Andi Fuess '11 interviewed Alex Van Atta '15 last fall during on-campus recruiting for a position as an analyst at Slalom Consulting, the Chicago-based company where Andi currently works as a strategy consultant. After Alex accepted his position at the company, he learned about the Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences mentorship program, a networking opportunity through McCormick that connects IEMS alumni. And when he saw Andi’s name on the list of potential mentors, he immediately requested her.
The two hit it off right away in their new mentor/mentee relationship. “We emailed and texted with one another to get the planning going,” Andi remembers. “He is such a great guy and was so fun to talk with.” From their first conversation, they set expectations and goals for their mentorship relationship. “We decided to meet every few weeks to check in and see how things were going,” Alex says. “I would look to Andi for guidance and advice in terms of my career at Slalom and business school prospects. She also made it clear that I could text, email, or call her if there were any questions I had or anything I needed help with.”
Since they first connected through IEMS, their mentorship relationship has evolved. “We have talked about how to navigate a new job, expectations for what the life of a consultant is like, thinking about how to prepare for applying to business school, and just fun Chicago-specific topics like our favorite restaurants,” Andi says. Alex agrees: “Now our relationship is much more organic. It’s really helped me with the transition from Northwestern to living and working in Chicago.”
Here, Andi and Alex share more about their mentorship relationship and the benefits of participating in a formalized mentorship program. You can now sign up to be a mentor (or mentee!) to a Northwestern student or fellow alumni here.
Why did you join the IEMS Mentorship Program? Tell us a little bit about your introduction to the program.
Andi: I received an email asking to take part in the program and I immediately applied. I graduated from the IEMS program in 2011, and I love the idea of meeting others who have gone through the program and helping them to get on the right track to accomplish their career goals.
Alex: I received an email describing the program, and it piqued my interest. I joined the IEMS Mentorship Program because as I was graduating and starting my career, I knew that I would benefit from being able to talk to someone who has already gone through that. I’ve had mentors throughout my life that I’ve turned to for advice, so I wanted to seek that out as a recent college graduate.
For you, what has the time commitment been as a mentor or mentee?
Alex: The time commitment is really only about an hour a month. Our conversations usually last between 30 minutes and an hour, and then the occasional email on top of that. Preparing for the meetings usually just takes 5 to 10 minutes to think about what I want to talk to Andi about and what advice I need.
Andi: Not a big time commitment at all—especially because Alex works for my company. I’m sure a little bit more time commitment would be required with an external mentee.
Having met through a formalized program, what are the benefits of a formal program versus developing a mentorship relationship organically?
Andi: I love formal mentorship programs. I think organic mentorship relationships do often form, but it is wonderful to have a formal avenue for meeting someone who you can talk openly with about your career goals, issues, anything! I have used the formal mentorship program as a mentee before, and I have really enjoyed the opportunity to give back as a mentor.
Alex: A formal program definitely helps facilitate connections more efficiently than doing it organically. When people participate in a program to connect mentors and mentees, you already know that everyone participating is open and willing to develop a relationship and put in the time required to have a successful mentorship. Doing that organically would take more time, and there’s not as much of a framework established that also helps get these kinds of relationships up and running.
Alex, as a mentee, did anything surprise you about the mentorship process?
Alex: I think the biggest surprise for me about the program was that there was an IEMS NU alum at Slalom that was also interested in the mentorship program. What are the chances? That made the selection process quite easy for me.
Andi, what has been rewarding about this process for you as a mentor?
Andi: I see so much potential in Alex, and I am so excited that he joined Slalom because I know he is such a great asset to the company. I feel lucky to be able to share my hindsight knowledge with him, and I look forward to our continued relationship where I will learn many things from him as well.
What’s the value of the Northwestern network and what does that mean to you?
Andi: Northwestern’s network is super important to me. I love coming back and visiting school and keeping in touch with professors who taught me during my time there. Go ’Cats!
Alex: The Northwestern network is invaluable to me. I feel like whenever I meet someone that also graduated from Northwestern, there’s an instant connection that is difficult to instantly form with anyone else. We both have had common experiences—maybe we’ve taken the same class, cheered for the same team, been a part of the same student group—or at least we can identify with the amount of hard work that is required to graduate from Northwestern. That common experience forms an initial level of trust and friendship that is rare outside of the Northwestern network. This is true regardless of environment—work, church, non-profits, etc.
Alex, have any particular words of wisdom or advice from Andi really stuck with you?
Alex: While I think about potentially going to business school, Andi encouraged me to think about why I want to go, and what I want to get out of my experience. I think before I talked to her, I had the assumption that getting an MBA was the logical next step but actually hadn’t taken the time to step back and think about my motivations and developmental goals to see if that lined up with business school. That on-going conversation has been a really important one for me.
Andi, people traditionally think that mentors teach mentees, and not the other way around. What have you learned from this process? Have any particular words of wisdom or advice from Alex really stuck with you?
Andi: Alex has reminded me how incredible Northwestern is at nurturing talent and curiosity for continuous learning. He has already gone above and beyond in his involvement with Slalom. I look forward to learning more from Alex as we continue our relationship!
—Interview by Gillian Jaye Craig '16