Mentorship Program Gives Students Access to Practitioners


By Angel Ibanez
UCLA Luskin student writer

For over 15 years, the Senior Fellows Leadership Program has been helping to prepare students for careers as change agents in the world by pairing them with leaders in the field as mentors.

Senior Fellows, who volunteer their time to meet with students across the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ three departments, work in diverse fields. Their backgrounds range from policy makers and business professionals to nonprofit executives and community leaders.

This year, the program welcomes six new senior fellows to the class. This includes: A. Barry Rand, CEO of the AARP; William Fujioka, Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer; Mary McNeil, Senior Operations Officer and Team Lead of Global Governance Practice at the World Bank; Thomas Epstein, Vice President of Public Affairs, Blue Shield of California; Michael C. Camuñez, President and CEO of ManattJones Global Strategies; and Michelle G. Los Banos, Diplomat in Residence and foreign officer with the U.S. State Department.

For VC Powe, executive director of External Programs, the impressive resumes of the new senior fellows is a testament to the reputation of the program.

“We’re honored to have these new senior fellows in our program who will teach and guide our students,” she said. “But we’re also grateful to have a long list of returning fellows as well. Since 1998, we’ve had over 20 senior fellows return each year to participate again. It’s a tribute to how strongly they believe in it.”

Through year-long, one-on-one mentorships, students learn leadership and professional development skills, while learning about opportunities for internships and networking. Not to mention gaining solid career advice from people with highly successful careers.

City of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell has been a senior fellow for two years. His choice to participate another year is in part because he says meeting students benefits the mentors as well. Students bring a “fresh set of eyes” that can help a “mentor tap into fresh approaches they haven’t thought of before,” he said. In addition, mentorship can help to train the next generation of professionals in various fields that are making an impact.

McDonnell highly encourages his peers to participate in the program, which he says is “a model for what can be done when you take some of the best and the brightest and ensure they are going in the right direction in the field you are in.” He was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Senior Fellows Breakfast where students meet their mentors for the first time.

Public Policy student Rhianon Anderson is in her second year as a participant of the Senior Fellows porgram. This year she has been paired with Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Anderson said she has hoped to be matched with Soboroff because he is successful in both public sector and private sector work – which is what she wants to do when she graduates.

“This program gives you absolutely unparalleled access to practitioners in the field. It’s the kind of access that you don’t get just in the classroom,” she said. “It’s ideal to have these complementary components: academic learning in the classroom and access to practitioners from whom you learn real life lessons.”

First year student Keren Mahgerefteh said she knew about the program prior to enrolling, and made it a point to attend the informational session once she got in. After seeing the name of her Senior Fellow, Thomas Epstein, on the list of possible mentors, Mahgerefteh decided to apply. Epstein’s experience matched up with what she hopes to do in the future.

“I’m looking to see how it is to have a day on the job in health policy, see what Mr. Epstein does day-to-day and how I can get to where he is in the future,” she said.

This is Epstein’s (JD ’76) first year serving as a Senior Fellow and he said he’s looking forward having meaningful conversations with students. He has experience both as a government affairs and communications leader for the Public Broadcasting Service and the Disney Channel, as well as experience working in politics as former special assistant to President Bill Clinton.

“I hope to be able to learn from the students and hear what they’re thinking about and also be able to give them some career guidance,” he said. “I have very broad interests from health and politics to philanthropy, so hopefully it’s a wide range of things that we all discuss and learn from each other.”

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