Access Connections Mentoring Program a rewarding way to give back

Not only is mentoring a personally rewarding experience for accounting and finance alum Andy Wong, but it has helped him gain new insights into his colleagues’ working styles.

“I can really see how mentoring has helped me professionally. When somebody I’m looking after at work has difficulty understanding a concept, for example, I can open their perspective, and explore different angles, in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.”

Leon Lai and Andy Wong Andy (right) helped Leon (left) understand what industry suited his skills and interests.

Now working for a booming FinTech company, Andy has generously participated as a mentor in the Access Connections Mentoring Program since it launched in 2014. He was originally drawn to the program because it seemed like a manageable commitment to juggle with his demanding career. He also remembered how difficult it can be to graduate into the workforce.

“I wanted to make the transition less painful for others, because it’s not always easy to jump from university to a full-time job straight away.”

In 2021, Andy mentored Leon Lai, a student in the Bachelor of Commerce who also works as a data analyst. Leon wants to pursue a career that combines his interests in finance and programming, and signed up because, he says, he felt “pretty lost”.

Leon Lai
Mentee Leon Lai.

“Even though I was studying commerce, I had a very strong feeling of wanting to pursue programming. I didn’t really know what industry would want both kinds of skills, so I decided to sign up to find out.”

Helping under-represented students succeed

The Access Connections Mentoring Program aims to improve the post-study outcomes of students who are under-represented in higher education. Mentees have entered the University through Access Melbourne, which is the University’s Special Entry Access Scheme.

Alumni mentors are connected with student mentees with similar career interests or backgrounds, and mentoring discussions are typically informal, usually taking place in a cafe or somewhere mutually convenient to the mentor and mentee.

In their first meeting, Andy asked Leon what he would like to focus on, and he said he wanted help preparing for job interviews and developing his networking skills. Together they went through mock interviews over Zoom, with Andy asking questions and Leon answering as best he could. The sessions were recorded, and they would both review the footage, then discuss Leon’s progress at the next meeting.

Andy Wong
Mentor Andy Wong.

“Andy kept encouraging me, because he knew I was nervous,” Leon says. He notes one of the key pieces of advice Andy gave him was that progress is measured against yourself and not other people.

“Leon took a lot onboard, which is not easy, because I did offer lots of feedback,” Andy adds. “He’d jot down notes then really think about it and then come back for the next session and ask me about it.”

Small improvements on the path to success

For Andy, mentoring is about meeting his mentees where they are. “It’s not necessarily about ‘oh at the end of this program, you’ll get a job’,” he says. “But you still work towards achieving goals.”

Over the course of their sessions, Leon’s confidence improved. He proactively applied for the Faculty of Business and Economics’ Business Innovation Lab, which sees students solve problems for industry partners using design thinking and was invited to return to the program as a moderator.

“That was a big deal,” Andy says. “For somebody who started out saying ‘I’m not confident enough’ to then form a good relationship with the organisers and get invited back as a moderator, it’s huge!”

Helping make the big decisions

Andy also helped Leon make an important decision about whether to pursue a different degree because he was interested in learning the programming language Python. Through their conversations, Leon came to understand that he could develop those skills in the workforce.

“He gave me such valuable advice, and really emphasised the importance of networking, something I didn’t value at the time,” Leon says.

Andy Wong and Leon Lai Andy Wong (left) and Leon Lai (right).

“He said you don’t need to proactively learn communication, but you just practice it by talking more with other people, so that your speaking comes through naturally. That really helped me build my confidence.”

An ongoing process

Leon found the experience so rewarding that it partly inspired him to sign up to be a student mentor in another mentoring program offered. “The impact of my mentor has been significant, and I aspire to make a positive impact on others by sharing my experiences and resources, to help guide them towards achieving their goals.”

As for Andy, he sees mentoring as a journey, and not just for the mentee. “People sometimes think it’s only about the mentee’s development, but that’s totally wrong. There are many experiences and stories that I’ve shared with alumni mentors. It’s not just the mentee who benefits from this relationship.”

Learn more about the Access Connections Mentoring Program.

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