David Cox, a mentee in the Spring 2022 Career Development Program has since secured an internship with Fremont Bank on their Investment Services team.
“Firstly helped me find a group of peers who I can speak with about my professional goals. I’m still connected with my cohort, and I regularly check the Firstly for updates. I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon Firstly because I don’t think I would have put myself out there if it weren’t for the program.”
Since partnering with Firstly, CSUEB has served 150+ college students in career development without needing to hire additional support staff. The program is now offered every semester, and we are preparing to launch our next Fall 2022 cohort for Cal State East Bay students.
If you are interested in launching similar mentorship programs at your college or university, let’s chat about how Firstly can help.