Carolina students interested in sharpening their business acumen at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School typically apply to the school during their sophomore year. But for Tar Heels new to the business world, there can be a lot to navigate during that application process.
The Allison Mentorship Program is helping first-year and transfer students from underserved and underrepresented populations tackle that process by providing the professional development that strengthens their applications during their first year at Carolina. The program is supported by alumni Ritch Allison ’89, ’95 (MBA), who currently serves as the CEO of Domino’s, and his wife, Susan Allison ’89.
The underlying purpose of the program is to help students build their skills to become stronger applicants, but the outcomes far exceed that measure. Participants can learn more about potential career tracks, develop critical skills for the workforce and take part in resume workshops and one-on-one mentorship sessions.
“It’s our goal to provide them with not only career development workshops but a strong environment that welcomes and supports them as they explore a career in business,” said Shaydee Rivera, the assistant director of admissions and recruitment and diversity programming at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “Having peer mentors is a great way to build their network and establish relationships. We want our students to have a sense of belonging and building their network at UNC through this program is one way to accomplish that.”
In fact, it’s the mentorships that participants speak of most fondly.
“This program, honestly, is what helped me the most throughout the semester, and the program itself has been really great through its structure because they pair you up with a mentor,” said Neha Nataraju, a first-year studying pre-business and psychology with a minor in sustainability studies.
She added, “I’m not exaggerating when I say if it wasn’t for my mentor or the program for introducing me to my mentor, I wouldn’t be pursuing consulting still.”
Nataraju joined the Allison Mentorship Program to prepare her application to UNC Kenan-Flagler next year, but she believes the program’s impact goes beyond that process.
“It’s not just learning how to apply,” she said. “It’s getting a relationship with someone much higher than you in the process. That’s really what the program provides, not just help with the application but also really impactful connections.”
The connections she’s made have proven invaluable. Her mentor introduced her to many programs, including case competitions, study abroad opportunities and the business fraternity on campus.
“The mentorship program is great. Honestly, some of the people who run it are the best people I’ve ever talked to who are very encouraging,” Nataraju said.
Mentors are juniors and seniors at UNC Kenan-Flagler who have gone through the application process. They work with their mentees on essays and resumes and even offer career advice where possible.
Ashley Legoas, a junior studying business administration who is minoring in Russian culture, experienced the Allison Mentorship Program’s impact firsthand and decided to serve as a mentor to help other students like her.
“It completely determined where I am now,” Legoas said of the program.
Before coming to Carolina, Legoas did not know what to major in. After touring Carolina’s professional schools as part of the UNC Summer Bridge Program, she received an email about the Allison Mentorship Program and decided to give business a try.
The mentorship program then set her up for success.
“I got to meet people and clubs,” she said. “It also helps you develop professionally, which is really great. I think one of the hard things about the business major, in particular, is that you have to be so on top of things from Day One. It’s kind of hard when you’re not actually in the school, and you’re like, ‘Well, how do I look for an internship? How do I start developing myself? What is networking?’ And so that’s what the program really helped me with. Here we are many years later. That definitely set me on the right track.”
Legoas has had formal Zoom calls with her mentee this year, but she likes the ability to talk to her mentee informally through Snapchat. “Instead of making everything so formal and writing emails and all that, it kind of breaks down that barrier,” she said.
The mentorship is an opportunity for her to make a difference in her fellow Tar Heels’ lives.
“Ever since I came to UNC, mentorship has been such a huge part of my life,” Legoas said. “Frankly, I know what it’s like to be that little freshman, and there are so many things that I wish I knew. It was really nice to have a program where people are telling you what things are out there, but I think having the student perspective to it, again, just makes it more casual, and it’s something that I wish I would have had. It’s just nice to be able to help people.”