Each year hundreds of TFAS students get to know D.C. not just through the famous sites they visit and their internships, but also through a cohort of working professionals who want to help them get the most of their experience. The TFAS Mentor Program has connected hundreds of working professionals to students to give them advice, help them network and even share some fun suggestions of things to do in the city.
Both alumni and non-alumni working professionals in the D.C. area can be matched with mentees. In 2013 alone, there were close to 200 mentors who participated in the program, providing an extra link to the D.C. community for TFAS students.
TFAS Alumnus Kurt Couchman (ICPES 02) completed the Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems in 2002. He now works as a senior legislative assistant for Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan. He has been a mentor since 2005.
“Every student I’ve mentored has been unique, but they’ve all been exceptional people: hardworking, intelligent and motivated,” Couchman said. “TFAS has top-notch students. It’s a testament to the recruitment and selection process that TFAS has in place.”
Couchman meets with his mentees for lunch or coffee throughout their time in D.C. He provides students with suggestions for places to visit in D.C., but he also tries to help them with their future plans.
“I see my role as helping students think through the things that will get them to where they want to be,” Couchman said. “Every student has unique talents and each student is on his or her own path. I think my role is to help them navigate the choices.”
Couchman said TFAS students make great leaders in the realm of public policy due to the courses they take and the relationships they develop through TFAS programs.
One of Couchman’s former mentees is now working as a legislative assistant for another congressman. A number of TFAS alumni work on Capitol Hill, and leveraged their TFAS experiences to find opportunities, Couchman said.
The TFAS Mentor Program isn’t just for alumni. Mentor Sara Woods, a property disposal specialist at the General Services Administration, is one of a number of non-TFAS alumni who help connect students to the D.C. community. She heard about the program through a list serve for a women’s networking group, posted by communications coordinator Lauren Goldberg (IBGA 10). Since 2012, Woods has mentored six students.
“The students are fabulous. They are so passionate and driven about their fields, and they’re always looking for ways to be involved,” Woods said.
Mentors find out about their mentees before they come to D.C. They can ask mentors about what to pack, and have a contact to meet as soon as they get into the city. Woods sends her mentees an email before they arrive, so when they meet at the first breakfast, they’ve already communicated. At their initial meeting, Woods asks students what their interests are, and then tries to connect them with professionals in their field of interest, and tries to show them different aspects of D.C. based on their interests.
Woods says she has a “three-pronged approach” of what she hopes to show her students: professional, academic and cultural aspects of Washington. For the cultural aspect she takes students to Eastern Market, Union Market and Phillips After 5, a series of art and entertainment receptions at The Philips Collection in Dupont Circle.
For professional exposure she takes interns to her office. She said most interns have never seen a government office and federal employees, so she takes them to meetings and introduces them to her colleagues. She also introduces mentees to friends working in the field of their interest. Woods once had a mentee who was interested in law school. She introduced that student to her friend who gave the mentee advice about the LSAT and law school.
One of her former mentees and TFAS alumna Samantha Boyd (IPJ 12) moved to D.C. following her TFAS experience and now is a mentor too.
“Together Sam and I have been building a legacy of service through TFAS to try and encourage more people to become mentors,” Woods said.
By the end of TFAS programs, Woods says she can observe the ways that her mentees have grown.
“By the end of the summer, these students know how to use public transportation and get around the city. They’re confident in their internships,” Woods said. “Each student I’ve met through TFAS is passionate but in different ways. They all convey enthusiasm after their time in D.C.”
To learn how you can become a TFAS mentor, visit www.TFAS.org/Mentor. The deadline to sign up is Friday, May 2.