Madeline Kraft ’16 and Callan Swaim ’16 really took Wittenberg’s motto “Having Light We Pass It On To Others” to heart and gave countless alumni the chance to do the same. Over the past 18 months, Kraft and Swaim have partnered with various departments in Wittenberg to create and expand a mentoring program that matches current students with successful alumni in their chosen field of study.
Kraft and Swaim, both Gamma Phi Beta sisters and tour guides for the Admissions Office, were deeply involved in all things Wittenberg during their time on campus. Kraft studied violin and business administration, was a member of the swim and dive teams, concertmaster of the chamber orchestra, manager of the student center and chairman of the Union Board Event. Swaim was a business and Spanish major, volleyball player, and member of the student advisory board.
Despite their achievements, after graduating, Kraft and Swaim experienced firsthand the difficulty of transitioning from college life to the professional world. They both wished that more professional advice and mentoring had been available to them when they started thinking about what they would do after college. As they reviewed their experiences in Wittenberg, they remembered all the people who helped them along the way.
“From personal to athletic to academic challenges, it’s always been the people around me that helped me understand and use the lessons life gave me and encourage me in the future,” Swaim said. “I often reflect on the role my teammates, fraternity sisters, and Witt faculty and staff have played in how I view the world today and cannot thank them enough. I know a lot of alumni feel the same way, and that’s exactly why Madeline and I felt so committed to developing this mentoring program for current students.”
According to the two, the idea came about when they asked similar questions at different alumni events. Swaim had also helped develop a mentoring program in her current role as a learning advisor and leadership coach for Expedia Group. This served as the basis of the program in Wittenberg. Along with Heath Queen, then co-director of CABLE (Communication and Business Leadership Experience) and current special projects coordinator for Career Services, Kraft and Swaim developed a program to match alumni with junior year business students.
The two agreed that this program was born out of desire and the university needs to provide further guidance and support as students begin to navigate the path and transition between the university bubble and the real world. They believe that one of the best tools to support this transition is Wittenberg’s alumni base and those who know Wittenberg and the student experience intimately. They also want to give current students a head start in their own transition and offer alumni the opportunity to give their time back to the university in addition to their financial support.
Getting the program off the ground would have been a tough challenge during COVID-19, but Kraft and Swaim have used the online shift to their advantage, leveraging digital platforms like Zoom.
Both agreed to “use the applications of the participants to bring couples together appropriately together with a speed networking event via Zoom. After that, we’re pretty relaxed during the six months of the round. Our biggest involvement comes in the form of a check-in survey and Topic of the Month email that we send out at the beginning of each month. Our topics focus on goal setting, resume tips and tricks, interview skills, network development, and other relevant topics.”
Luckily, Wittenberg’s dedicated alumni base was ready to take on this challenge. Early on, Kraft and Swaim attracted a wide range of alumni, from recent graduates to those who graduated more than 30 years ago. In the first two rounds of the program, more than 70 students were matched with these alumni.
“For us, seeing the strong connections and meaningful relationships this program has developed has been a huge mark of success,” said Kraft. “The icing on the cake is that from every round of the program so far we have had one student receive either an internship or a job through their mentor. This program is not just focused on getting students internships or jobs. Our goal is the long-term benefit of mentoring and relationship building that has the appealing potential for career advocacy and sponsorship.”
Given the program’s success, Kraft and Swaim have worked with the university to expand the program campus-wide to serve students from all fields of study, not just business. Phase three started this March and the two were thrilled to be involved in the next steps of their passion project.
In addition to the benefits the program has had for students and alumni, it has also proven to be a worthwhile endeavor for the couple.
“In addition to our passion for mentoring, we were drawn to this project because we are at a stage in our lives where we crave challenge, connection and growth. When you combine that with the fact that we have the time to give it, it curated and made that idea a reality,” the two agreed.
“The opportunity to give Wittenberg our time back was really impressive for us,” said Kraft and Swaim. “The opportunity to expand our own networks and cultivate meaningful relationships that we would never otherwise have was also a welcome outcome of this initiative. Last but not least, it was a huge bonus for us to be able to work so closely together on a project we are so passionate about. Getting to know each other during our weekly check-in calls and deepening our relationship on a personal and professional level has truly been a big highlight of the last 18 months for both of us!”
-By Isabella M. Fiorito ’23
Pictures: Above, left to right, are Madeline Kraft ’16 and Kraft and Callan Swaim ’16 stamping the seal at the graduation ceremony. Below, left to right, is Swaim, followed by a photo of mentor Heather Donelan ’15 and student Emma Menjivar ’22, one of the couples matched in the mentoring program.