Career Coach: A new mentoring program helps students and alumni connect on career planning.

Sue Griffey worked with GCHB doctoral student Mengxi Zhang while she was visiting New Orleans on Alumni Association business.

Sue Griffey worked with GCHB doctoral student Mengxi Zhang while she was visiting New Orleans on Alumni Association business.

DR. SUE GRIFFEY (IHD MPH ’83, DrPH ’93) has been mentoring SPHTM students informally for years. She would field calls from faculty members like former Assistant Professor Penny Jessop (MCH MPH ’78) who would ask her to talk to individual students about career paths and searching for a job. She longed to make it a more formal arrangement.

“When I was in New Orleans  for Centennial, I button-holed Dean Buekens and Jane Bertrand about it,” she recalls. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that she got an opportunity to put her ideas for a formal program to work.

She started with the Washington DC Chapter of the SPHTM Alumni Association. Alumni in the area had requested mentoring assistance and Griffey lives about an hour outside of D.C. Both she and James Harris (MHA ‘89) provided the mentoring to fellow alumni. Before long, they were also working with the Atlanta Chapter.

Around the same time, Griffey began serving on the Alumni Association board. Both she and board member August Martin (MSPH EHS ’00) were interested in offering mentoring to students. It didn’t really take off, however, until Margie Cartwright, Esq., came on board, Griffey says.

Cartwright joined SPHTM a little over a year ago as the director of Career Services. Her experience with previous mentoring programs had been disappointing, with programs that were too large in scope or too bureaucratic. The Association’s approach, she says, is “by design, fairly targeted.” Participants hone in on only one area where they need help.

Short-term goals, long-term results

Griffey calls the program “short-term mentoring.” Everyone is really busy, she notes, so mentees work on just one well-defined goal over three months. Following an introductory session, Griffey matches mentees with mentors who then meet, usually by phone, for about thirty minutes per session.

The SPHTM program is successful, Cartwright says, because it has “just the right amount of structure.” Griffey keeps it very focused, with two to four phone meetings, and students must summarize their experience when completed.

In addition to one-on-one mentoring, Sue Griffey also held a 2-day workshop for interested students. Topics included developing a bio paragraph and LinkedIn profiles.

In addition to one-on-one mentoring, Sue Griffey also held a 2-day workshop for interested students. Topics included developing a bio paragraph and LinkedIn profiles.

Most mentees’ goals are to find a job or move along in an existing job. Improving networking skills is another common goal. Anna Gunod (GCHB MPH ’16) worked with Susan Igras (HSM MPH ’82) who, she said, definitely had the real-world hiring experience she was looking for. Together, they discussed how to use informational interviews even when a company doesn’t have a current job opening along with the best ways to present her experience on paper.

Gunod hopes the experience has given her an edge. She has made it through all three steps of the competitive application process for the Public Health Associates Program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but she won’t find out the results until mid-July or August.

Change in student body

In the 80s and 90s when Griffey earned her MPH and PhD, most students came to the school already armed with professional experience. “Students were mostly mid-career professionals,” she says. “Now they come straight out of a baccalaureate program. Or the Peace Corps, but they are still really young.”

This shift in demographics only makes it more important to offer mentoring. Griffey would like to see the school develop a more formalized program and sees the work she and Cartwright have put in as something of a pilot program.

Tulane SPHTM is not alone in pursuing this path. Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health has a robust alumni mentoring program that runs for the better part of the academic year. The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University has an entire subcommittee of their alumni association focused on mentoring, says Griffey.

“Students need to know someone is invested in them,” she says. Research backs up this idea. The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report showed that an alumnus’ odds of being engaged at work were more than doubled if the student had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams. Those alumni were also more likely to be thriving in all areas of well-being.

“Mentoring helps push mentees, especially students who are often in a passive role,” says Griffey. “Mentoring is a way to say, ‘Look, this is all on you.’”

Mentoring empowers students, while at that same time it gives them an experienced shoulder to lean on.

If you are interested in participating in the mentoring program as either a mentor or a mentee, contact Margie Cartwright at  cartwright@tulane.edu.

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About Tulane University SPHTM

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is the oldest school of public health in the country and the only American school of tropical medicine. Our mission is to advance public health knowledge, promote health and well-being, and prevent disease, disability, and premature mortality. This is accomplished through academic excellence in education of public health professionals, rigorous scientific research of public health problems, creative partnerships to advance the practice of public health, and innovative service to the local, national, and international public health community.
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