Most high school teachers would agree that learning through hands-on experience is a well-known and effective form of education for their students. Science projects, industrial arts classes, home economics courses and even driver’s training are concrete examples of this proven method.
It’s an approach that Minnesota non-profit organization BestPrep also employs as they successfully prepare more than 50,000 students annually with business, career and financial literacy skills for work and life.
Founded in 1976, BestPrep now works with more than 4,000 professionals each year and connects them with students through a variety of programs based on active participation.
For more than 30 years, RBC Wealth Management has been committed to supporting BestPrep, and many employees in Minneapolis have been proud volunteers to one of their programs in particular: eMentors.
Educating through email
As the program’s title suggests, eMentors uses email as a platform for hands-on learning.
By crafting professional emails on a weekly basis, students develop polished writing and communication skills while learning about the business world and different career paths from their mentors.
Over an 8-week period, their emails follow a question-and-answer format, where the students ask their mentors about a variety of topics including college/post-secondary experience, job search skills, time management, work-life balance, goal setting and other career choices. The mentors then respond with helpful and honest answers, and examples that inspire and encourage the students.
Currently, 33 RBC Wealth Management employees are paired with Anoka High School seniors enrolled in an advanced marketing (DECA) class taught by Doug Orr. The eMentors program compliments his curriculum by helping his students with career exploration and preparation for the adult life that’s ahead of them.
“The fact that RBC employees are currently in the work place is so paramount to the kids. It gives the mentors credibility,” explained Orr.
“When they say to a student, ‘You should do this with your resume,’ my students will say to me, ‘Oh my gosh, my mentor said I should do this.’ And boom: it’s done. That mentor’s word is golden.”
Ann Hoen, a senior compliance education specialist at RBC Wealth Management and an eMentor for the last seven years, enjoys passing along this “golden” knowledge and recognizes the importance of having another mentor in one’s life, besides family.
“When you’re a teenager, sometimes you don’t want to listen to your parents,” says Hoen. “It’s nice to hear from another adult, someone who’s gone through it, who’s not as close to you. It’s valuable to have the opportunity to provide advice to the students, and to talk it out with them via email.”
Email makes it simple for the participants to stay engaged and attracts new ones as well. When Wayzata, Minn. Senior Financial Associate Joel Silver was looking for a way to become involved in the community after relocating from the east coast, eMentors caught his attention.
“I’ve always placed a high emphasis on internships and mentorships, and this was a seamless, easy and fun opportunity,” explained Silver. “I can send an email from anywhere, at any time…and it’s exciting to see what the next generation is excited about, it keeps you relevant.”
Students visit the RBC Wealth Management office in Minneapolis to meet their eMentors.
The keys to success: Dedication and participation
The combination of dedicated teachers, mentors and students is what makes eMentors a success, as Greg Orvik, program manager at BestPrep, knows well.
He observes that the teachers are enthusiastic because they’re able to mold the program to their curriculum, and the since the mentors find it as an easy-to-access volunteer opportunity, the companies are on-board too.
As for the students, he says their positive feedback says it all.
“In 2015-2016, over 90 percent of students rated their experience with eMentors as good or excellent,” said Orvik. “I think they’re seeing the benefit. They get to pick the brain of someone who’s been there and done that, someone who has started their career path and has something to offer.”
One of most memorable parts of the program not only for the students, but teachers and organizers as well, is when the classes visit the RBC Wealth Management offices. For many of the kids, it’s their first time in a corporate office setting.
This is Orvik’s favorite part of the program because he sees the power of the face-to-face meeting, and watches each student have what he calls their “ah-ha” moment.
“After touring the RBC trading floor, executive level and even office of the CEO, you can see the students really imagining themselves in different positions... the RBC employees might not know the impact they’re having on the students, but there is clearly something going on – many of those ‘ah-ha’ moments.”
Orr says the office experience puts it all into perspective, and communicates a bit about RBC’s culture as well.
“As these students look at careers and what life is going to bring them, one of the important things for them to remember is do what makes you happy, follow your passion” Orr says.
“One of the things they talk about is how happy the RBC employees seem to be, and that goes a long way in explaining RBC’s culture and what RBC does.”
With each email and office visit, students are discovering the world beyond their classrooms – and it’s BestPrep providing them with that experience.