Not one to sit around, in 2018 new retiree Stephen Andrews, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’87/H&S), got involved with VCU Alumni as a volunteer, where, he says, “you get to see a lot of the knobs and wheels that run the university.” He became a big fan of VCU Link, which he refers to as a Facebook for VCU people. “It has two purposes: alumni-to-alumni connections and alumni-to-students. It’s the single best connection point that I’m aware of for students to search out businesspeople and retired people in the level of interest to them.”
Today, he spends up to three hours a week mentoring VCU students, advising them on everything from writing a resume to negotiating a salary. “You kind of put yourself out there and say, ‘What can I do for you? What are your concerns, what are your interests? How can I help?’”
What prompted you to join VCU Link?
My wife and I retired and came back to Richmond, Virginia, in 2018. One of our motivations to come back was being close to VCU. I wanted to try and get involved in different ways, whether it’s back in the chemistry department or, you know, the college. I’ve been involved separately in student mentoring through the local American Chemical Society chapter, so VCU Link looked like another way to extend that kind of interaction with students.
What were your intentions for joining VCU Link since you already were part of the American Chemical Society’s mentoring program?
It is a separate mechanism for people connecting to people to help each other answer questions and solve problems and gain insight or guidance. Sometimes, students have just one question, and we’d have one session. Others have four or five sessions, which is fine, because they usually have a specific question I’m interested in like, “I want to change majors” or “What is chemistry all about?” It’s been fun.
What has your overall experience been like being able to connect with students, and how would you say it has benefited you?
It gives me a sense of fulfillment that I’m helping students. You know my wife and I have two grown children who have gone into science areas, one was a VCU biology-psych dual major Class of 2014. This is kind of like mentoring my children all over again. I mean, I’m far away from today’s generation, admittedly, but this is a way to connect and learn a little bit about their lives and viewpoints and things. So that’s fulfilling for me; it helps me get a better sense of the world they live in or how they view their world.
Generally, these are undergraduate students who have reached out to me. One student, on our call said a professor of theirs just mentioned during a class that “there is this thing called VCU Link, and if any of you want to reach out to people beyond myself or your adviser or career services or, you know, resume-writing services, there’s this whole group of alumni out there.” So that’s how at least one student found me.
Around the time VCU Link launched and was up and running, I remember I went down to the Cary Street Gym, and I would ask the students at the front desk if they had joined. I’ve got my phone, and I show them the VCU Link website and ask them if they have heard of VCU Link. It’s a great tool.
Thank you for being an ambassador! This is a great segue. So for other alumni who aren’t on VCU link, what would you say to them to encourage them to join?
It’s a great opportunity to give back in a small but meaningful way to the university. I’m incredibly thankful to VCU for the opportunity. When I went to VCU for graduate school, it opened up my whole career in chemistry afterward. Before moving back to Richmond in 2018, I had lived in Connecticut, New Jersey and Atlanta, all my work life after graduate school, so I wasn’t in Richmond much at all. Being a remote alum, there weren’t hardly any ways to really give back, so VCU Link is a great way to give back, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Detroit or San Francisco.
That is very true. So lastly, why would you say mentoring is important?
If you look back, 30 or 50 years before the internet, if someone wanted a job, they either looked at the want ads, or they just wrote letters to human resources and hoped for the best. Now, it’s the other extreme; there’s maybe too much information and too many information sources out there. And I think students can get lost. I know some I chatted with said, “I don’t even know where to begin, but I know I have this need or this problem.” I said, “OK, let’s sort it out, you know, put things in different buckets and work on each topic.”
Mentoring is a way for people who lived the ups and downs of work life to help those who are just kind of getting started so they don’t flounder around; give them some structure. We’re a different voice than their academic professors and their academic advisers.