business students in conversation
James Davis (BBA, ’17; EMSHTM, ’18).

When Roosevelt University undergraduate James Davis grew impatient with lack of promotion at his hotel job, his mentor — a Roosevelt alumnus and hotel manager — was there to talk the 21-year-old down from the ledge.

“In our industry, you don’t want to be a job hopper,” said John Wells, a 2013 graduate of Roosevelt’s Hospitality and Tourism Management master’s program and the general manager of Chicago Hilton and Towers.

“Your energy, aspirations and ambition are really impressive,” Wells told his mentee in November. “I would give the job a bit more of a run and see where it takes you.”

One of approximately 50 students already paired with professionals in Roosevelt’s new Career Mentoring Program, Davis accepted Wells’ advice and offer to help revamp his resume. Three months later, Davis got a promotion and a raise.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Davis, whose bi-weekly, two-hour meetings with his mentor fly by with talk about the hotel industry and their personal experiences at Roosevelt, in life and on the job.

“I’m glad Roosevelt is giving us an opportunity to interact with successful people,” said Davis, a human resources major who will pursue a hotel management career after he graduates in December. “I’m discovering who I am and where I want to be in the future.”

“I’m glad Roosevelt is giving us an opportunity to interact with successful people. I’m discovering who I am and where I want to be in the future.”
– James Davis (BBA, ’17; EMSHTM, ’18)

Introduced by President Ali Malekzadeh, Roosevelt’s Mentoring Program is similar to programs that he started at business schools in 2003 at Xavier University in Cincinnati and in 2011 at Kansas State University.

“The idea behind mentoring is that someone besides your own family cares about you,” said Malekzadeh, who hit on the idea of undergraduates working with successful mentors about 20 years ago when his daughters were away at college.

Launched with 24 business executive mentors, the Xavier program today is a university-wide initiative with more than 700 matches annually. The Kansas State College of Business Administration initiative, meanwhile, has approximately 500 matches annually, and is a model for mentoring programs run by other colleges at Kansas State.

“It’s clear to me that mentors are absolute crucial linchpins to one’s success,” said Malekzadeh, whose ultimate goal is to make available a mentor to every Roosevelt undergraduate who wants one.

Supporting that sentiment, a national study of more than 30,000 college graduates recently found that workplace engagement was more than double among those who had caring professors and a mentor while in college.

“When it comes to finding the secret to success, it’s not ‘where you go,’ it’s ‘how you do it’ that makes all the difference in higher education,” according to the Great Jobs Great Lives Gallup-Purdue Index Report released in 2014.

With the future well-being of students in mind, Roosevelt began rolling out the Mentoring Program last fall that, in a word, is purposeful. Among its tenets, students and mentors are custom-matched and establish mandatory monthly meetings/conversations. Workshops, goal-setting and evaluations are part of the extensive process, which also offers the Roosevelt Office of Career and Professional Development’s new Graduation Plan for Success (GPS).

“Almost everyone I’ve ever asked has said, ‘Yes, I’ll be a mentor, but you’ve got to do it well because I’ve been a mentor before and nothing ever came out of it,’” Malekzadeh said.

Job placement rates for mentees graduating from Xavier and Kansas State have been as high as 98 percent — a full point lower than the 99 percent job placement rate that the president envisions Roosevelt mentees achieving.

“This will be a signature program for Roosevelt,” Malekzadeh said. “Its magic will come from a staff that works well with both mentors and mentees.”

So far, 11 alumni and nine members of the Roosevelt Board of Trustees have signed on as mentors, and even those who are too busy to be mentors are enthusiastically supporting the new program. A grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation also supports the program.

“It’s one thing to get into college, and another to get through college,” said Robert Wieseneck, a Roosevelt trustee and alumnus who travels frequently, but is financially supporting the initiative. “We need to do whatever it takes to help our students graduate and be successful citizens.”

Members of Roosevelt’s growing pool of mentors include bankers, researchers, marketing and communications professionals, presidents, vice presidents, and seven executives from Chicago marketing and entertainment company Intersport.

“A lot of us joined because we wanted to help Roosevelt students who will be the first in their family to graduate from college,” said Steve Stroud, vice president of marketing and development at Intersport.

“It wasn’t mandatory, just a good way to give back,” said Stroud, whose mentee — Macedonian native Metodi Popovski, a history major and son of a fast food worker and cab driver — has been inspired by Stroud’s professional success.

“I’ve never met someone as successful as you,” Popovski told his mentor during a recent meeting at Intersport. “Hold on,” Stroud replied, emphasizing what is really at stake. “If people around you are happy and living fulfilled lives, that’s true success.”

Mentees include first-generation college student Erika Gomez, a human resources major and junior who is paired with David Fairhurst, executive vice president and chief people officer at McDonald’s; Amber Barkes, a 19-year-old Plano, Illinois English major exploring potential career options with Emily Osborne, public communications manager at the Chicago History Museum; and Peter Catchings, an MBA international business, finance and pre-law student and Roosevelt Lakers basketball player, who is paired with Robert Gibbs, McDonald’s executive vice president and global chief communications officer, and former press secretary to President Barack Obama.

“We are off to a good start with quite a diverse array of mentors and mentees who are engaged in the program,” said Katrina Coakley, associate provost for student success and manager of the program. “Our goal is to build a showcase program that ultimately benefits students in their careers and lives after graduation.”

The Roosevelt Board of Trustees, led by Chair Patricia Harris, has been wholeheartedly in support of the program.

“I want to be there for young people, and particularly young women who are looking for role models,” said Harris, retired global chief diversity officer for McDonald’s Corp. and current mentor to 20-year-old Roosevelt junior Ta’ Tee-Etta McBride, an English and secondary education major.

“Pat is very professional and someone whom I want to continue to build a relationship with,” McBride said.

Harris (BGS, ’80) shared with her mentee the prospect of internship opportunities at McDonald’s, and suggested McBride reach out and network for contacts through People United to Serve Humanity (PUSH) Excel, the youth division of Rainbow PUSH, about her passion for high school teaching.

“When I was a student at Roosevelt, I didn’t necessarily have the kind of support that our new Mentoring Program offers, which is why it’s important for me to give back,” said Harris, who has been a mentor to several Roosevelt students prior to the program’s start.

“When I was a student at Roosevelt, I didn’t necessarily have the kind of support that our new Career Mentoring Program offers, which is why it’s important for me to give back.”
Patricia Harris, (BGS, ’80) Retired Global Chief Diversity Officer, McDonald’s Corp. Chair, Roosevelt Board of Trustees

Two of her Roosevelt mentees — 27-year-old international studies major Tierra Jackson and 22-year-old business marketing major Carlita Kelly — graduated from Roosevelt in 2016, landing jobs shortly thereafter.

“There aren’t many women of color in higher-end positions,” said Jackson, who interned with Harris at McDonald’s in 2014.

“Pat not only has been a role model, she’s also been a friend,” said Jackson, who got help from Harris obtaining furniture for her new apartment after landing a job as a program development specialist for a Chicago nonprofit agency.

“I got a new job as a social media manager. Pat noticed it right away on my LinkedIn page and reached out to me,” said Kelly, who is now working to earn an MBA at Roosevelt and is a student trustee on Roosevelt’s Board of Trustees.

Both mentees say they will continue to check in from time to time and keep Harris updated as they move ahead with their lives and careers.

“I want to be a good role model to my mentees and other mentors,” said Harris, whose goal is to recruit fellow trustees as mentors. “My hope is that many, if not all of our trustees, will become mentors.”

To learn more about becoming a career mentor, visit or contact Katrina Coakley at

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