Natalie Hernandez felt disconnected. It was fall 2020, COVID-19 was in full swing and she was taking virtual UWM courses from her parents’ home in Illinois. She was also doubting whether she should continue pursuing her architecture major.
Then came the lifeline: a UWM Alumni Association email about its Mentoring Program. “I thought, ‘You know what? I feel like I need a mentor,’” said Hernandez, a first-generation college student. So she signed up.
The Alumni Association paired Hernandez with Kate Riordan, a city of Milwaukee transportation planner. Riordan, who earned a UWM master’s degree in urban planning in 2013, spent a lot of time talking to Hernandez about her own career and her projects at work. She also served as a reassuring sounding board for Hernandez.
It was exactly what Hernandez needed and exactly what the Alumni Association envisioned when launching the program in spring 2020. “Just to have that emotional support then was great,” Hernandez said. “She helped me when I was deciding to change majors from architecture to urban studies. She went through the whole emotional roller coaster with me.”
It would be a full year before Hernandez and Riordan could meet in person, but their partnership has now passed the two-year mark. They’re one of the Mentoring Program’s 50 active matches.
Riordan’s mentorship goes beyond nuts-and-bolts tasks, like providing feedback on Hernandez’s resume, preparing her for job interviews and helping build a professional network. She also understood Hernandez’s struggle with settling on a major and helped talk her through it.
“My first piece of advice for Natalie was to be sure you get what you want out of school,” said Riordan, who wished she’d spent more time pondering whether to pursue her own bachelor’s degree in business.
Renewed confidence, better understanding
Hernandez has developed a renewed sense of confidence in her urban studies degree, which she’s on track to earn in 2023.
And her conversations with Riordan provided a better understanding of what urban planning entails, which led to a new appreciation for why people would want to work for a city.
“You get to reach a lot of different communities and have a positive influence,” Hernandez said.
Students and potential mentors can apply to the program on the Alumni Association’s mentoring webpage, where more information can be found.