Alumni Mentors Helping Students Find Passion and Purpose
Ellie Parkison, a Ball State University junior, had heard about Cardinals Connect—an online Ball State networking and mentoring environment—but hadn’t participated in it until it provided an opportunity to help her complete a Journalism course assignment. She had recently changed her major to Public Relations (PR) and had been tasked with finding and interviewing a working professional in the field.
Through Cardinals Connect, Ms. Parkison’s course assignment quickly turned into a mentorship with Ball State alumna Kallie Sulanke, ’07 MBA ’09, chief community partner for outreach and donor relations at the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County.
It only took one conversation for Ms. Parkison to realize the value of this new mentorship.
“I originally planned to do just an interview for my assignment. But after only 30 minutes, we hit it off,” Ms. Parkison said. “I’d never thought about having a mentor before, but it seemed like an opportunity I did not want to pass up. It also seemed like the perfect time to connect with someone in a field that interested me—especially because I’d just switched my major.”
Ms. Sulanke was looking for a mentee and a way to connect with other Ball State alumni as part of Chic Innovate—a two-year program for building professional and personal development. Created specifically for women in the Muncie area, Chic Innovate encourages mentor relationships with Ball State students.
Alumni-to-student mentoring encourages fellowship and networking with the goal of career development and the potential for creating significant, long-lasting connections. Accordingly, mentorship is a key part of the University’s strategic plan. The Alumni Association is taking a more active role in connecting Ball State alumni with students to enrich their educational experience, discover their purpose, and lead them to fulfilling careers and meaningful lives.
The mentor-mentee relationship that has blossomed between Ms. Sulanke and Ms. Parkison is just one example of that effort.
The two have now met several times to talk about Ms. Parkison’s class choices and career options for her major. Ms. Parkison had just changed her major to Public Relations when she connected with Ms. Sulanke, but she remained unsure if the new major was the right fit for her.
After a particularly constructive discussion with Ms. Sulanke, the junior decided to keep her minors in Strategic Communications and Family Engagement but switch from her PR major to Communication Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal Communication.
After guidance from Ms. Sulanke, Ms. Parkison realized that major would better suit her talents and provide her with a wide range of opportunities after graduation. However, Ms. Sulanke reassured her that it was acceptable not to be certain of her future plans while in college or even after. There are always opportunities to change careers, and students who learn early about their strengths and determine their goals will be better able to make those decisions.
“It is nice to have a sounding board in Kallie to talk to about my classes, balancing college life, and possible careers,” Ms. Parkison said.
At the suggestion of Ms. Sulanke, Ms. Parkison completed the CliftonStrengths assessment, and they discussed how her strengths aligned with job opportunities. Ms. Sulanke shared how understanding her own strengths made her a better team member and leader, professionally and personally.
And what Ms. Sulanke found was that working with a mentee was mutually beneficial.
“I think the experience has helped me improve my listening and coaching skills. I am truly invested in being there for Ellie,” Ms. Sulanke said. “I am gaining so much insight into what students today are experiencing in college—including the vastly different experiences of those who started during the pandemic.
“I think as we continue to build our relationship, we will learn a lot from one another. I have had several mentors that helped me, and it only seems natural to pay that forward.”
Now equipped with the support and resources learned through the Chic Innovate program and Ms. Parkison’s willingness to learn and accept guidance, the two intend to continue her monthly mentor-mentee meetings.
“The most helpful thing I have learned from Kallie is not to limit myself when exploring my passions and what interests me,” said Ms. Parkison. “She encourages me to learn more about myself, my strengths, and what I am capable of.” In addition to linking current students with alumni who want to serve as mentors, Cardinals Connect provides graduates with numerous services that support personal and professional development. The platform provides access to alumni directories and business directories to connect with classmates and friends, network with other Ball State alumni in similar fields, and to look for or post job opportunities.