For many graduating seniors, making the transition to the working world, especially in a new city, can be a stressful situation. Many have questions about finding jobs, apartments and a social scene, and it can be hard to answers without an established network of contacts. But thanks to a new initiative at University of Florida Hillel, students don't have to create those networks from scratch. Instead, they can take advantage of UF Hillel's rapidly expanding Peer Mentoring Program, where young alumni share their knowledge and connections with new and prospective graduates looking to move to their area.
The Peer Mentoring Program grew out of a conversation between UF Hillel Executive Director Keith Dvorchik and board member Craig Feinberg, a young Gator alumnus living in New York. While brainstorming ideas on how to get other New York-area alumni involved with UF Hillel, Feinberg suggested a mentoring initiative and became the contact for New York-bound graduates.
"Most recent grads can't give $1,000 a year -- some can't even give $100," Feinberg said. "But they can give a bit of sweat equity back to the people who helped them when they were in school and help new graduates get started a little bit."
Soon after, Josh Pila, a second-year law student at Georgetown University, offered to do the same for students interested in Washington, D.C. After Dvorchik began promoting the program on the UF Hillel Web site, e-mail and word of mouth, students started reaching out to Feinberg and Pila via e-mail with their questions.
"I offer information on what the style of life in D.C. is like and leverage my network contacts to help other Jewish Gators," Pila said. "Once students e-mail either with particular questions or general 'I need a job' concerns, I try to channel them to avenues to get more information and to other Gators."
According to Dvorchik, the students' response to the program has been all positive so far, with many excited to find a new way to get a boost in their career search and discover the willingness of the Jewish community to help them begin a new stage in their lives.
"Students are now looking, from almost the day they start college, for networking opportunities," he said. "We want them to see that the Jewish community is here for them for that and for anything and everything."
The program's benefit for UF Hillel is twofold: Not only is it a great way for the organization to stay in touch with alumni, but it also demonstrates to students that mentoring and networking, just like kosher dining and Shabbat services, is an integral part of campus Jewish life.
"It's one of the advantages they're seeing as being a part of the Jewish community, even more so than their fraternity or sorority," Dvorchik said.
The program is still in its early stages, but the group of mentors in each city is growing, and Dvorchik recently heard from a Florida alumna in Los Angeles who offered to help establish a network in her city. Dvorchik hopes to see new groups form in other areas popular with Florida graduates, such as Atlanta and Chicago, and encourages alumni from all over the country to contact him if they are interested in becoming involved. There are no formal requirements for participation – just eagerness to help and commitment to respond promptly to the students' questions.
"The 'real world' is a scary place, and every little bit of advice helps. Some of the mistakes I have made don't have to be repeated, and if I can pass on that information, that makes me very happy," Pila said. "L'dor v'dor [from generation to generation] is an important part of Jewish life and tradition, and I feel this program meets that spirit."