How can we help college students improve their networking skills and gain access to internships and jobs in today’s virtual world?
For ProMazo, a firm that helps Gen Z gain work experience, the answer was The 100k Mentor Challenge (opens in new tab), a project to connect 100,000 underrepresented college students with 100,000 mentors in the way today’s generation knows best: via an app.
“When the pandemic hit, college students lost internships and work opportunities,” says Sylvia Cravens, a ProMazo public-relations intern and senior at California State University, Fullerton (opens in new tab). “Companies weren’t allowed to recruit on campus and many jobs disappeared.”
With students’ networking abilities hampered and face-to-face interactions limited, Cravens and a group of 40 ProMazo interns developed and marketed the 100k Mentor Challenge platform. ProMazo partnered with 20 different companies including Best Buy, Protiviti, NBC, Goodwill Industries, Pepsi, CDW, and Neiman Marcus to ask their employers to serve as mentors.
Building networks and careers
To recruit LGBTQ students, women, minorities, first-generation students, and students with special needs, the development team reached out to university clubs and national organizations. At the same time, others were developing an app that asks students for mentorship and career goals, and mentors about their backgrounds and experience.
“We created a matching algorithm that gives four to five different options on each side,” says Adam Lies, director of talent for ProMazo. “Students and mentors rank those options and get a match.”
Students and mentors are required to meet at least every three weeks. “We want it to be enough to build strong relationships but not be overwhelming for either party,” says Lies. “At the end of the semester, you can work with the same mentor or get paired with a new one.”
Because the ultimate goal is for students to build their networks, career-guided content has been added to the platform, covering three phases:
- Discover (“What are the possibilities?”)
- Identify (“I want business, but do I want marketing, finance, or something else?”)
- Pursue (“I know what I want and who I’d like to work for but need help to secure an internship.”)
All three phases have materials to help students learn how they might fit as they learn more about networking and personal branding and work with their mentor to develop a career roadmap.
Since launching the app in November, the student team continues to handle research and communicate with corporate partners and university clubs as they try to grow the program.
“As public relations interns, we’re writing press releases and spreading the word,” says Gabrielle Aberson, a sophomore at Boston University (opens in new tab). “We want to make sure students know that the app is free.”
So far, the app has been downloaded more than 1,000 times, with 93 percent of the students and 77 percent of the mentors coming from an underrepresented background.