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updated: 10/14/2013 6:04 AM

Entrepreneurs, students mesh in college mentoring program

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Mentoring must be in our entrepreneurial DNA: We give back by sharing insights and advice. We help by offering guidance and staying in touch. We mentor, says Florence Sterlin, because "It takes a village" to ready the next generation of business leaders.

Sterlin is one of 240 business executives, many of them small business owners, who participate in a mentoring program developed by Elmhurst College's Center for Professional Excellence.

Of the 240, 115 meet with individual students at least monthly during the academic year. Other mentors participate through internships, job shadowing and similar career exploration opportunities. Matches are made by Julie Gonzales, coordinator of education enrichment programs at the CPE. (FYI, I'm one of the 115.)

The intent, according to CPE Executive Director Larry Carroll, is to help Elmhurst students be ready when they graduate and enter the real-world workforce.

Carroll and his team apparently know their stuff. In August, the CPE program was awarded a three-year gold accreditation by the International Mentoring Association, a Farmington, NM-based accrediting organization.

What's most interesting, however, is why business owners participate -- and what they hope to help their student protégés accomplish.

Being a mentor "gives me an idea of the type of student who will be in the job market," says Bill Shanklin, CEO, Champion Container Corp., Wood Dale. "What do they expect out of (an employer)? What do we expect from them?

"Students," Shanklin says, "are willing to work, but they want a more balanced life.

"Dealing with college-age protégés has helped me be more patient with people," Shanklin continues. "It's caused me to think -- and to change the way I manage the 40-somethings in our workplace."

Because Shanklin's protégés typically "want to get prepared to find a job," he teaches them "How to present yourself. How to market yourself. How to get an internship."

Shanklin also teaches discipline and respect as part of his mentoring process. "They're not allowed to call me 'Bill,'" he says. "To get respect (from a prospective employer), you have to give respect. Using 'Mr.' or 'Mrs.' shows you're giving respect."

April Berkowski, a professional violinist and owner of Elegant Ensembles, a musician booking agency in Schaumburg, seeks to help her protégés "understand the reality of the marketplace. They look for me to get them that first job, but (the protégés) must take ownership of that process. I help them ask questions, think ahead, plan appropriately.

They ask, 'Where do I go?'" Berkowski says. "I say, 'Let's talk and find out.'"

Sterlin, vice president at DB Sterlin Consultants Inc., a Chicago engineering firm, knows her protégés are "looking for an edge on other students who won't know the business community as well."

Consequently, Sterlin tries to teach her protégés "how to deal with real life." Among the topics she discusses are resume building, body language and live networking. "Networking is a good thing, but they need to learn how to work a room," she says.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at © 2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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