Mentoring a two-way street

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. CEO Nigel Travis has plenty to keep himself busy most days, but still found time to visit Johnson & Wales University Oct. 5 to discuss the company with students.

He serves as a distinguished visiting professor in JWU’s School of Business because he sees millennials as both a resource to better understand current trends and his company’s future workforce.

“It’s very much two-way. We learn from students but at the same time [I’m] making our industry sound more attractive,” he said.

He says the partnership between education and industry in mentoring the next generation of business leaders is more critical than ever because of the rate at which the world is changing. So besides what he does with JWU, Travis speaks at two high schools per year, has a standing engagement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and meets with students at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

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Louis A. D’Abrosca, dean of the JWU School of Business, said mentoring is a pillar of the school’s focus on experiential learning.

“It’s extremely valuable. We are a career-focused university and we prepare students for jobs connected specifically to their interests,” he added.

D’Abrosca said distinguished professors visit each of the university’s schools once per year, while faculty invite often eager business leaders on an ongoing basis.

Sylvia Maxfield, Providence College School of Business dean, said she also has no trouble booking executives because of the school’s “incredibly giving and very tight-knit” alumni base.

One mentoring program, PC to Wall Street, links young alumni, 10-15 years out of college, with young business students.

Maxfield said the college is experimenting with the idea because, “sometimes the generation gap between older alumni [and students] means the mentor relationship isn’t as deep.”

University of Rhode Island’s Passport Program: Your Career Advantage is a mandatory class for all juniors. It brings together 15 students under one mentor who follows their development, providing one-on-one coaching.

In this program, said Peg Ferguson Boyd, URI College of Business Administration dean, there are 28-30 groups.

“The majority of the business leaders are retirement-age, have a lot of experience and want to give. That’s where we capitalize,” she said.

One common thread among JWU, PC and URI mentoring programs is Skype, which makes it easier for alumni and corporate partners to regularly connect with students by minimizing time and travel expenses.

Boyd also thinks the smallness of the state lends itself to effective mentoring opportunities for students.

There are “second and third degrees of separation where networking connections made from mentoring are greater,” she said. •