KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Opportunities at Western Michigan University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences are hailed by students, faculty and employers for the hands-on learning and networking experiences that enhance academic pursuits. At the same time, WMU also recognizes that a traditional, one-size-fits-all environment doesn’t work for its diverse student population with varied schedules and personal commitments.
WMU’s approach to student success appealed to Abbie Meredith, a second-year student studying industrial and entrepreneurial engineering who lives in Grand Rapids and works full time at Plascore as a machined core fabricator. Western has options that work for her, and Meredith was determined to find a way to enhance her studies.
“I do not have the bandwidth for traditional networking, such as internships or working part time somewhere,” says Meredith. “The college matched me with a mentor, which allows me to grow my network and cultivate meaningful professional relationships without overextending myself. I connected with someone who offers professional advice about my career path and gives me insight into what I can expect as I go into industry.”
The College of Engineering and Applied Sciences uses an application to match students with alumni mentors for sharing insights, experiences and passions. Now, the Professional Skills Program is expanding to incorporate monthly workshops and seminars.
For Meredith, the program meant discussions about various topics, including beliefs on leadership styles, professional development and work experiences with her mentor, Mike Preston, B.S.'05, MBA'18, senior research and development manager at Stryker Corporation, who helps guide her progress.
“One of my career goals is to be in a management position or become a team leader where I am working with fellow professionals,” explains Meredith. “Mike has provided valuable insight into how the dynamics of a team can work and what he has learned from his successes and failures.”
The duo share interests and how individual experiences have shaped their career paths. Preston’s insights have helped Meredith explore her career options.
“Abbie has approached this program with a high level of professionalism,” says Preston. “Beyond the strict mentoring elements, Abbie is just a really good human being, and our connection so far has been great. I genuinely look forward to our conversations. I know she will have new topics or questions that we can dive into, which has led to some meaningful discussions. She is going to do great things and make a big impact and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
To help her understand team leadership, Preston introduced Meredith to CliftonStrengths, an assessment tool used by Stryker to help individuals understand their unique strengths and how they can use them to achieve their goals. Meredith was intrigued by how this tool is used to create teams that will work well together and how managers can use this tool to develop skills and improve company culture and performance.
“Mike shared with me how this tool has helped him develop members of his team and how he learned to be a more supportive manager. I am excited to take this assessment so that I can understand where my strengths lie and to discuss with Mike how I can use this information to further my professional development,” says Meredith.
The CliftonStrengths assessment is just one of many tools Preston has shared with Meredith, who relies on the mentorship relationship to discuss various topics, including beliefs on leadership styles, professional development and work experiences. All of this is helping Meredith focus on her goals.
“The great thing about being an IEE student and part of the mentorship program is that I am exposed to many industries that need the skills I am learning today. I have worked in factories for most of my adult life, and my professional goal to use my knowledge, training and skills to improve the workflow demands of operators wherever I work. Being part of the mentorship program has helped me focus on the bigger picture of why I am in school. Mike has helped me understand how everything I am doing now will benefit me in my future career.”
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