Sharon Brooks ’08 met Stephanie Jarvis ’96 when Sharon went in for an interview at the Fiesta Bowl, the annual college football bowl game outside of Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, Stephanie worked as the game’s chief compliance officer. She remembers looking at the pool of candidates and seeing that Sharon was a Northwestern graduate. “The fact that she was a Northwestern alumna stood out immediately and sent her resume to the top of the pile,” Stephanie says.
She hired Sharon, and over time the two naturally formed a mentor/mentee relationship. “I saw something in Sharon that made me know she would be highly successful in her career,” Stephanie recalls, “and I wanted to help her achieve her goals.” Even after Stephanie left the Fiesta Bowl for her current position as senior vice president and chief operating officer at the Arizona Championship Organization Committee, the team in charge of the 2016 college football playoff national championship, the two stayed in touch. “Stephanie became more of a mentor to me as I navigated a new position [at the Fiesta Bowl] with more responsibility and started to supervise volunteers and interns,” Sharon recalls.
Eventually Sharon started to consider new career opportunities and asked Stephanie for assistance with interviewing and making career connections. They also discussed potential job opportunities. “Having Stephanie as a mentor was exceedingly helpful as I navigated a job transition,” Sharon says. “We now talk on the phone, in person, and over text.”
Here, Sharon and Stephanie answer questions about their mentorship relationship. You can now sign up to be a mentor (or mentee!) to a Northwestern student or fellow alumni here.
Sharon, a lot of mentees are anxious about having their first meeting with their mentor. When you first began your mentorship relationship with Stephanie, did you feel any anxiety about it?
Sharon: The first time I went to a game watch [where Northwestern alumni watch Wildcat football at a local bar] with Stephanie as my supervisor outside of work hours I was very nervous. I was nervous about what we would talk about, especially as I only knew her as my boss. Now, it is very natural. We have many shared connections, interests, and are invested in the same activities. I am interested in her work and she is interested in my work.
What is your relationship like now? What sorts of topics do you discuss?
Sharon: We see each other several times a month. We see each other socially at Northwestern game watch parties as we are both on the local Northwestern alumni board. And we have dinner or go to happy hour where we discuss my current job and areas I could use advice. She and I discuss goals for where I would like to grow in my job, such as fundraising, leadership development, and management, and she holds me accountable to those goals.
Stephanie, what has been rewarding about this process for you?
Stephanie: It has been really rewarding for me to see that the potential I saw in Sharon has been fulfilled. I am happy that my initial impressions of her character, intelligence and work ethic were absolutely accurate. I am also so happy that she has been able to find a new position that allows her to be personally fulfilled and to use her talents to improve her community. I have also placed her in a volunteer leadership position in my new job with the Arizona Organizing Committee and having her help is invaluable to me.
What’s the value of the Northwestern network and what does that mean to you?
Stephanie: Knowing someone is a Northwestern alumnus immediately lets me know that the person is high quality. We belong to a small but powerful community that really believes in helping other alumni succeed. I also served on the Northwestern alumni board in Indianapolis prior to moving to Phoenix and find it to be a valuable tool for networking, both personally and professionally.
Sharon: Before I met Stephanie, I knew very few Northwestern alumni in Phoenix, or alumni from different generations. Stephanie has introduced me to alumni of all different ages and from all different backgrounds in the Phoenix community. Stephanie has also allowed me the opportunity to serve as a liaison on the Arizona Championship Organization Committee, giving me valuable volunteer experience and connections within the sports community. As my Northwestern network has expanded, I have found the value to be of increased significance both professionally and personally, as I develop my career. When I meet someone from Northwestern, there is an instant connection.
Having had a mentorship relationship develop organically/informally, what would you say is the benefit of joining a formalized program, such as the one Northwestern is offering?
Sharon: Stephanie was an ideal mentor in that she was already in the career field I am interested in pursuing and can help me further my career. She also was interested in maintaining our relationship after we no longer worked together. However, this could have easily not been the case. Once I stopped working for her, we could have lost touch. The benefit of joining a formalized program is you know you are being placed with someone who wants to mentor you and offer you advice through the first years of your career. You also know that despite career changes, they will continue to mentor you.
Stephanie: I think a formalized program is beneficial, but there still needs to be something that “clicks” in the relationship. It helps if the mentor and mentee have things in common—Sharon and I both like sports, we travel, we are family-oriented, and we have similar work styles and philosophies. That said, it is rare to find someone in this manner, so it is great to have a formal network for people to meet and develop relationships.
Did anything surprise you about the mentorship process?
Sharon: Stephanie continues to offer support and help at really no benefit to herself. I can call in the middle of the day and she will talk to me for 45 minutes about an issue I am having at work and she will offer great advice from the perspective of a supervisor, and also from the unique perspective of having supervised me. She also continues to offer me great opportunities for advancement in my field and to develop myself. I am always amazed at how giving mentors can be of their time, especially as most mentors are very successful and busy people.
People traditionally think that mentors teach mentees and not the other way around. But we know that isn’t exclusively true! Have any particular words of wisdom or advice from Sharon really stuck with you, Stephanie?
Stephanie: One of the things that impressed me about Sharon was that she is not afraid to be very bold about what she wants and to really stay firm in her convictions. It reminds me to ask for the things that are important to me and not wait for them to be given to me.
—Interview by Amanda Look, MS '13