Mentor Externship: “He’s Going to Stay Where? For How Long?”

16 June 2009

Yes, this was how the conversation about the Carleton Mentor Externship experience began between my wife and me.

Seven years ago I developed an internship curriculum for college students while I was working at Merrill Lynch. I’ve mentored dozen of interns… but…having one stay in my home for an intensive immersion? This was new. Clients of mine have extolled the benefits of hosting an international exchange student—if they enjoyed six months with students from half-way across the world, certainly we could enjoy ten days with a Carl so close to home.

While apprenticeships have been a cornerstone of the training process in trades businesses, such as electric and plumbing, they haven’t been formally set up in many “white collar” businesses. At the same time, nearly every successful businessperson can point to a significant, meaningful mentoring relationship as a key reason for their success. They just tend to happen more accidentally than intentionally.

The notion of businesspeople pulling themselves up by their bootstraps with no mentorship is a lark.

I met with the new head of Carleton’s Career Center in the fall and he introduced me to the program. It had been a success at his previous college, and I was intrigued by the idea of offering the experience to Carleton students.

My wife and I agreed that we would host one student for a 10-day stint. Brent Nystrom ’92 had moved from Alumni Affairs to the Career Center that year and he sent a dozen resumes for me to look through. I gave him my top three picks. From there, we set up telephone interviews and made our final selection—a junior from Mahtomedi, Minnesota who combined a fun-loving nature with a sense of life purpose.

He was the President of the Campus Alliance Against Gun Violence. On his cover letter he listed his favorite food as “large quantities of just about anything” and his resume listed a nice balance of hobbies and interests: intercollegiate hockey and tennis, cartooning and karaoke. We felt we had a winner.

And when he arrived at our home, I found my perception matched reality. Steve was kind-hearted and interacted delightfully with our 2-year old daughter, who, with her developing speech articulation, referred to him as “Snee.”

Steve shadowed me for ten days and got a full financial planner experience. I invited him on numerous client appointments. He attended a business networking event, sat in on our team’s weekly strategic meeting, and even went to my Thursday morning yoga class. In the evenings, Steve read a personal finance book I suggested and we talked about the concepts throughout the day. Each evening for an hour, Steve logged his day’s experiences in a journal. Wow! I wished that I would have had similar opportunities when I was in college. My family and I also satisfied Steve’s food interests, even providing his first sushi experience.

I encourage all alumni to reach your hand down from above, and pull up Carleton students and recent grads from the comfortable clutches of their bubble or ivory tower. Help them maintain their sense of wonder and idealism while sprinkling it with a healthy dose of the real world.

And, with a bit of luck, you’ll have your own Snee too.

Adam Stock is a Certified Financial Planner and the Principal of the Next Level Planning Group. His team of five includes four Carleton alumni.