Madeline Kraft '16 and Callan Swaim '16 have truly taken to heart Wittenberg's motto of "Having Light We Pass It On To Others,” giving countless alumni the chance to do the same. Over the past 18 months, Kraft and Swaim have teamed up with various departments at Wittenberg to create and grow a mentoring program that connects current students with successful alumni in their chosen field of study.
Kraft and Swaim, both Gamma Phi Beta sisters and tour guides for the Office of Admission, were highly involved in all things Wittenberg during their time on campus. Kraft was a violin performance and business management major, a member of the swimming and diving team, a concertmaster for the Chamber Orchestra, Student Center manager, and Union Board Event chair. Swaim was a business and Spanish major, a volleyball player, and a member of the student advisory committee.
Despite their accomplishments, after graduation Kraft and Swaim experienced first-hand the difficulty of transitioning from University life to the professional world. They both wished that more professional guidance and mentorship had been available to them as they started thinking about what they would do after college. When reflecting on their experiences at Wittenberg, they recalled all of the people who helped them along their path.
”From personal to athletic to academic challenges, it was always the people around me that helped me understand and leverage the lessons that life was giving to me, and then cheer me on in the future,” Swaim said. “I frequently think about the role my teammates, sorority sisters, and Witt faculty and staff played in shaping the way I look at the world today and can’t thank them enough. I know many alumni feel the same, and this is the exact reason why Madeline and I felt so compelled to create this mentoring program for current students."
According to the pair, the idea came about when they each posed similar questions at separate alumni events. Swaim had also helped develop a mentoring program at her current job as a learning consultant and leadership coach for Expedia Group. This served as the basis of the program at Wittenberg. Together with Heath Queen, co-director of CABLE (Communication and Business Leadership Experience) at the time and current special projects coordinator for Career Services, Kraft and Swaim developed a program to connect alumni with junior-year business students.
The two agreed that this program was born out of a desire and University need to further provide guidance and support as students begin to navigate the pathway and transition between the University bubble and the real world. They believe that one of the best tools to aid this transition is Wittenberg’s alumni base and those who have intimate knowledge of Wittenberg and the student experience. They are also looking to provide current students a leg up on their own transition, along with an opportunity for alumni to give back through their time, in addition to their financial support of the University.
Getting the program off the ground would have been a difficult challenge during COVID-19, but Kraft and Swaim used the shift online to their advantage, making use of digital platforms like Zoom.
They both agreed to “utilize the applications from participants to appropriately match pairs along with a speed networking event via Zoom. Following this, we are then fairly hands-off during the six months of the round. Our largest involvement comes in the form of a check-in survey and topic-of-the-month email that we send out at the beginning of each month. Our topics focus on goal setting, resume tips and tricks, interview skills, network development, and other relevant topics."
Thankfully, Wittenberg's dedicated alumni base was eager to rise to the challenge. From early on, Kraft and Swaim enlisted a wide range of alumni from recent graduates to those who graduated more than 30 years ago. During the first two rounds of the program, more than 70 students were matched with these alumni.
"Seeing the strong connections and meaningful relationships that this program has developed has been a big sign of success for us,” Kraft said. “The cherry on top of this is that so far, we’ve had a student from each round of the program either get an internship or job through their mentor. This program is not solely focused on getting students internships or jobs. Our aim is on the long-term benefits of mentorship and relationship development, which does have the delightful potential for career advocacy and sponsorship."
In light of the program's success, Kraft and Swaim have been working with the University to expand the program campus-wide and serve students from all areas of study, not just business. The third phase began this March, and the pair were thrilled to be involved with the next steps of their passion project.
On top of the benefits the program has had for students and alumni, it has also proved to be a meaningful endeavor for the pair.
"In addition to our passion for mentorship, we were drawn to this project because we’re at a stage in our lives where we’re craving challenges, connections, and growth. When you pair that with the fact that we have the time to give, it curated and carried this idea to fruition," the two agreed.
“Being able to give back to Wittenberg with our time has been really impactful for us,” reflected Kraft and Swaim. “Being able to broaden our own networks and foster meaningful relationships that we never would have otherwise has also been a delightful result of this initiative. Lastly, a huge bonus for us has been working together so closely on a project that we are so passionate about. Getting to see each other and deepen our relationship on a personal and professional level during our weekly check-in call has truthfully been a big highlight of the past 18 months for both of us!"
-By Isabella M. Fiorito ’23
Pictures: Top from left to right are Madeline Kraft '16, and Kraft and Callan Swaim '16 stomping the seal at graduation. Bottom from left to right are Swaim followed by a photo of mentor Heather Donelan '15 and student Emma Menjivar ’22, one of the pairs matched in the mentoring program.