Gratitude Stories: Virginia Alumni Mentoring

Lana Al-Soloum, Second Year, McLean, Virginia

My name is Lana Al-Saloum and I am a rising third year in the Batten School for Public Policy and Leadership. I had the privilege of connecting with Carolyn Utrectht through the UVA VAM Bridges Project. My initial assignment going into this project was to redesign a website and format an existing RFP, however I am ecstatic to say that what I was able to get out of it was far more than a stipend and a completed project certificate.

Upon completing my two assigned projects, I was offered the opportunity to continue working  with Carolyn on a much broader and long-term basis. Over time, I formed a bond with her and her childcare company staff, all of whom I now consider to be some of my closest colleagues.

What I gained from the VAM Bridges Initiative was far more than the skills I obtained from my initial project. Carolyn grew to become my mentor with whom I continue to trust with academic and career oriented decisions everyday. As someone who shares my passions for mental health initiatives, closing the socio-economic gaps in society, and the field of law, I found that Carolyn was the perfect person to ask for advice in any capacity. My loyalty to my mentor (Carolyn) was promptly reciprocated. Ever since our initial interaction, Carolyn has gone out of her way time and time again to help me with personal initiatives and career development pathways.

In considering applying to a Bridges Project, I urge you to consider the benefits of a project that may extend beyond the surface. UVA has put an enormous amount of effort into nurturing an initiative that supplies you with some of the best networking and project based learning opportunities to date. I can’t imagine a singular moment passing without something new being learned, perspectives being shifted, or ideas emerging. VAM has been one of the best moves in my college career and I would strongly encourage every student to explore it with the same magnitude that I have.

Learn more about the Bridges Program

Sam and Katya

Katya (mentor) & Sam (mentee) discuss the beginning of their mentor/mentee relationship and share how it has impacted them.


Dean See

Virginia Alumni Mentoring

Dean See, Second Year, Singapore

I’m Dean See, a prospective second-year Cognitive Science and Media Studies double major. The mentor I connected with was Katya Davydova, and I connected with her because of our shared interest in Cognitive Science. Connecting with Katya helped me tremendously because she showed me the wide range of careers available to Cognitive Science majors through the roles she has worked at, which was something I was overwhelmed by initially but am now incredibly excited about!

A meaningful takeaway I had from this connection was learning more about the Career Peer Educators (CPE) program, which Katya loved being involved in back in college. She encouraged me to apply for the role, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made this year because of the incredibly supportive community and opportunities for growth here! Additionally, I’ve been sending emails to Psychology labs on Grounds with her help - she emphasized the importance of human connection, and gave me a solid piece of advice: don’t email professors about a lab position immediately, but schedule an appointment with them to talk about their research first. I was initially intimidated by reaching out to alumni, but Katya was such a warm and nurturing mentor that I’ve also become a lot more confident about making more connections on VAM. 

Andrew Holmes, CLAS '20, MPP '22, Cleveland, OH

I first spoke with Erik in anticipation of attending a week-long business academy trip to DC in January 2019. We first connected on LinkedIn and then spoke on the phone. Our initial call made me realize how much we have in common. Erik provided very helpful insight on how his role at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce not only impacts the economy, but also how it affects politics—an area that I am also interested in.

More broadly speaking, connecting with Erik showed me just how strong the UVA alumni network is, and just how helpful fellow Hoos are willing to be. This really speaks to the quality of our university. I found this connection to be especially meaningful because Erik’s a wonderful person to know, and we have stayed in touch well beyond the dates of the business academy. Last winter, Erik invited me to Richmond to shadow him at work. The highlight of my visit was observing the House of Delegates discuss a bill that Erik helped largely shape the policy discussion around.

Erik’s work is impressive, and I look forward to learning more from him in the future.

Genesis M. Rodgers

Genesis M. Rodgers, Fourth Year, Jacksonville, FL

At the start of my second year, I was really struggling to push through architecture studios. Was this really the job I wanted to do? To find answers, I wanted to reach out to someone who had been in my shoes. I heard about VAM at the Career Center and searched for architecture school alumni. Once I filtered them, I wanted to find someone that was working outside of architecture.

Then, I found Juliana Gutowski's profile, saw that she was working in advertising, and was really inspired by her website portfolio. I decided to reach out for really open-ended advice about her experience in the architecture school and how she was using those skills to be a big-deal art director in NYC. Our first conversation helped me realize I didn't have to end up at a traditional architecture firm. After that, I started exploring so many different graduate programs and other creative industries (business, communications, food studies, to name a few). Soon after our phone conversation, I connected with her on LinkedIn to stay in touch.

About a year later, I reached back to see if she would review my new portfolio website. We phone chatted again for a quick 20 minutes, but the advice she gave me really transformed my portfolio. I've passed her insights on to my other creative peers. A few words shared between her busy work days, but I know that she is eager to mentor students because she 'wished she had had a mentor too'. Her story and her advice have inspired me for the long-run. Thank you Juliana!

Regina Taylor

Regina Taylor, Fourth Year, Sterling, VA

I began using VAM this semester when I was faced with the questions of what to do during my gap years before Med school, and how I can get involved in business as a public health student. I am so happy that I took advantage of Virginia Alumni Mentoring because the alumni I spoke with reminded me that my career did not have to be the static, one-way path I had always pictured. Speaking with mentors helped me to realize that I could find meaningful ways to combine my diverse interests and skills while growing as both a person and professional.

One mentor I spoke with was Ryan Orr, who studied Global Public Health (like me) and was on the Pre-Med track and now works in consulting. Hearing about his ability to switch career paths reminded me of the transferable skills I have gained that I can apply to different industries. Ryan also had a positive impact on me by suggesting that I create my own opportunities that engage my talents and passions in order to advance myself professionally, which was very inspiring seeing that he came up with a platform to help Pre-Med students who were switching careers. Another mentor I spoke with was Martha Shenkenberg, an experienced professional in the healthcare consulting field with a nursing undergrad degree and an MBA from Darden. She really explained the realities of the job and the everyday challenges healthcare consultants face. Being completely new to exploring this career, I found this conversation helpful because it provided me with the insight and candid advice from an extremely knowledgeable individual, which I needed to feel confident that this is something I want to pursue.

Another person I talked to was Whitney Nichols, a medical student who has worked in consulting and the data/business side of healthcare after graduating from UVA. Her experiences encompassed all of the aspects of my interests and served as a real-life example of what my future could look like. Seeing all of the skills she gained before medical school and how valuable her gap years were encouraged me to take my time before medical school and explore my passions, even if they weren't clinical. Overall, the conversations I have had since joining VAM have had a huge impact on my own career goals and plans, and I am extremely thankful for the individuals I have spoken with. Seeing the positive impact it has had on me makes me so excited to be an alumni mentor when I graduate!

Caroline Dabney, CLAS '21, Lynchburg, VA

While I was hesitant to join VAM at first, I am so thankful that I finally did! I ended up finding the exact type of mentor I was looking for––Eric Cunningham, a comedy writer living in New York City! I was so excited about this because the mentor I found through VAM had the exact job I dream of having. After reaching out to him, I gave an online elevator pitch of sorts and explained how I was recently given the opportunity to write a mock autobiography in response to Tina Fey’s “Bossy Pants.” He offered to talk on the phone within minutes! We discussed just about everything comedy related including what his path looked like that led him to where he is now. I was intrigued to find out how a foreign affairs and religious studies major could lead to a comedy writing career. Our 45 minute conversation led to emailing and further mentorship. I really just want to thank him for getting me so excited about a potential career in this field. I used to be so nervous even dipping my foot into the comedy writing profession, but now I am so much more confident! This is all thanks to VAM! I finally had a professional conversation that made my heart race and I know that is all because of UVa connections. I will now be much more willing to go on VAM to explore other potential mentors!

Hannah Boehlert, CLAS '20, Herndon, VA

I signed up for VAM relatively early in my time at UVA, but it wasn’t until my fourth year that I reaped the most benefits from using the platform. I had decided to focus my job search around federal consulting but didn’t know much about the field. I went straight to VAM and found Ryan Orr, who at the time was working as a technology consultant in the DC area. We ended up having a lot in common — we both pivoted to consulting towards our fourth year, and we both came from a liberal arts background. On our first phone call, he truly went above and beyond, offering me tons of advice and sending me his resume and other documents. After our call, I landed a first-round interview at the company where Ryan worked, so he helped me even more by answering tons of my pre-interview questions. With Ryan’s help, I got the job offer and will be starting my job next month! I’m so thankful that VAM connected me with Ryan because I felt so prepared during my interviews, which put me at ease during the whole process. As I start my career, I’m definitely going to remember my positive VAM experience, and hopefully I can help other undergraduates who are in the position I was then.

Molly West

Virginia Alumni Mentoring - Bridges Program

Molly West, Third Year, Barrington, RI 

Before starting my VAM Project, I did not know much about the program, but I was very interested in the Social Justice Project. After applying, I was accepted and put in contact with Emily Hodge, who is an Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership at Montclair State University. I was eager to learn more about her work, as much of it centers around racism and how it is ingrained in many aspects of our lives. We quickly began work on a research project to provide resources and lesson plans for teachers to learn more about inequality and how this impacts their students. I have already learned how to research and sift through information more effectively, and I have gained so much insight into the less obvious forms of racism that exist in our country. This has been a very eye-opening experience for me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with Emily. 

Throughout the process, Emily was eager to learn more about my aspirations and always made sure that the project was in line with my goals. When she learned that I was interested in law school, she was excited to connect me with her sister-in-law, a very successful lawyer. I was able to speak with her as she helped me brainstorm ideas for internships and learn more about her experience. 

Emily also helped me with a project for school, and I got the chance to interview her about her experience as an academic leader both in research projects and in the classroom. Emily has a busy schedule and was more than willing to take the time to answer my questions with in-depth and helpful responses. Not only has Emily been a great academic mentor, but she is also super friendly and easy to talk to. It is so great to connect with someone who attended UVA, and I love relating to her about the amazing aspects of UVA life. I am so grateful for this opportunity and for VAM for connecting me with Emily. 

Learn more about the Bridges Program

Jaela Parham, Fourth Year

My mentor’s name is Laurie Lindsay and she has been such an amazing mentor and support system throughout my final year here at UVA. She has made a positive impact on my life by sharing about her academic journey at UVA and how she has prospered in the HR Department…. The conversations with Laurie mean the world to me because she is very personable and to be able to receive advice from someone in your dream career is all worthwhile. I definitely think this is a program every UVA student should try because it can greatly benefit your career and success. 

More to Explore

Connect with alumni for insights about the process of choosing and starting a career in their specific field. 

Networking is one of the most successful ways to develop your career path. 

Schedule an appointment through Handshake, or by calling the UVA Career Center at 434-924-8900 M-F from 8 am-5 pm.