Mentorship Program Piloted for Career Changers

One of the strongest tools in the social worker’s arsenal and possibly the least talked about is the bond he or she forms with fellow social workers. The professional and personal alliances formed by social workers in their educational and training programs and in the field are relationships many carry with them throughout their careers, sometimes leading to job opportunities.

Jennifer Glass, MSW ’15, had this concept in mind when she designed the Silver Foxes Initiative, a student-run mentor and peer supervision program for students changing careers, launched in fall 2013. Glass, a student in the extended MSW program and Graduate Student Association (GSA) president for 2013-2014, piloted the program with fellow GSA officers Margaret Woods, MSW ’15, and Maria Militano, MSW ’14. Through the initiative, students who have completed their foundation year of study are paired with incoming students to help these new students navigate the challenges of graduate school. Advanced students periodically reach out to their “mentees” through emails, text messages, and in-person meetings, and offer support and insight based on their own experiences in the MSW program.

The team felt that a peer-to-peer model of support would be especially beneficial to incoming students, who are often looking for everything from course and professor recommendations to reassurance that they can succeed. In that sense, the peer support model is especially salient, as mentors are tangible proof that the first year of graduate school is a surmountable obstacle. Glass, Woods, and Militano added a tailor-made element to the initiative by matching mentors and mentees based on complementary career goals and MSW program. This added attention to detail has elevated the initiative from an informal buddy system to a true breeding ground for peer-to-peer support and, for many mentor-mentee pairings, deep friendship.

Rebecca Silverstein, MSW ’14, and Shweta Modi, MSW ’16, were paired at the beginning of the spring 2014 semester. Silverstein, a recent graduate of the two-year program and a Silver Foxes mentor, was drawn to its peer-to-peer model because of her feeling that “it’s more comfortable going to someone who’s been through the same experience.” While she felt nervous about “taking on the role of an ‘expert,’” she and Modi (a student in the extended program) bonded immediately when they met at Starbucks for the first time. “It’s far beyond the ‘mentor/mentee’ relationship,” Silverstein explained. “We’re friends now, and in the future we’ll be co-mentors to each other and reach out to each other for answers and support.”

Modi seconded Silverstein’s statements: “I was looking for a supportive individual to help answer my more nuanced questions, and to help me deal with the feelings and issues that arise through pursuing a social work program. The periodic texts and check-ins I received from Rebecca made me feel like someone’s watching out for me.” Silverstein, modeling excellent social work validation skills, interjected: “She knew what she wanted and how to navigate getting it. She just needed validation from a like-minded person!” Modi laughed. “She was like a social worker to me!”

Silverstein plans to offer her services as an alumni mentor, providing support and professional insights to advanced standing students with questions about the post-graduate experience, and helping to create a multigenerational mentorship program. She said, “The Silver Foxes initiative is such an important thing for the School to have. It’s been a good experiment that went well, and I’m hopeful that it will last for a long time to come.”