December 19, 2023

By Claire Curry

When Xavier Brooks ’18 was growing up in Philadelphia, a handful of people made a real difference in his life. One was a teacher’s assistant at a summer enrichment program he attended. Another was a “music mentor” who encouraged him to explore his creativity as a hip-hop artist.

“Over the years, we’ve stayed connected, and they’re my friends now,” Brooks says. “They taught me a lot of life skills and soft skills, but I never truly had a business mentor until I got to Susquehanna.”

As a first-year student, Brooks worked in the Career Development Center where he met Michaeline Shuman, assistant provost for post-graduate outcomes and civic engagement. He credits her for helping him learn the ins and outs of applying for jobs.

“She was very instrumental in reviewing my applications and making sure that everything was right, and also in providing these spaces where I could interview,” he recalls. “She went above and beyond. Having someone to instruct me through the process was imperative to my success.”

Now vice president of product management at JPMorgan Chase, Brooks said that when he learned about a new mentoring program at Susquehanna, he recalled how valuable his mentors had been throughout his life and enthusiastically signed on.

According to Sigmund Weis School of Business Programs Coordinator Kristie Anderson ’99, Brooks was one of more than 200 Susquehanna alumni, board members and other professional contacts affiliated with the business school to volunteer their time for the program.

Launched in 2022–23, the Professional Mentorship Program matches second-year business students with two to three mentors in the working world to guide them in everything from setting goals and juggling academics and extra-curriculars to résumé writing, interview preparation and career planning.

“We have this great program for first-year students, Global Business Perspectives, in which they get immersed in what the business school is like and what business is like,” Anderson says. “In their junior year, they intern and study abroad, and in their senior year, they’re prepping for their life outside of Susquehanna. We thought there should be something to engage the students in their second year.”

Anderson matched students and mentors based on the interests, majors and future career plans they described in surveys. Brooks was paired with Julius Glover ’25 — who happens to share many things in common, including the same hometown: Philadelphia.

“When I met Julius, I was taken aback by his maturity,” Brooks says. “I think he’s going to be someone who has a lot of opportunities put in front of him. He’s very intelligent and wise.”

Throughout the year, Brooks and Glover met a dozen or so times on Zoom, FaceTime and in person.

“Julius has a lot of initiative and great ambition,” says Brooks. “I told him to tell me what he wants to accomplish, what he wants to do and I’ll put all of my power behind that. I wanted to make him feel empowered.”

The two worked together on setting goals and narrowing the student’s career aspirations to one facet of business. Brooks shared a professional development plan that a work colleague passed along to him, and after that, he noticed that Glover’s career plans became much more clear.

“The focus was doubled down,” Brooks says. “Initially, he wanted to be a real estate guy, and now he wants to work in banking. By helping him create goals for himself, he’s been able to change some of his big career goals into something more focused and achievable.”

Glover agrees, adding that Brooks gave him information about the field of finance that he never knew. “I didn’t have a full grasp of what I wanted to do,” he says. “He told me point blank that I have to start thinking ahead if I want to succeed. Unintentionally, he influenced my career aspirations a lot. Hearing his story and experiences motivated me to pursue a career in finance.”

At their last meeting, Brooks told Glover that while the program ends here, “the journey can continue.” The two have been keeping in touch since then and Brooks said that he wouldn’t be surprised if they become colleagues down the road. “I can see him becoming a manager or a director because he has that mindset,” he adds.

According to Anderson, mentors and mentees receive initial training along with a handbook, meeting plans, activity ideas and the expectation to meet during four set timeframes through the year. In its first year, 139 students and 218 mentors participated.

“Moving forward, the Professional Mentoring Program will be tied into the Professional Development course, a two-credit, seven-week class required for all sophomore business majors,” Anderson says. “Career readiness assignments will require students to meet with their mentors to complete. We feel these changes will help students stay engaged in the program, hold structured meetings with objectives, and build meaningful relationships with their mentors.”

Another pair that had an exceptionally positive experience is Henry Chang ’18, a business systems analyst at CGI, and finance major Mohammed Abdrabalnabi ’24.

“The reason I chose Mohammed and Henry is because they seemed to have great chemistry,” Anderson says. “Mohammed stopped by my office every couple weeks and would talk about what a great experience he was having.”

The two met several times through the year, and Chang said his mentee “was impressive, always ahead of the game.”

When Abdrabalnabi expressed concerns about his course load, he dropped a class. Chang commended him for taking swift action but advised him to swap in a different, less demanding class to ensure he’d have the proper number of credits to graduate on time.

“I encouraged him to … balance the finance classes. That’s what happened in my senior year. I took a lot of finance classes and needed one class to graduate, so I enjoyed a film class with my other finance buddies,” Chang recalls.”

From Saudi Arabia, Abdrabalnabi appreciated Chang’s understanding of the different challenges international students face. Chang’s parents, originally from Taiwan, also moved to the states to attend college.

“Henry was extremely helpful,” Abdrabalnabi says. “He suggested that I participate in university activities to help me improve my [English] language [skills]. He recommended courses to take and even professors who would understand my language and my culture.”

Melanie Brechka ’98 also participated in the program as a mentor. The vice president at Glanbia Nutritionals, an organization that develops ingredients for the global food industry, launched a mentorship program for women at her firm that is proving to be a great success. Brechka is also the creator of The Heart of the Middle, a blog that helps professionals hone their leadership skills, achieve work-life balance, and find joy in their roles day to day.

In addition, Brechka has been both a mentor and mentee many times throughout her 20-year career and she understands how meaningful these relationships can be. For that reason, she welcomed the opportunity to mentor Charlotte Horvat ’25, a management and communication studies double major from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

“One thing we ended up really digging into is that Charlotte is an overachiever,” she says. “She commits herself too much. Given my experience and my role, she took interest in knowing [my thoughts on] how much she really needs to do to get a job when she graduates.”

At the time they were meeting, Horvat was entertaining the idea of pursuing a third major in French studies. However, she was concerned that it could make it difficult to go overseas on an international business experience.

“My opinion was, if you … want to go into business, then you should go overseas and have your international experience, and you can speak French [there]. I think she needed to hear that from someone who has been in the business world for a while,” Brechka recalls.

Horvat said that she “got a lot more than she expected” out of her meetings with Brechka. “She is in sales and I am also interested in sales,” Horvat says, adding that Brechka’s company makes ingredients that go into household product names, such as Oreo cookies and gummies. “She definitely opened my eyes to an industry that I hadn’t thought about. And we talked a lot about what it’s like to be a woman manager — being empathetic and also being a boss.”

Mentors and mentees agreed that the program is valuable for sophomores. “This program is so necessary for business students,” Brooks adds. “Having someone in your corner to level-set you on your career expectations and goals is really invaluable” in laying the foundations for a successful future in the business world.