Paying It Forward

October 1, 2014

Alumni mentors help a new generation of students launch their careers.

No one can give better career advice to College students than the alumni who once stood in their shoes. That’s why the College Alumni Mentoring Series brings graduates back to campus to chat with students about their professional journeys. During informal lunches, industry-themed panel discussions, or speed-networking sessions, they talk about their early career decisions and answer students’ questions on topics like how to find a first job, talk with parents about career plans, choose an internship, or present themselves in interviews.

Rich Ross, C’83 — photo courtesy of Rich Ross

Rich Ross, C’83, CEO of the TV production company Shine America and former chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, enjoys it so much he participates every year and stays in touch with many of the students he meets. He also provided videoconferencing equipment so alumni who can’t easily travel to campus can get involved. “What I’ve loved,” he says, “is that the students are very curious and ask a million questions. … It’s never the same.” He calls it “nothing short of thrilling” to play a part in their futures. The one-time international relations and English major knew from childhood that he wanted to work in entertainment, and he tries to encourage today’s students to follow their own passions. “If you find something you love and are good at it, success is in the offing,” he tells them.

Mohamad Makhzoumi, C’01

After a lunch with students interested in finance, mentor Mohamad Makhzoumi, C’01, a partner and the head of healthcare services at New Enterprise Associates, exchanged email addresses with participants so they could ask follow-up questions as they considered their options for internships and first jobs. Makhzoumi, who once was certain he wanted an academic career in international relations but is now a leader in one of the world’s largest venture capital firms, says he participated because, “It was important for me to let students know that just because they didn’t know they were interested in finance at the age of 17 when they were applying to college, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t go down this path.”

Leigh Castergine, C’03 — photo courtesy of Leigh Castergine

Former economics major Leigh Castergine, C’03, Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Services for the New York Mets, got involved because of the help an alumni mentor gave her. “The time she spent with me really put me on the right track and led me to a very successful career. I just wanted to do the same,” she says. Castergine, who’s worked with the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers, Orlando Magic, and Boston Bruins, kept in touch with students after her talk, connected them with friends who were recruiting, and even met with some of them when they visited New York. “I think it’s the responsibility of alumni to give back to the students the opportunities we received,” she says.

Justin Mazur, the College’s Senior Associate Director for Admissions and Advancement, who oversees the program, agrees alumni involvement is crucial. “Students know they’re getting an amazing education at Penn, but they need to hear directly from alumni about how they made their first moves,” he says.

Alumni interested in participating in the College Alumni Mentoring Series can contact Erinn Carey, Associate Director of Alumni Outreach, at, or