Laura McDermott, the founding lead of the Mentor Program, describes how an idea that surged while studying the Master in Customer Experience & Innovation became a program that now helps students grow through mentorship.

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by Laura McDermott Laura McDermott is an Irish design and innovation consultant, based in Madrid. She is the Design Lead in the Center for Social Innovation at IE Business School, Project & Design Lead for the Faculty and Student Experience at IE University and Adjunct Professor and Mentor in the Master in Customer Experience and Innovation at IE University. Laura consults on innovation projects, specifically from a behavioral lens. She has published articles in The Beam and Global Voices, as well as receiving two IE Awards for the Humanities for her writings on ethics, democracy, behavioral design and sustainability.

In September 2017, I moved to Madrid to begin the Master in Customer Experience and Innovation at IE University. Our academic director, Andrew McCarthy, would constantly repeat his mantra: “trust the process.” This presented a challenge for most of us, since the actual content we were studying—innovation, creativity, design and emerging technologies—has an inherently high-level of uncertainty and change!

From ideation to realization

In the second term of the master’s, we did a project-based course on Social Impact. It was one of my favorite courses of the master and in fact, it led me to begin working in Social Innovation at IE University!

For our final Social Impact project, my team developed a ‘buddy’ or ‘mentor’ scheme for marginalized teens in the outer suburbs of Madrid. The project leveraged behavioural design and positive peer influence to help these teens aspire and strive towards higher goals, while providing support from role models who had gone through similar experiences.

When I graduated from the Master in Customer Experience & Innovation, I reflected on the incoming cohort of students and the rollercoaster ride they would face during the master. Having just completed the Social Impact project and appreciating the incredible value of the master, I thought that connecting incoming students with previous generations—who had been through a similar experience—could be very powerful. And so the idea was born…

From pilot to meaningful mentorships

From 2018 to 2019 we started testing the concept through a pilot program with a few alumni who graduated from my class.

The creation of the Mentor Program at IE University

These mentors connected on a monthly basis with groups of students and got feedback on how their experience was going.

Over time, we shifted this model so that the focus is not so much about feedback, but more about the mentors empathising and anticipating the needs of the students, before designing value-added activities for their monthly sessions. We also hold social gatherings for mentors and students, and many of the students feel so supported that they build strong relationships with the mentors, who help them with career advice and presentation skills, even outside the official sessions.

Since the beginning we have tracked the satisfaction levels of the students with the mentor program, and we have extraordinarily positive feedback. It’s reading words like this that helps us see the value and meaning that we’re bringing to the students.

When we asked students from 2019-20 Master in Customer Experience & Innovation about what stood out to them about the Mentor Program, they answered:

The ease with which you could reach the mentors. All of them were always reachable, kind, always willing to help. It was great having them as they had the experience of being in our shoes. [Class of 2020]

The organization and structure of the sessions and the fact that the mentor really took the time to know what we wanted to explore during the mentorship program. [Class of 2020]

What’s more, in 2019 and 2020 we piloted the Mentor Program in two more degree programs: the Bachelor for Behavior & Social Science and the Master in Visual & Digital Media. We’re quickly building a strong group of mentors, who we select and train with care to ensure they feel both comfortable and confident delivering valuable sessions to their mentees.

Just the beginning

Designing and managing the Mentor Program has been incredibly rewarding and I’ve learned so much in the process (Andrew McCarthy’s “trust the process” mantra rings true). What is perhaps most rewarding is seeing the strong sense of community flourishing, as a result of the knowledge exchange and relationship-building between mentors, students, academic directors and deans from across the different programs. Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible without the support of IE University and specifically the Faculty Student Experience team, which innovates in not only the student experience, but also that of the IE University faculty.

I’m sure this is just the beginning for the Mentor Program, and as it scales to other programs over the years, its value for students and mentors will continue to blossom!

The creation of the Mentor Program at IE University