By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
On Feb. 10, UCLA Luskin students and Senior Fellows were brought together for a mid-year reception focused on mentoring and networking with a presentation from John Kobara, chief operating officer of the California Community Foundation and a former vice chancellor of external affairs at UCLA.
After students and Senior Fellows enjoyed appetizers and drinks while having the time to network and share their experiences with one another, Dean Franklin D. Gilliam introduced the evening and Kobara’s presentation.
Dean Gilliam emphasized that UCLA Luskin’s goal is to encourage students to become leaders, or ‘change agents,’ and face real world problems. He concluded by testifying to the Senior Fellow program’s strength and encouraging students to take advantage of the time the fellows give as mentors.
Kobara proved to be an example of a strong mentor, sharing words of wisdom from his experience as an entrepreneur and educator. He has served as CEO of the CK12 Foundation and was the president of OnlineLearning.net, two successful start-ups. Kobara has also taught classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels and was the executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association.
His focus for the evening was to urge students to search for meaning in their work.
“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said “Ask challenging questions….How will you make a difference in the world?”
Opening his presentation with a photograph of his mother’s family during World War II, Kobara shared a phrase she would say after being thanked: “Okage sama,” which translates as “Because of you.” He drew inspiration from his mother’s desire to make change despite her adverse circumstances to motivate and advise students to build connections for their futures.
“Regardless of race, identity or socioeconomic status, we share things. Connecting with people in an authentic way is essential,” Kobara said. He reminded the audience about the importance and power of building community and sharing resources through mutual support.
Though being mentored is powerful for both personal and professional improvement, mentoring is a two-way reality chec, Kobara said. Mentors need to be able to give the truth over encouragement, and mentees need to have the courage to ask the questions that need to be asked.
“You have to show up and you have to be seen. It’s about revealing ourselves. When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” he said.
Kobara highlighted a few key points in mentoring and networking during his presentation, including the importance of listening, treating people as equals and being able to speak from a narrative.
“The worst thing you can do is say ‘I’m just a student.’ You’re story is real, it matters,” Kobara said.
After these inspiring words, Kobara moved on to give students more practical advice about introducing yourself in a memorable way, avoiding typical awkward or robotic interactions. He asked his audience, “What is your ‘BIT?”, or “brief introductory talk,” and outlined basic points such as being positive and confident, having a firm handshake, making eye contact and smiling. He added that every introduction should be customized.
“How do we make people interested in what we’re doing? We have to be specific in the way we introduce ourselves,” he said.
To practice this idea, Kobara asked the Senior Fellows and students to stand up and chose one of three powerful poses. Afterwards, they were asked to introduce themselves and their mentor/mentees to two other people, using the tips Kobara had given them.
As the evening came to a close, Kobara reminded students to SWIVEL, or to “Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy and Love,” and to focus their path on passion, courage, compassion and connection.