By Jennifer Leopoldt
As a finance student at DePaul, Michael Kueker sought advice from others to help shape his professional life. “I knew that I couldn’t do this alone and that it would take much more than just me trying to put my career together,” he says.
He took advantage of DePaul’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) program, which has a volunteer network of more than 1,100 alumni and friends of DePaul who offer career guidance to students and alumni. After graduation, Kueker (BUS ’08) found a way to give back to the program that helped him: he transitioned from mentee to mentor.
“Becoming a mentor was my acknowledgment of how fortunate I had been to have my own mentors at the right times,” says Kueker, a bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a member of the ASK Advisory Board.
Kueker’s story isn’t unique. “The pay-it-forward spirit is very strong among ASK mentors. I would estimate that 30 to 40 percent of our current mentors were once mentees themselves,” says Gina Sian (CDM ’96, LAS MS ’13), DePaul’s ASK program director.
Originally created in the mid-1990s, the ASK network started as an information resource for students seeking to jump-start their careers. It became a fully developed program in 2000 and has grown to include volunteer mentors from varied backgrounds and all DePaul colleges and schools, across the United States and around the world. Students and alumni can reach out to potential mentors through ASK’s online database, and mentoring pairs can meet on their own time and interact through ASK events.
Bryan Yankton (BUS ’11) was drawn to ASK because the program gave him a perspective he couldn’t get from others in his life. His mother, an immigrant from the Philippines, wanted him to go into a health career, but he was drawn in a different direction. “I wanted to do business, and she didn’t know how to start a career in business. I thought [ASK] would be a great program to get insight and knowledge from someone else in the same industry,” he says.
Yankton had one mentor in particular who “went above and beyond” by advising him which classes to take for his honors finance track, helping him prepare for job inter¬views and providing other real-world insights into his career planning. “That’s what made me want to be a mentor now and do the same for current students,” says Yankton, a senior analyst at Wolters Kluwer.
That ASK mentors come from a variety of back-grounds, including multiple business disciplines, helped Yuanyun (Ella) Peng (BUS MS ’10) when she turned to the program while job searching. “I was eager to talk to mentors who finished a similar program and were doing well in the type of job I was looking for. After talking to several mentors, they suggested that market research would be a good fit for my background as an international student,” says Peng, who is now a research analyst at Millward Brown.
Peng knew right away that the ASK program was the right fit for her. “As soon as I was a mentee, even while receiving help from mentors, I had made up my mind that one day I would become a mentor as well, giving back what I have to those in need,” she says.
Alumni don’t need special skills to become mentors, just a willingness to share their insights. “There is great power in storytelling, especially when it’s based on firsthand experience of successes and challenges,” Sian says. “ASK offers a perfect way for our alumni to contribute to some-one else’s success simply through their words of wisdom and encouragement.”
For Yankton, the best part of being an ASK mentor is passing along what he has learned over the years. “If only I’d known all the information I know now back when I was still in school! I felt every bump that I ran into during college and my career application process, so I want to alleviate that for current students at DePaul by sharing my knowledge,” he says.
For Kueker, the highlight of the program is hearing back from students about how his guidance has made a difference. “It means a lot when you can see the impact you had on somebody in real time,” he says. He also likes watching his involvement come full circle: “Now I see that my mentees have become mentors to other students. It’s really satisfying.”