MentorNet Provides Success and Service

By John Gagnon | Published

Darius Watt, a fourth-year School of Business and Economics student in operations and systems management, is both bold and assured. “I’m an entrepreneur myself,” he says, “and I needed advice on how to start a business—and what it takes to be successful."
Watt got that advice from Derek Curtis, who owns Plaid Pony Technology Solutions, an information systems company in Sleepy Hollow, Ill. Curtis told him: “Do something you like to do. Be dedicated. If it’s not going good, stick with it—in the long run, it will pay off. It takes hard work.”

Curtis offered one caveat that resounded with Watt: maintain balance in life. “Business comes and goes, but family is forever,” Curtis said.

Watt and Curtis met online through MentorNet, an initiative that connects undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and untenured faculty (all called proteges) with professionals in academe and industry who serve as mentors. The goal: academic success, career guidance, and exposure to the world of work.

MentorNet was founded in 1997 nationally; Michigan Tech has been a participant since 1999, under the guidance of Susan Liebau, who works in Student Life. It’s a one-on-one service typically conducted by email. The commitment by both parties is about 20 minutes a week for eight months. Mentors must have educational or professional positions; they are matched with proteges based on background or career interests. 

Watt, who is from Pontiac, appreciated the opportunity. “It’s been good,” he says. “You sign up and ask questions. You find out what it’s like to work in the field you want to be a part of—what a job might mean, what might happen out there, what to anticipate.” 

Curtis, Watt’s mentor, attended Brigham Young University and DePaul University and came to MentorNet through the Association of Computing Machinery. “I decided to become involved because I didn’t have a mentor when I was going through school,” he says. “It would have been great to have someone with whom I could have discussed career choices and options to help me make better informed decisions.”

He says he and Watt talked about school, internships, the job market, and running a business, as well as commitments and demands away from work. “I hope I was able to give him the insight he needed to make a good career choice when he graduates,” Curtis says. “I enjoyed it and I will continue to do it in the future. The experience gives me the opportunity to serve others.”

“It’s a success story,” Watt avows. He might continue in the program in the fall. “I can sign up any time I like,” he says. “I might request a new mentor for a new feel and a new look.”

Liebau says that since MentorNet’s inception on campus, 360 students have used the service. She especially likes to pair proteges with mentors who are Tech alumni. So far, 87 Tech alums  have participated, along with 21 faculty. 

Liebau says that MentorNet helps students make realistic choices about careers. “They get to talk to people who know what it takes to succeed,” she explains. 

MentorNet originally reached out to women and minorities in engineering. Now the program is more broadly based and involves more people in more disciplines. Yet, the focus on women persists. Diane Doser, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Geophysics from Tech in 1978, is a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso. She has participated in MentorNet for more than four years. Her proteges have in common the pursuit of a career in academe. 

Doser is in demand. “I know in the geosciences,  female mentors are really needed. There’s a waiting list to connect with one," she says. “Some have waited a year or more--and nearly given up hope.” 

Once the relationship is established, her proteges typically are concerned with how to balance family and career in academe and how to get started as a young academic—“especially when they are often the only female professor in a department.” 

Doser has met many of her proteges at annual national geophysicists' meetings and had lunch or dinner with them. “It's always great to be able to see them in person,” she says. 

Doser gets something out of it MentorNet too—a sense of her own accomplishment. “It's led me to reflect a lot on how I got to where I am now,” she says, and that makes her an advocate. “I am committed to seeing that the next generation of women has an easier time in the academic community, and MentorNet helps a lot.” 

For more information, or to sign up as a mentor or protege, see the website:

Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university, conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forestry and environmental sciences, computing, technology, business and economics, natural and physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.