O’Neill alumna Sara Hindi (BSPA’15) knew she wanted to connect with students at O’Neill IUPUI, but she didn’t quite know how.
“As a young professional who recently graduated, I knew I could relate to students,” she says. “I had such a positive experience at O’Neill. I wanted to help students as they were trying to figure out their journeys.”
Little did Hindi know her opportunity was on its way.
She received an email from Elizabeth Cornejo, a civic leadership student at O’Neill IUPUI, who needed to interview someone at a nonprofit for a course. She was drawn to Exodus Refugee’s mission and reached out to the organization. Her email landed in Hindi’s inbox.
“I thought ‘this is my person!’” Hindi says with a smile. “I was more than happy to meet with her to talk about O’Neill and my career.”
Cornejo admits she was excited as well. “She was like a hero to me because she works at a nonprofit. I was in awe!”
After the interview, Cornejo and Hindi parted ways. It seemed as though that would be the end of their relationship.
But another email would change that.
This time, it was a message from O’Neill asking alumni to join the school’s new Mentor Collective program. O’Neill is the first school at IUPUI to pilot the online mentoring community and is building its alumni mentors to be ready for students.
“I remember what it felt like to not know what I wanted to do yet,” Hindi recalls. “I also remember the mentors who helped me figure it out. Being in Mentor Collective would allow me to do the same for current students.”
So Hindi visited O’Neill IUPUI’s website to join the program. Two weeks later, she had been matched.
“They sent me my match’s name and I thought it sounded really familiar,” Hindi says. “I texted Elizabeth and said ‘haven’t we met before?’”
Mentor Collective matches undergraduate students with mentors based on personal and academic interests, backgrounds, and career goals.
The program had matched Hindi and Cornejo.
“I’m glad Elizabeth and I got along in that initial meeting because—had we not—this would’ve been really awkward,” Hindi laughs.
The pair shares a lot of laughs. They talk about school but personal matters as well.
“I’m a first-generation student, so I didn’t have anyone to talk to about college,” Cornejo says. “I needed someone on the other end to tell me how this should go.”
To those concerned about the time involved with mentoring, Hindi and Cornejo say the flexibility of the program allows them to decide what works best.
“Be open from the beginning about your time constraints,” Hindi advises. “If you don’t meet regularly, you may not develop a close relationship, but it’s still good for the mentee to know you’re there when needed.”
Hindi and Cornejo are also flexible when it comes to how they meet. While they prefer to meet in-person, they also use video chat, phone calls, or texting to check in.
Right now, O’Neill IUPUI’s mentoring program is focused on connecting first-generation students and students of color with a mentor. But that may broaden in the future.
Tamra Wright, O’Neill’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion and a key partner in the Mentor Collective program, says she hopes to incorporate it into O’Neill’s Summer Bridge program, reaching up to 200 first-year students.
Wright says this will provide a critical support system to students who are just beginning the college journey.
“We can say to students and parents that our O’Neill students will get a mentor as soon as they step foot on campus,” she says. “They would have immediate access to a peer or alumni mentor.”
Hindi understands the importance of the alumni connection.
“When we’re in our careers, we talk about our successes and how we got there but we don’t necessarily talk about the sacrifices it took to get where we are,” she says. “It’s important to be that authentic person and talk about what you faced in college and how you got where you are today because it allows students to connect with you. It allows them to create their own path, just like you did.”