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Making the most of mentorships: an interview with Michelle Altenau

Written by Michelle Altenau (Communication BA ‘07, Communication MA ‘09, Juris Doctor ‘12)

Q: How did you get involved with mentoring?

A: I’ve been mentoring students for quite a while, seven students so far. I have had the wonderful opportunity to be matched and get to know my three most recent mentees, UC Communication students, through the UC Friends of Communication alumni mentorship program in partnership with CommuniCATs. This group does an excellent job of pairing us.

From left to right: Michelle Altenau and Wenqian “Yuki” Ye meeting at to review Yuki’s resume and practice interviewing techniques for UC Department of Communication internship fair.

Q: Tell me more about your recent mentees. Why do you consider them a good match?

A: Seriously, they are great! They definitely have different life paths, but their paths all resonate with my own journey.

My first mentee, Shannon, was interested in exploring whether to continue on with school or go into the workforce after graduation. Since I took the academic route, grad school and law school, and have been in the workforce for some years, I think I provided a good sounding board for her. We discussed the merits to both.

Amanda, on the other hand, knew a long time ago she was interested in pursuing a law degree. I leveraged my experience to answer questions about the application process, personal statement composition, what to expect from classes and more. It has been really fun to celebrate with her as she received her acceptance letters and scholarships! In the future, I hope to continue this relationship and provide professional connections to people in the areas of law she’s interested in pursuing as a career.

Yuki, also my current mentee, like Amanda, is certain about her path. She knows she wants to pursue a Master’s degree upon graduation. She has ranked her top schools and we work to brainstorm creative ways to connect to those institutions, what is required to make her a standout candidate, and ideas how to achieve a successful score on the GRE.

From left to right: Michelle Altenau, Sarah Munday, Amanda Kreinbrink. Michelle introduced Sarah, a sophomore in Communication, to her mentee, Amanda. Sarah is interested in the same academic and career path as Amanda and was able to gain additional guidance and support from a fellow student.

Q: What advice would you share with future mentors?

A: “Be who you needed when you were younger.” Shared by our Friends of Communication president, René Robers, this mantra perfectly and succinctly summarizes the path to fruitful mentorships relationships. Help guide the conversation but let them direct where they want to go. They know what they need. With my current mentees, one prefers text and that’s fine – but the other is interested in regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings.  I do my best to accommodate their needs and help them succeed.

You’re matched with your mentee based on your answers in the application, but the relationship doesn’t have to be limited to academic or professional matters, but interpersonal challenges and opportunities too. I have been able to help coach my mentees through challenges with roommates, where to renew a license plate, taught them how to writing a professional email, advised on how to dress for work versus an interview, how to speak in an office setting, reviewed resumes, and how to motivate their peers for group projects.

Finally, these relationships don’t have to end at the end of spring semester. I still connect with Shannon, my mentee from last year, over breakfast every few months. I connect with my other past mentees as well. I look forward to supporting and building a relationship with a new student next year and the years to come.


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