us flag
Want to study in the USA? Get our course on US College Admissions & Applications now →
us flag
Interside mobile menu

USC’s International Student Mentorship Program: A model for career and community development

interstride logo by Interstride
June 18, 2024

This blog post was co-authored by Ariadne Cheng, Associate Director of International Student Career Engagement at USC, and Sairam Potlapadu, International Student Career Engagement Graduate Intern at USC, and is based on a presentation delivered at the 2024 Interstride Symposium.

The University of Southern California (USC) is a prestigious private university in Los Angeles that has an international student population of almost 13,000 students. They launched their International Student Mentorship Program (ISMP) in January 2023, and now they are sharing their successes with the program so far.

Where did the idea to launch a mentorship program for international students come from?

To better support our international students at USC, we surveyed them in October 2022 on what USC resources, services, and events they have and haven’t used, and what they would like to see offered in the future. Some of the broader themes that emerged in international students’ responses to the latter question are below:

I realized that many of the needs and additional support requested by our international students in the survey could be addressed through alumni mentorship. Mentorship, particularly with international alumni, can help international students develop potential professional connections, adapt to life in the US, and build their job-search tool kits including resume writing, interview skills, and job-search strategies. Being mentored by someone who shares their international identity also fosters a sense of community and belonging which can benefit students’ overall mental health and wellbeing as they face the challenges of college life in the US.

How did you design and launch the mentorship program? 

We hope this step-by-step explanation of how we executed our International Student Mentorship Program (ISMP) may help other institutions that are looking for ways to increase support for their international students. 

  1. Test: We reached out to alumni via email and the Trojan Network (our online networking and mentorship platform) to gauge interest in a mentorship program for international students.
  2. Build: Using existing mentorship programs at USC as guides, we built a framework for our own program, including  program descriptions, mentor/mentee handbooks, best practice guides, and program goals.
  3. Plan: We created a timeline and structure for the program that would last one semester. Then, we started planning the program orientation and monthly workshops.
  4. Launch: We launched with an in-person launch event and orientation with an additional virtual option for mentors who could not attend in person. At orientation, we provided participants with program resources such as the mentee and mentor handbooks that included conversation starters and worksheets for goal setting.

How did you foster continued alumni engagement throughout the program?

There is always a lot of excitement at the beginning of the semester, but as the semester goes on, it’s common for engagement to drop. Here are some strategies that worked for us to keep alumni mentors engaged throughout the semester:

  • Email check-ins with mentors
  • Accessible events with virtual options
  • Speaker opportunities for highly engaged mentors
  • Follow-up survey and focus group after the semester ended

What feedback did you receive from participants of the first iteration of the mentorship program?

Because this was our first time running this program, we relied on participant feedback to gauge the program’s success and make improvements for the next year. Over the summer after the program had ended, we organized a focus group with the alumni mentors. Key feedback included setting clearer expectations for mentors and mentees, offering more training for mentors prior to the start of the program, easier access to the program managers, making monthly mentorship meetings mandatory, and training on resources for international students.  

How did you incorporate that feedback into version 2.0 of the mentorship program?

We implemented all of mentors’ feedback in the second year of the program, with separate orientations for mentors and mentees as well as separate bi-weekly open office hours; a pre-program training for mentors on “Mentoring Like a Coach”; a workshop on “Career Resources for International Students”, and stricter requirements for orientation and monthly mentor/mentee meetings.

To make the program more accessible to mentors living out of state or abroad, we also made all of our mentor trainings and meetings virtual. 

Our improvements paid off! We went from 68 mentors in 2023 to 103 mentors in 2024, and we were able to pair every one of our 112 mentees with a mentor this year. There are many current international students at USC interested in participating in this mentorship program, so we hope to continue growing alumni participation in order to give more students the opportunity to benefit from their mentorship.

Launch your own international student mentorship program with Interstride

Student ambassador programs are one way that institutions can provide support to current international students. These programs leverage current students and alumni to answer questions, reassure, and guide mentee students throughout their academic and career  journeys. Admissions professionals looking to engage more prospective international students may also benefit from a student ambassador program. Harness the power of high touch marketing and peer-to-peer engagement with Interstride for Admissions.