Although Penn State is known for its extensive network of alumni, many students never utilize this resource during their time on campus.
When she was a career counselor in the Smeal College of Business, Lisa Milne said many students cited the alumni network as the main reason they came to Penn State. But when she asked these students how they were “tapping into it,” many didn’t have an answer.
To combat this deficit, the Penn State Alumni Association revamped its longstanding LionLink program in 2018.
LionLink allows students to connect with alumni for mentorship, networking and career development opportunities.
By building a personal profile around their professional interests, students can be matched with one of the approximately 13,000 active alumni users in their respective career field, according to Milne, assistant director for alumni career services.
In addition to mentor-matching, LionLink offers a wealth of resources for resume and CV writing, interview preparation as well as webinars on various professional topics, such as job hunting and professional development.
While other professional networking services may have more total users, Milne is confident in LionLink’s value for Penn State students.
“LinkedIn is popular, but LionLink is getting more traction,” Milne said. “LinkedIn is good, but it’s a very cold call. LionLink is warmer — there's more of a family feel since it's our home-grown system.”
According to Milne, the largest hurdle in expanding the platform has been getting more students involved, since many are still unaware of LionLink’s existence.
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Despite its relative obscurity, the platform has experienced 50% growth in student users since 2019, raising the current total to 3,000 students across the Penn State system, Milne said.
Kaitlin Winslow is a student at Penn State Shenango, and has used LionLink for professional advice and mentorship ever since her career counselor mentioned the program.
“My goal was to meet some individuals in the field,” Winslow (senior-human development and family studies) said. “I’ve spoken to a few [mentors], everybody has different expertise since [human resources] is such a large field, so it's interesting to see what their roles are.”
Because an HR degree can be applied to many different career paths such as recruitment, social work and diversity and inclusion, Winslow said she uses LionLink to connect with mentors in her specific interest area.
“It allowed me to see which portion I liked best, they gave me some insights on what I want to do to continue in this field,” Winslow said.
While making the transition from the classroom to the job market is tough for any student, Winslow had to balance raising her two children with pursuing her degree later in life.
“It’s a lot to juggle, but once I realized these services were out there I'm like, ‘I’m game,’” Winslow said. “Since my path is not traditional for my degree program, I've found the best way to learn is from others.”
Kyle Shoop originally got involved with LionLink through his roommate during his time as an undergraduate student at University Park.
Now Shoop works with LionLink, where he volunteers his time as a business mentor and financial literacy adviser.
“I was kinda in a job transition when I found out there was a more personalized Penn State network, so I signed up for LionLink, and it evolved into meeting mentees,” Shoop, who graduated from Penn State in 2014 with a finance degree, said.
As a consultant in the wealth management industry, Shoop gives advice to students looking to get into the field, as well as general financial literacy tips.
“[LionLink’s mentorship service is] really impressive, it's like LinkedIn, but people are friendlier,” Shoop said. “If people respond they are more than likely to help you for longer.”
Shoop plans to devote even more time to LionLink going forward, since his experience as a mentor has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
“I get excited when I get an email from LionLink when someone reaches out with questions,” Shoop said. “I feel like it’s the benefit of having such a large alumni association that you can reach out to.
“People should think of Penn State as their first-place resource when [they] are looking for a job or looking for a mentor, for anytime you need something.”