Each year, hundreds of Penn State Smeal alumni mentors share their perspectives with student protégés, exploring topics such as academic majors, internships, career planning and leadership development.
Smeal marketing major Victor Oliveira was among the many students who discovered the power of this program last spring during the early stages of the pandemic. He and his mentor, 1990 marketing graduate and entrepreneur Tara Reed, share their experience and the bond that was established during these unprecedented circumstances.
Tara Reed ’90 MKTG
Why did you decide to become a Smeal mentor?
I decided to become a Smeal mentor because I wanted to help a student who was considering the path of entrepreneurship. When Victor and I started working together in the fall of 2019, it was a more traditional mentoring relationship. We talked about his goals for the future, choosing a major, extracurricular activities, and classes. He would tell me about what he was studying and ask my perspective as a business owner. I’ve also had the pleasure of learning about Victor’s life, culture, and path that led him to Penn State.
How did your role as a Smeal alumni mentor change during the pandemic?
Our conversations became much different in March 2020, when I helped him navigate the challenge of being isolated at University Park as an international student during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a student from Brazil, Victor couldn’t jump in his car and drive home when the lockdown started. During this time, we went from talking every two weeks to talking twice a week. Our video chats became less about academic and career mentoring and more about finding resources to physically, financially, and mentally survive COVID-19. Victor’s ability to adapt to change and figure things out was truly impressive.
He also took the opportunity to document what life was like on a deserted Penn State campus. Our discussions shifted to photography, blogging, social media, and online marketing.
What has been the most rewarding part of mentoring a Smeal student?
Prior to participating, I was unsure of what I could offer a student who was trying to figure out their path. I thought a business school mentor should work for or own a large company or manage a team. However, a Smeal College team member pointed out that owning my own business for 16 years gave me a multitude of experiences that many students could learn from.
Victor is one of the most inquisitive and positive people I have ever met. I’ve been challenged by some of our conversations about business, ethics, and social issues that came from both his coursework and real life. He has inspired me to look at my own beliefs, attitudes, and goals for myself and my business. Mentoring is a two-way street!
I was also honored to be able to help him as much as I could during the first few months of the pandemic. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the coming years for Victor. I feel like he is now an honorary part of my family, not just a student I interacted with for a few semesters.
Victor Oliveira ’22 MKTG
PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL
Why did you apply to have a Smeal alumni mentor, and what topics have you explored?
One of the reasons I applied to Penn State in the first place was hearing about its extensive and engaging alumni network. As soon as I heard about the Smeal Mentoring Program, I jumped at the opportunity. Tara and I discussed current events, business and marketing concepts, and a lot more.
Our conversations shifted last spring when Penn State announced we were moving to remote classes. Tara suggested that I start a photography blog, so for several weeks, I biked around campus and took pictures. She helped me with editing, and I published the photos on the blog. It turned out to be a great way to stay active and creative during those eerie months, and it allowed us to discuss how digital services and e-commerce performed during the pandemic.
What valuable insights did Tara share with you during the pandemic?
I remember being alone in my downtown apartment, scared of what the pandemic meant and how it would affect my future and my time at Penn State. After speaking with Tara, I came to realize that being physically isolated did not mean I had to become a hermit. She encouraged me to stay in touch with people through email, phone, and video chat. Tara demonstrated to me that during times of hardship, staying connected with people becomes even more important.
As a result of Tara’s help, I got to work as a LEAP (Learning Edge Academic Program) mentor last summer, talking with incoming first-year international students about what it is like to be a Penn State student. This opportunity taught me very valuable lessons about how to be a leader and a role model.
How has the Mentoring Program enhanced your experience as a student?
Having an alumni mentor has made my Penn State experience more holistic and diverse. I have always valued gaining multiple perspectives before making decisions, and having Tara as a resource has allowed me to achieve a more well-rounded point of view. One of the greatest benefits of having an alumni mentor is being able to link classroom concepts and business scenarios with real-world encounters. For this and many other reasons, I recommend the Smeal Alumni Mentoring Program to all Smeal students!
Learn more about mentoring opportunities at https://www.smeal.psu.edu/alumni/ways-to-get-involved/mentor-current-students