Reflections on Luther's Vocation-Inspired Alumni Mentoring Program

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“Good things happen when you connect people who share a Luther experience.” We’ve shared that sentiment with Luther students and alumni frequently over the past few years. As coordinators of Luther’s Vocation-Inspired Alumni Mentoring program (VIA Mentoring, for short), we’ve had a front row seat to witnessing some of the ways that Luther students and alumni can enrich and impact each other’s lives.

VIA Mentoring started as a proposal put together by a group of Luther staff and faculty to CiC NetVUE–an organization that works to further the integration of “vocation” into undergraduate education. Luther has a long history of embracing the concept of vocation as a way to help students understand the purpose of their Luther education and ultimately envision multiple ways to live out a meaningful life. As program coordinators, we like vocation as a framing because it encourages our mentoring pairs to have wide-ranging conversations–not just “What do I want to do?” but “Who and how do I want to be?” Luther was fortunate to be granted funding from CiC NetVUE under their “Vocation Across the Academy” program and we’ve spent the last two years piloting the VIA Mentoring program.

During that time, VIA Mentoring has connected Luther students and alumni in conversations about ways to learn actively, live purposefully, and lead courageously at Luther College and beyond. Current students and alumni engage in one-on-one conversations over one academic year, connecting in a meaningful way at least once a month. Matches are made based on a variety of criteria, but this program intentionally aims to make connections that go beyond a student’s intended career path.

While we’ve defined formal program outcomes, we hope, in short, that VIA Mentoring gives students one more person in their corner as they explore their vocations and allows alumni to reconnect with the Luther student experience. Each year the program has been in place, we’ve learned something new, grown in size, and gained new partners. Luther’s Alumni Council has been engaged throughout the program and in our second year, Luther’s Black Alumni Association (BAA) stepped forward as partners to mentor current Black students on campus. Now, in our third year, we’re excited to have a growing collaboration with Latinx alumni and students on campus.

Through watching these mentoring relationships develop, we’ve become more certain of the power of shared experience and the benefits that come from connecting Luther students and alumni in conversations about finding one’s fit in the world. We’ve been reinvigorated by the energy Luther’s alumni community has brought to supporting our students—through attending college in the time of COVID, acting as a sounding board for the vocational questions most important to their student mentoring partner, and providing encouragement or what one of our alumni mentors has called “being compassionately nosy.” We’ve been reminded that the thoughtfulness of Luther students is lifelong. We’ve also been proud of the courage shown by current students—through opening themselves up to new connections, making space for reflection in the midst of their daily grind, and asking questions that matter. Indeed, good things happen when you connect people who share a Luther experience.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working to bring together our third cohort of alumni-student mentoring pairs. As we write this, we are finishing up conversations with dozens of current Luther students interested in having an alumni mentor and starting the process of reaching out to the alumni community to find good matches for these students. Soon, we’ll make our mentoring matches and will bring together (virtually) our alumni cohort for mentoring workshops.

Making the mentoring matches is one of the most exciting, but also daunting, parts of our work. While we consider factors such as what the students hope to get out of the program, and the experiences of the alumni, there’s a big element of intuition. When we introduce mentoring pairs, we feel a bit like parents sending our kids off to college. But more often than not, these current and future Luther alumni make it work, share their lives, and find their own ways to connect for the common good.

Jonathan Rivera ‘21 and Marlon Henriquez ‘15 captured during one of their mentoring conversations.
The first cohort of VIA mentoring alumni mentors after their mentoring workshop (2019-2020).

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