Wichita State University junior and sports administration major Sara Barnhart enrolled in the Career Network Experience with the desire to work as an athletic director after graduation. After her experience in the program, she feels more prepared to meet that goal.
CNE is a mentoring program in which Wichita State students are paired with WSU alumni working in the students’ chosen areas of study. Sponsored by the WSU Alumni Association and the Office of Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning, cne started out as a class of 14 in 1996 and has more than doubled — growing to 23 in 1999 and jumping to 36 this past semester.
Why so popular? Connie Dietz, director of cooperative education and work-based learning, believes the answer to that question lies in the goal and purpose of the program.
“The Career Network Experience provides students the opportunity to confirm or reconsider a career choice,” she says. “That’s important because the university doesn’t want students to graduate into a career, discover they don’t enjoy it and then spend unnecessary time and energy in pursuing another career.”
Career confirmation is exactly what Barnhart got out of the program. She was paired with Bill Faflick ’92/00, director of athletics for Wichita Public Schools. “I had a lot of fun with it, and I learned a lot,” she says. “I think it’s great for students in any major. I recommend it to everyone.”
Dietz says she was given the charge of creating a mentoring program when she started at the Cooperative Education office at Wichita State. “At that time, the alumni association was also trying to reinvigorate a mentor program they were doing, so it made sense to work together,” she explains.
Both Barnhart and Dietz stress a secondary benefit of the program: the ability to network within a field. Barnhart says she met a number of contacts within the sports administration field that will help down the road.
“I think it’s important for our students to connect with our alumni,” Dietz says, “and know who our alumni are in the Wichita area.”
But it’s not only the students who benefit from the program. The mentors and the community also get something out of it, Faflick says. “It’s nice to have a new perspective in the office. I would do it again. It’s an opportunity to plant a seed in a student who is interested in the field.”
Faflick adds that some students might come out of the experience with a changed heart and mind. But, he says, that’s also a positive result. “The student might say, ‘That’s not anything like I thought it would be.’”
Participation in CNE consists of a student and an alum entering into a “career-focused mentoring relationship.” They are asked to spend at least 12 hours together over the course of approximately two and a half months. The students also participate in weekly classes focused on career-related study, including résumé tips.