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New College mentorship program benefits students, alumni

Relationships often last long beyond the formal program

Mentor Barry Glaspell, a litigation partner at Borden Ladner Gervais and his mentee Milomir Strbac, a third-year criminology student interested in criminal law. (Photo by Jackie Vanterpool)

Mentorship has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. Alexander the Great had Aristotle, Dante had Virgil and the students at New College have their alumni.

“Successful students are the ones who acknowledge that learning takes place outside the classroom as well,” said Professor Yves Roberge, principal of New College. “They see the need to increase their opportunities through volunteering and internships, and this [mentorship], I think, is part of the same reasoning.”

Each year, interested New College students in their second, third or fourth years are paired with an alumnus for a six-month mentorship opportunity. Although the term of the formal program is fixed, Brenda Registe, the alumni development officer at New College, points out that these relationships often continue long after the program ends.

“Many of our matches have continued well beyond the time outlined on the application form,” said Registe. “One mentor shared the lasting nature of her relationship with mentees, by highlighting the invitations she receives to attend, weddings and birthday parties for mentees children.

“Another mentor did not participate this year, because of his ongoing relationship with his last three mentees.  His 2010 mentee, Geriel Kent, met with me last week, to express his thanks for this opportunity, saying he had no idea how valuable this experience would be.”

Students applying for the program go through an interview process where their requirements and expectations are assessed so they can be matched with a suitable mentor. For their part, mentors are asked to commit to three forms of contact over the six month period, usually a combination of telephone and in-person meetings, as well as job shadowing opportunities if feasible.  

After the mentees are paired with a mentor, the college introduces the pair by email and invites them to a reception held in their honour.  At this year’s reception, the college also acknowledged longstanding mentor Harris Rosen and welcomed four second-generation mentors – those who were mentees and have now returned to give back to their alma mater.

Rosen, who graduated in 1987 and is now a capital partner at Fogler Rubinoff LLP, has been mentoring New College students since 2002. He congratulated all of the mentees for considering their career options at a very early stage and encouraged them to make use of all that New College and the university have to offer.

“Reach out to the registrars at New College and anyone who will listen,” said Rosen. “There is something very special about the University of Toronto.

“People like Sally Walker, [assistant principal and registrar], Ruth Norton, then associate registrar, and Professor Dennis Magill were so supportive of the students; it’s an incredible place.”

New College started its mentorship program in 1991 and is now beginning to see alumni who took advantage of the program when they were students return as mentors.

Cristina Balanescu, a systems analyst for the Royal Bank of Canada, is a mentor for the first time this year. She graduated in 2007 with a degree in computer science, French and math, and said mentorship really helped get her career started.

“My mentor knew what companies were looking for in an employee,” said Balanescu.  

Now, it’s her turn to help undergraduates find out what experience and skills they need to start their careers.

“I can relate to what they’re going through,” she noted.

Nathalie Forde, a third-year women and gender studies student, who wants to pursue a legal career in corporate governance, commercial and civil litigation, said she is looking forward to gaining insight into her chosen profession and job shadowing her mentor Jesslyn Maurier, an associate at the law firm Bennett Jones.

“I want to know what it’s like to be in a law office,” she said. “I look forward to meeting people who can not only help me, but from whom I can learn.”