William Babbitt, (from left) a student in the CougsFirst! Mentoring Program, and mentors Kaitlin Brown and Mike Bernard.

CougsFirst! Mentors Help Carson Students Prepare for Workplace

By Becky Kramer

Kakeru Uchiyama

Kakeru Uchiyama’s mentor is full of practical advice. He’s suggested ways that Uchiyama—a senior at the Carson College of Business—can sharpen his résumé and Linkedin profile.

Mike Bernard (’79 Ag. Econ.), the mentor, also has connected Uchiyama with other professionals who’ve coached him on interviewing skills and talked to him about what it’s like to work as business consultant, financial planner, and owner of a music recording studio.

“I really enjoy talking to Mike,” says Uchiyama, an international student from Misawa, Japan, who is majoring in management information systems. “It’s changed my life in terms of how I see my career unfolding.”

Uchiyama and Bernard are part of the CougsFirst! mentoring program, which pairs Carson College students with professionals from the CougsFirst! business networking organization. They connect two or three times per month by phone or Zoom.

Bernard views his role as a coach and encourager to Uchiyama, who is exploring job opportunities for after graduation. With Bernard’s input, he’s thinking strategically about career steps that would position him to run his own company someday.

“I can introduce Uchi (his nickname) to people who can help him, but he’s the one who has to do the work,” says Bernard, a CougsFirst! board member who works for Seattle-based KOM, a state and local tax consulting firm.

Using Mentoring for Student Development

Interested in mentoring a Carson College student?

Mentors help students gain an understanding of what it means to be a professional, including the traits of accountability, communication, problem-solving, and goal-setting.

Mentors often review résumés and work with students on interviewing skills, networking, and professional image. Most importantly, they offer encouragement to students.

The Carson College has several well-established mentoring programs, including the Boeing Mentorship Program and the PACCAR Mentorship Program. We also welcome applications from professionals who are interested in providing mentoring to students majoring in their field of work.

For more information, visit the Carson Mentorship Program page.

CougsFirst! formed in 2011 to encourage WSU alumni and friends to support the Cougar community by patronizing Coug-owned and managed businesses for products and services. Last fall, the organization added the student mentoring program, says Kaitlin Brown, (’09 Sport Mgmt.) a CougsFirst! board member.

“In the past, we’ve had students attend the CougsFirst! trade show in Seattle and Spokane, where they could network with our members and check out opportunities for jobs and internships,” Brown says.

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a damper on in-person gatherings, the CougsFirst! board embraced mentoring as a way to continue supporting students, she says.

Fifteen Carson College students are participating in the CougsFirst! mentoring program this school year. The initiative comes as the college works to expand mentoring opportunities for students.

“Mentoring is a foundational professional development tool,” says Sophia Gaither, associate director at the Carson Center for Student Success. “Students can lean in for advice and customized tips from their mentors. The relationship helps students evolve into who they want to become as professionals.”

Mentoring also allows students to leverage their mentors’ professional contacts. That’s a plus as they hit the job market, Gaither says.

Leveraging CougsFirst!’s Network

Trevor Youngren (’08 Fin., Entre.) recalls his efforts to find mentors in the Seattle real estate industry as he neared graduation. Now a mentor himself through the CougsFirst! program, the commercial real estate broker at Cushman & Wakefield likes the idea of extending a hand to students.

“As I approached my senior year, I didn’t have a ton of contacts, but I knew I needed experienced people to bounce ideas off of and answer questions,” Youngren says. “I had questions like what is the best way to get your foot in the door with different companies? How do I develop job prospects, and how persistent should I be?”

As a business networking organization, CougsFirst! is a natural place for mentors to introduce their student mentees to other professionals, says Youngren, a CougsFirst! board member.

Brown, for instance, is a managing client partner for Aquent, a staffing company. She’s talked to a number of students about interviewing.

“We interview hundreds of people each week,” she says. “I enjoy talking to the mentees and giving them insights that will help put them in the drivers’ seat during the interview process.”

Brown also tells students they need to succeed academically.

“The students we’re mentoring are super driven. Some are freshman or sophomores who are looking for internships now,” she says. “I remind them to focus on class and finals and provide insight where I can. To get the job they want, they’re going to need that degree.”

Encouraging students to get involved

That’s advice that William Babbitt is taking to heart. The freshman from Elk Grove, California, is Brown’s mentee. “I love talking to her. I look forward to our meetings,” Babbitt says.

A first-generation college student, Babbitt is interested in business, but doesn’t know what career he wants to pursue. He’s enjoyed hearing about Brown’s career path and appreciates how she encouraged him to get involved in student clubs this year, even though the meetings are online.

“She said, ‘You should give it a try,’” Babbitt says. “The next thing I know, I’m joining a club and throwing myself out there.”