Design Mentor Program Supports Next Generation of Designers

April 26, 2021

Searching for jobs and making early career decisions can be tough to navigate on your own. For 28 years, College of Design juniors, seniors, and graduate students have been matched with mentors in their field of study to help bridge the gap between academia and industry through the college’s award-winning mentorship program.

Together, mentoring pairs work on student goals, career exploration, networking, and professional skill-building. “I joined the Mentor Program because I wanted to build more meaningful and long-term networking connections,” explained Sheng Thao (Interior Design). “Being able to have monthly one-on-one meetings with my mentor has been really beneficial. Unlike the other professional events that are limited on time, these regular meetings allowed me to ask more questions and be more engaged.”
Thao’s mentor, interior designer Kristen Mengelkoch (BS’ 92, Interior Design) shares this sentiment. “It takes very little of my time to make a big difference for a student and I’m fond of one-on-one connections I can build,” said Mengelkoch. “Professionals can offer the information that bridges school to practice. We know what future employers will be looking for in the students. Likewise, it also helps me understand generational culture differences that may show up in my future employees.”

Networking and forging connections with design professionals provide crucial learning opportunities for students. “When I was a student I had a mentor, and I remember how much value it provided for me,” reflected product designer Martin Ostrem (BFA ‘14, Graphic Design), who has since become a mentor. “I wanted to give back to the design community that helped me evolve into the designer I am today.”

Now Ostrem works with his mentee, Caleb Paradies (Product Design), to prepare him for life outside of school. “I wanted to learn more about the product design industry and hear more about the experiences of a working product designer,” explained Paradies. Through the mentorship experience, Paradies and other students in the program can better envision what life will be like after graduation and explore various career paths that might be fulfilling. “I think it's important to help young designers see what it might be like in larger organizations where multi-disciplinary collaboration is key to success. I wanted to pass on the learning I've done over my career to other designers,” explained Ostrem.  

One of the key reasons the College of Design’s Mentor Program has been so successful is its invested alumni community and the robust local design ecosystem. “Our alumni and the Twin Cities design community have been incredibly supportive and generous with their time,” said Director of Alumni Relations Lori Mollberg. “We wouldn’t be able to provide this experience to our students without them.”

The University of Minnesota’s Alumni Association Awards are presented each fall to recognize outstanding alumni and alumni networks across the University of Minnesota.

Now in its 26th year, the College of Design’s annual Mentor Program helps junior, senior, and graduate students grow professionally by matching them with a mentor in their field of study.

On November 14th the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA) launched the Minnesota Alumni Market, an online store selling products created by University of Minnesota alumni. Believed to be the first of its kind, the market will feature everything from home goods to apparel.