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In The Age Of Covid, Georgetown MBA Mentorship Program Takes Off

Georgetown McDonough School of Business

Catherine D’Ascoli wasn’t just looking for an internship or a job. She was looking to build a long-term relationship with someone she could turn to throughout her career. And a new program at Georgetown McDonough School of Business gave her the means to do just that.

D’Ascoli, who will graduate with a McDonough MBA this year, was among the first cohort in a program launched in late 2019 that pairs first-year graduate students with alumni. The aim is to help young graduates with their careers, but also to share knowledge about more than the things you learn in business school — important long-term things like balancing life and work, life-long learning, and applying what you’ve learned.

In the wake of coronavirus, which has disrupted nearly all of D’Ascoli’s MBA experience so far — particularly her ability to network — the connection has been invaluable.

“I was really interested in connecting with someone who had been in my position before and could listen to my interests, ideas, doubts, concerns, and help steer my path based on her experience and expertise,” D’Ascoli says. “It worked out to be a great experience for me.”

AN EXTENSION OF THE JESUIT TRADITION: ‘WOMEN & MEN IN SERVICE TO OTHERS’

Prashant Malaviya

The McDonough mentorship program launched in December 2019, beginning with a match of 16 students — including D’Ascoli — with 15 alumni. Partly in response to the onset of coronavirus last spring when the program was just getting underway, and partly in response to participant enthusiasm, by the fall it had grown to a robust offering that has paired 133 full-time MBA students with Georgetown McDonough alumni. That’s more than half of the full-time MBA Class of 2022.

As Assistant Dean of the McDonough MBA Career Center Maureen Carpenter says, the new program has become a chance to foster community in a time of disconnection.

“Our goal with the mentorship program is to connect our students with the whole-life experiences of our alumni in a way that helps them navigate the MBA program as well as what life will be like for them in the years after they graduate, including work-life balance and intergenerational relationship building,” Carpenter says. “Long-term, the program will enhance and strengthen our alumni and student connections across our entire community.”

Adds Prashant Malaviya, dean of the McDonough MBA: “The basic philosophy that we agreed upon that would drive this program was inspired by our Jesuit roots and our Jesuit heritage. The big one for us is educating the whole person. What educating the whole person meant in this mentorship program was really about not just providing people career support or job leads, but actually helping the person grow as an individual, talking to them more about things that are, in fact, not about your job. We were very clear that this is not an extension of our Career Management Team.

“These alumni are there as mentors for life and for career, not for jobs. We made a distinction between career versus a job and said that, yes, if they can help you with your job and job search and all, that’s great. But this is about thinking about your career, thinking about your life, thinking about how you make an impact and really live one of the ethos of our Jesuit tradition, which is women and men in service to others. So how do we develop individuals? While we do that in the classroom, in the curriculum, on campus, having our alumni do it in concert with what we do and as a complement to what we do was really what made us very excited about the program.”

McDONOUGH ALUMNI FROM AS FAR BACK AS THE 1980s SERVE AS MENTORS IN THE PROGRAM

The idea for McDonough’s mentorship program emerged from the Mentoring Subcommittee of the MBA Alumni Advisory Council, and its members helped launch the pilot in late 2019. Over the summer, McDonough’s MBA Career Center and Alumni Relations teams partnered to reach out to the school’s alumni to recruit mentors for the program. As a result of what the school has characterized as “enormous” response from alumni, last fall the program accommodated every full-time MBA student who requested a mentor.

The current mentor pool includes McDonough graduates from as early as the 1970s who work in a variety of industries, most prominently financial services (30%), technology and new media (22%), and consulting (16%). They also represent consumer goods, education, energy/cleantech, entertainment, government, healthcare, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, marketing/sales, nonprofit, public relations, real estate, and telecommunications. McDonough MBAs from as far back as the 1980s are in the program as well, Malaviya tells Poets&Quants.

“The majority of our mentors — I would say 95% of our mentors — are MBA alumni,” he says. “The first MBA alumni graduated in 1983, so there are some who are from the ’80s. A majority of them are from the ’90s and also a significant number from the 2000s. However, there are a couple of undergraduate alumni who are not part of the MBA program, who are from the ’70s, who put their hand up and said, ‘Hey, we would love to be a mentor. This is a great initiative. Great idea.’ We are delighted that they are part of the team and we are thankful for them, because clearly they bring a level of wisdom and a level of historic understanding of not just business, but also the university and the institution, that the rest of us don’t have. So we are really pleased to have them. They are almost mentors of mentors, and they’re my mentors in many ways. So we are delighted that they are part of this program.”

NEW PROGRAM: EVENTUAL CORE PART OF THE CURRICULUM?

The rise of the new program coincides with a silver lining of the profound disruption of coronavirus. Applications for the eventual MBA Class of 2023 were through the roof in round one and have continued to be strong as the deadline nears for round two, Malaviya says.

“We have final numbers for round one applications, which we closed in December, and they were pretty strong,” he says. “I think finally we were up close to 30% on the full-time side and about 20% on our part-time side. Round two is ongoing right now — it will close in a few days, actually. As of now, we see the numbers at this point higher than last year. Now, whether they are single-digit higher or double-digit higher, we don’t know. That we will see in a couple of weeks’ time when all the late applications and everything closes down. It’s looking healthy. We are happy with what we are seeing. The quality of the applicants is really amazing. So we’re really happy with that.”

He says because of its popularity — accelerated by coronavirus — the mentorship program could one day become a core part of the curriculum.

“I think one of the reasons why we wanted to accelerate was that it was clear from interacting with our students that they were hungry for more social interaction beyond just this two-dimensional space that we now occupy,” he says. “While they were engaging with their peers and their faculty and their staff, getting our alumni also involved in that social space was a huge motivator and certainly led to the speed-up. It probably is a reason why we got such strong uptake from our students. I hope that it can grow. We have a total of 900 MBAs and a start with 130 is amazing. But I would like to see this grow to 500, 600, 700 students getting on this program.

“Whether it becomes the core part of the program or not, I think we will continue to learn from the experience of the mentors and mentees. I’m very much about being student-led in some of these initiatives — so if the students and the alumni say that this should be part of the curriculum, then we will certainly look at it. But as of now, it is an extension of the curriculum and it will stay that way till the feedback suggests that it should be something else.”

‘A MENTOR’S ONLY MOTIVE IS TO ENCOURAGE & HELP A MENTEE’

Catherine D’Ascoli is one of the early success stories of the McDonough mentorship program. There will be others.

D’Ascoli, who knew she was interested in operations but was unsure of her industry preference, found her mentor — Tania Galarza, senior director of marketing strategy and performance at Marriott International and a 2005 McDonough MBA — invaluable in navigating her direction throughout the program.

“Tania helped me focus on what I did know; she advised me to think about the ‘non-negotiables,’ meaning things that I must have in my next role. These were more values and characteristics of a company as opposed to the industry,” D’Ascoli says in a news story on the McDonough website. “This thought exercise helped build my confidence to reach out to alumni and set up information interviews, better tell my story, and ultimately land a summer internship through connections.”

She continued to turn to Galarza as a sounding board to think through her internship offer and how to make the most of the experience, and then again halfway through to evaluate how it was going. They connected again during fall recruiting.

“At the end of the day, a mentor’s only motive is to encourage and help a mentee. I feel like I got so much helpful support and feedback from my relationship with Tania,” D’Ascoli says.

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