Mentors offer students an inside look

Citizens Bank Rhode Island President Joseph J. MarcAurele always wanted to be a teacher, and that’s the career path he chose after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross years ago. More

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Mentors offer students an inside look

GUIDING HAND: Robert Penney, right, a Providence College graduate and Bank of America employee, mentors recent PC graduate Jose Maldonado.
Posted 3/30/09

Citizens Bank Rhode Island President Joseph J. MarcAurele always wanted to be a teacher, and that’s the career path he chose after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross years ago.

He taught English for a time, until the financial demands of starting a family convinced him he needed to do something a little more lucrative.

Now, despite playing a key role in the Ocean State banking scene, MarcAurele has returned to his first calling, in a sense.

MarcAurele is one of more than two dozen high-ranking Rhode Island executives taking part in a Providence College mentoring program that gives students access to the highest levels of the state’s most influential companies such as Citizens Bank, global insurer FM Global and defense contractor Raytheon.

The mentoring duties range from allowing job shadowing to doling out job-interview and resume-writing tips – and just about everything in between.

MarcAurele said he and his student partner, PC senior Ben Bruns, sit down and talk about Bruns’ career plans and possible job opportunities. “He bounces ideas off me about certain jobs, and I tell him what I think about them,” MarcAurele says. “I act as a sounding board.”

But the relationship isn’t just a one-way proposition.

“This is one of those things that pays both ways,” MarcAurele says. “It is helping a young man, but it’s something I enjoy anyway. And someone in my position really owes that to younger people.”

Apparently, many other high-level executives feel the same way.

Since the PC Advantage program began in 2006, 34 business leaders have signed on, agreeing to team with a PC student for 18 months at a time. And most of the executives have stayed on for another cycle when their partner has graduated.

“We get to work with the brightest students,” says Kathleen A. Ryan, a partner at the Providence law firm Partridge, Snow & Hahn LLP who has seen one of the students she mentored graduate and has been assigned to another.

“It’s been a way to give back to the school,” adds Ryan, who graduated from PC before attending law school.

That desire to give back actually gave PC Advantage its start: PC Vice President Ed Caron says the program was launched after members of the PC President’s Council, an advisory group made up of local businesspeople, asked if they could take a more active role in helping the school. Council members and the school’s career-services office collaborated to kick off the program in fall 2006.

Caron says the PC Advantage has become unlike most other mentoring programs in that it gives students rare access to high-level senior executives who are volunteering large blocks of time. “It’s been a who’s who in Rhode Island business,” Caron says. “And I think [the executives] are getting more out of this than the students are.”

So far, 44 students have entered the program as juniors. Seventeen have since graduated, and there have been cases where the mentorship has paid off immediately.

Peter Smith, director of the international naval program for Raytheon, spent 18 months mentoring PC student Andrew Koen. Then, when Koen graduated last May, he was hired by Raytheon.

It’s clear that a bond can develop between a high-ranking executive and the youngster just starting out.

William A. Mekrut, vice president and treasurer at Johnston-based, $4.7 billion insurance giant FM Global, says the student he’s mentoring, junior Ryann Dillon, is a high achiever who reminds him somewhat of his own adult children.

Dillon is seeking a degree in quantitative economics with a minor in mathematics. She wants to pursue a career as an actuary, someone who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty.

“You realize you have in your hands this wide-eyed person who is absorbing information like a sponge,” he says. “You want to give them the best experience possible.”

To that end, Mekrut has had Dillon participate in meetings with his managers in which she’s been encouraged to speak up. “That’s part of the deal,” Mekrut says. “You can’t just be a wallflower.”

Because there are no actuaries at FM Global, Mekrut has gone the extra mile to set up job shadowing for Dillon with an actuary at the Big Four accounting firm Ernest & Young’s Boston office. Thanks to Mekrut, she will also get a chance to follow FM Global’s senior vice president of investments.

In between visits to FM Global, Dillon and Mekrut exchange e-mail messages on resume- writing and job-interview skills.

Next, Mekrut says, they’ll be visiting FM Global’s research facility in Glocester, where she’ll watch fire and explosion tests.

“This program is a great opportunity to get a smart kid and give them a chance at gaining some great experience,” Mekrut says.

Ryan, a past president of the PC National Alumni Association, says she sometimes wishes PC Advantage was around when she was attending the school. “I didn’t have any law office experience until I started clerking in law school,” she says.

Not so for PC junior Meghan Condry, a humanities major who plans to attend law school after graduation in 2010.

Because Ryan is co-chair of Partridge, Snow & Hahn’s probate, trust and personal planning group, Condry has been allowed to sit in on meetings with clients discussing estate and power-of-attorney matters.

But Condry is not just getting insight on the law practice. Ryan says she’s also taken Condry to meetings of Women Advocates for Enterprise, a group that was started at the law firm for networking. “It makes for an interesting opportunity to work on networking,” Ryan says.

And Ryan tries to impart other lessons she’s learned about balancing work and home life. “It’s been nice to share the experience of being a working mother [of two teenagers],” she says. “There have been some questions about it.”

The banking industry may be in crisis mode, but MarcAurele, at Citizens Bank, hasn’t shirked his responsibilities to the mentorship.

In addition to acting as a sounding board to the student he’s mentoring, Ben Bruns, the banker has also opened his board meetings to Bruns, although board members are careful not to discuss proprietary information while the youngster is there.

“But a lot of what we do in these meetings are presentations that he can see,” MarcAurele says. “And that gives him a sense of what board meetings are like. He now has a feel of what working in a bank is like.”

If MarcAurele had participated in a similar business mentoring program when he attended college, he still doubts he would have gone directly into banking, instead of education, out of school.

“I was someone who always wanted to be a teacher,” MarcAurele says. “And in a way this [PC Advantage program] is an opportunity for me to do that at some level.” •

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