Mapping Out Connections: Wellesley’s Mentorship Affinity Pods

Students and alums meet over Zoom.
Author  E.B. Bartels ’10
Published on 

Wellesley is proud of its incredibly strong alumnae network—one that can be both exciting and intimidating to current students looking for connections. For Cheryl Minde ’24, an international relations-history major who describes herself as shy, the prospect of cold-emailing or direct messaging an alum on LinkedIn seemed overwhelming. But when she learned about the Wellesley Mentorship Affinity Pods (MAP), a program developed by Career Education that offers a structured way to contact alums, Minde immediately signed up. “It sounded like an easy way to get to know people,” she says.

Destiny M. Barletta, director of alumnae connections for Career Education, says the idea for the MAP program, now entering its third year, came about when a group of students who were active with Harambee House said they would like to find more opportunities to connect with alums to talk about careers and chosen professional fields, and also the impact their identities have had on their experiences.

Interested students and alums start by filling out a detailed questionnaire about their academic interests and career experiences as well as their identities and backgrounds. Barletta and members of the Career Education team then sort the alums and students into affinity groups based on their shared identities and interests. This past spring, which was the second time the MAP program ran, 410 alums from the classes of 1957 to 2022 and 273 students participated in 67 groups. The “pod” sizes varied based on interest in a particular topic—a veterinary medicine group had just two alums and two students, for example, but there were multiple larger groups for those interested in nonprofit and social impact law. Once the students and alums were matched, the groups met via Zoom once a month from February through June. The program provided a list of topics and questions to help spark discussion.

“I have a lot of questions about medicine and what that path looks like,” says Jusrin Padam ’25, a psychology major and biochemistry minor who joined the program this spring. “I’m trying to figure out if this is something I truly want to pursue, so I want to know everything about it—both the good and bad—and immerse myself in it as much as possible.” Padam was matched with four other current students, two of whom she knew previously from pre-med courses, and five alums who are working in either pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology. “Everyone in that group was doing something totally different, even if they are all doctors,” says Padam.

The MAP groups talked in depth about the challenging and rewarding aspects of their fields. “I found it reassuring to hear that your path isn’t going to be perfect,” says Minde, whose group discussed working in international affairs and for foreign governments. “It’s normal to have ups and downs to get where you want to go, that’s totally OK. I think it’s a very Wendy Wellesley thing to think otherwise, but it was really neat to see how people changed careers and tried different fields.”

Laila Rouhi ’25, an economics and Spanish double major, was part of a MAP group interested in financial sectors relating to technology, tax risk, high-level management, consulting, and other fields. “One of the strongest things Wellesley has to offer is its alumnae network,” says Rouhi. “I found it really helpful to get connected to the alumnae community—to their expertise, mentorship, and help.” Alums in Rouhi’s group offered to conduct mock interviews with her, look over her résumé, and connect her with colleagues at top consulting firms. She now has internships lined up for the next two summers.

Minde, Padam, and Rouhi highly recommend that all sophomores, juniors, and seniors sign up for the MAP program. “If you’re not 100% certain about med school or whatever it is you want to do—and I don’t think anyone is at this point in their journey—just do it,” says Padam. “Someone else will ask a question you didn’t even think of!”

Rouhi says she really appreciated meeting other students who are going through the financial world’s recruiting process: “It’s so good to talk to someone else in my shoes. We are able to help each other and learn from each other.”

The experience is not just valuable for students—alums have much to gain as well. “The concept of the program is a 360 idea of mentorship,” explains Barletta, which means everyone in the group has something to contribute and something to learn. “It’s not that the alums are the mentors and the students are the mentees. Students can do peer-to-peer networking with others who have the same career interests, and then alums who are at different stages in their careers can be in a group that allows them to connect and support one another.”

Susan Freeman ’79 was matched with several other alums from a range of classes and one student who were interested or already working in organizational and leadership development, executive coaching, and human resources. “There was an immediate connection and resonance among attendees from the very first call. Although at times the group had just a few folks, we had some of the most powerful conversations any of us have had in a long while,” Freeman wrote in an email. “We were deeply connected, sharing values and ideas of importance and generally appreciating the space we had to share together.”

The MAP program will run again in winter/spring 2024, with flexible meeting times that take into account work and class schedules as well as alums’ different time zones. Information about how to sign up to participate will be available from Career Education in early January.