“A Competitive Advantage”
Hollins alumnae are engaging with students at an unprecedented level to foster mentoring opportunities and boost career preparation.
By Sarah Achenbach ’88
Nishu Acharya ’14 was excited and nervous about attending her first Hollins Career Connection Conference (C3) in fall 2012. As a junior with a major in business with finance concentration and a minor in economics, she hoped to meet an alumna in finance who worked in the New York metropolitan area, but beyond that, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
What she discovered were alumnae in every field, ready with advice and connections. “The alumnae I met were so willing to help me network,” Acharya recalls. For her next C3, she was laser-focused on landing a Signature Internship in finance in New York City. She also made a connection that has inspired the trajectory of her career.
Jenny Van Leeuwen Harrington ’97, CEO and portfolio manager at Gilman Hill Asset Management, met Acharya at C3 and encouraged her to apply for the internship Harrington hosted – a competitive application-only Signature Internship that comes with a stipend and housing. In January 2014, Acharya interned for Harrington, who shared job-hunting advice and coached her with mock phone interviews in the months that followed.
After graduation, Acharya moved to New York City, emailing Harrington to continue to network. Turns out, Harrington needed a summer intern and Acharya got the position. Four months later, Acharya was hired as a full-time analyst for Gilman Hill. She’s thrilled with her dream job, city, and the Hollins network that made it all happen. “Jenny has been amazing,” she says. “She’s not just my boss but my mentor. She helped me with the decision to go to grad school, and she’s very encouraging.”
Now Acharya is “paying it forward” by attending C3 as an alumna and helping with the Super Saturday career preparation program to connect alumnae and students. “It’s great to be on the other side of the table,” she says. “I give students lots of advice, but the most important thing I tell them is to reach out to Hollins alumnae.”
This is exactly the kind of high-impact engagement Judy Lambeth ’73, chair of the Board of Trustees, hoped for when she chaired the National Steering Committee to create Hollins’ 2012 strategic plan, “Connecting Liberal Arts Education and Experience to Achieve Results.” Developing a deeper alumnae role in preparing students for purposeful careers is a cornerstone of the plan. “It’s important, now more than ever before, to support women,” says Lambeth, who recalls the 12 women in her law school class and the “old boy” network that continues today. “Your network is your most important thing. We want the Hollins network to be a support system.”
Research revealed that alumnae wanted that, too, and were eager to support career efforts. Excited, the committee got to work expanding the Short Term (January Term or J-Term) internships and creating new initiatives to connect alumnae with students. The first C3 kicked off in fall 2012, attracting alumnae from across decades and career fields to campus for an intense day of mentoring, interviewing, and networking with students (and each other). This past fall, 400 students attended industry-specific panels, speed interviewing, keynote and networking events, one-on-one resume critiques, and panels on business etiquette, personal finances, and more – all staffed by alumnae volunteers.
The committee, in collaboration with the Career Center, developed alumnae-hosted signature internships in New York and Washington, D.C., and this past spring, the Career Center launched the new HU Mentoring initiative for sophomores, aimed at getting second-year students up to speed. “Sophomores don’t get as much attention and direct programming on career skills and preparation,” says Ashley Glenn, Career Center director. “We have first-year programs and a focus on seniors, but sophomores have been left out.”
Last spring’s pilot program matched 20 sophomores one-on-one with alumnae for phone and email conversations throughout the year. Alumnae mentors offer advice, serve as a sounding board, and more. “It’s meant to be an organic connection,” explains Glenn of the pilot, which runs through December 31, 2017. This fall, another 20 matches begin. “The groups are strategically small due to staffing/program management and to provide quality matches.”
Keeping the momentum going is critical. Super Saturday, the all-day career mentoring “phonathon” for alumnae and students created by members of the National Steering Committee, is at full throttle since its inception in spring 2015. The committee hopes to expand Hollins’ hallmark Short Term internships into summer internships, particularly for the many students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). A month-long January lab internship often is not realistic, though Hollins would like to increase Short Term options in hospital settings, science grant writing, and other non-lab STEM venues. The committee also is looking to Atlanta and Richmond as possible places to expand internship perks like free housing in safe, residential hotels, as students have in New York and Washington, D.C. Other possibilities include making deeper, career-interest-specific mentoring connections and a possible J-Term career exploration to front-load career skills early.
“The goal of everything we do is to give students a competitive advantage,” Lambeth says. “The kind of woman who comes to Hollins today is one who is really passionate about her education and wants to define the world on her own terms.”
Just ask Mary Stewart ’18, political science major and would-be public defender. She spent the summer before senior year applying to law school and shadowing attorney Elysse Stolpe ’10, who works in the Charlottesville-area district attorney’s office. Stewart and Stolpe connected after Stewart’s Super Saturday mentor this past spring gave her a list of alumnae attorneys to contact. Stewart, a C3 veteran who interned with National Steering Committee member and attorney Courtney Chenette ’09, has embraced the Hollins network since first year. “Everyone at Hollins talks about how great the alumnae network is, and every conversation I have had with an alumna has been extremely helpful,” Stewart says. “It’s a confidence booster. I am 100 percent prepared for law school and job interviews. All the things I have done with alumnae have taught me how to own myself.”
What’s the sound of a dozen Hollins women in an office suite on a Saturday afternoon in two different cities calling students? Mostly laughter, encouraging words, ringtones, paper shuffling, and soda cans being opened.
Listen carefully, though, and you’ll hear the sound of possibility, of connections sparking.
Super Saturday is the brainchild of National Steering Committee members Courtney Chenette ’09, Alumnae Board member Barbara Duckworth ’72, and Trustee Jenny Van Leeuwen Harrington ’97. It evolved from their discussions about ways to connect more deeply and directly with students on career preparation. Four years ago, Harrington and Chenette, a lawyer with Morris Duffy Alonso & Faley in New York City who is heavily involved in the internship program, commiserated on the rapid-fire phone interviews they experienced when entering the financial and legal fields. Could it work for Hollins alumnae and students, they wondered? Absolutely.
On a Saturday in May 2015, Chenette and Harrington gathered seven, mostly younger, alumnae in Chenette’s law office to talk via phone or Skype with 28 Hollins students who had registered through the Career Center and emailed their resumes. Each 30-minute call included a practice interview, constructive critique, and conversation with the student about skill development, career goals, and internship interests. The following spring, Washington, D.C., joined the program, led by Duckworth, a retired senior executive with the Department of Defense, and both cities added a fall 2016 Super Saturday.
Held on the same day and time, Super Saturday attracts alumnae spanning four decades and a range of careers. While the Super Saturday cochairs and Career Center work hard to match alumnae with students by career, it hardly matters. “The calls are always very full with questions related to general career advice,” notes Harrington. In turn, the students give the alumnae great insight on internships, and several new internships have been added as a result of Super Saturday. An unexpected bonus is the deep connections alumnae make with each other at the event. “It is like being on campus,” Harrington says. “I feel the Hollins love all over again.” Many volunteers are younger alumnae who are not able to host an internship yet but whose contacts and recent job-hunting experience are invaluable.
Coaching students on how to network is a key goal of every call. “Students learn that networking with alumnae is accessible and that alumnae conducting the calls share their wisdom and experience with Hollins students no matter where they are in their careers or lives,” Chenette explains. Alumnae volunteers identify those students who need more polish with interviews and work with them over the course of the year.
“Super Saturday is a great opportunity to help students to think more broadly about careers,” Duckworth adds. “It’s a concrete example of how alumnae can continue to love Hollins and give back.” She’s quick to point out that you don’t need to live in New York or Washington, D.C., to help a student along her career journey: “Alumnae engagement is broadly defined. If you are an alumna, you have a role.”
J-Term, January Term, or Short Term. Whatever you call it, it’s a smart career move and one that more and more Hollins students are making. In 2017, 193 students held internships, 16 more than in 2012 when the strategic plan was created. Today, over 75 percent of students have had at least one internship before graduation.
- 72 students completed Signature Internships with 53 different organizations
- 31 students participated in the first-year internship program with 27 different organizations
- 90 students completed independent internships with 85 different organizations
Signature Internships are competitive application-only, alumnae-hosted internships in New York and Washington, D.C., with housing stipends. First-year internships also are by application and hosted by 27 organizations in the Roanoke Valley.
Top Ten Ways to Help the Hollins Network
- Offer or help identify an internship for J-Term or summer.
- Volunteer for C3.
- Volunteer for Super Saturday.
- Host a student internship.
Sarah Achenbach ’88 is a Baltimore-based writer and author who fell in love with a writing career during her 1986 Short Term internship at Jim Henson Publications.
Beth JoJack ’98 interviewed several Hollins alumnae. Read her fascinating profiles >