Alum mentors advise students on line

By Margie Fishman
The Daily Pennsylvanian

October 2, 1997

Lay down your weapons -- the University community surrendered to information technology long ago.

The Alumni Writing Mentors program constitutes the most recent addition to the electronic writing advising trend, allowing University students and post-Penn professionals to engage in a friendly writing exchange.

To participate in the program, students e-mail writing concerns and academic interests to and receive the name and e-mail address of a mentor volunteer.

After a brief introduction, mentors offer the students constructive criticism on writing samples, research projects and independent studies.

Although a slew of writing advising opportunities -- such as writing center fellows, electronic writing advisors and writing seminar instructors -- are available to students, English Professor Al Filreis said the new program allows students to "take advantage of a mostly untapped intellectual resource."

Filreis -- who created the program -- recruited its alumni network through various listserves, including his "Alumverse" on-line poetry class, a virtual version of the popular English 88 offered to Penn alumni free of charge.

Alumni are involved in the initiative from a variety of professions, including publishing, editing, writing, public relations and advertising -- all careers where "good, clean writing is fundamental to success," Filreis noted.

"We have hundreds of current Penn students who have [potential]l to become very good writers but who do not have a clear sense of what those skills can mean in terms of a writing career," he added.

As a result, Filreis -- with the support of the Writing program and the Kelly Writers House -- launched a massive e-mail effort in August, contacting approximately 400 undergraduates about participating in the experimental program.

Filreis has since signed on 12 undergraduates and 15 alumni.

In addition to gaining writing feedback, some students use the program to foster personal relationships with their mentors.

Although College senior Sara Cho's mentor unexpectedly fled the city for a monthly sojourn in Israel, the two maintain a constant dialogue despite the time difference and logistical problems.

"This electronic medium offers an intimacy -- or an illusion of intimacy -- that seems to allow a sharing not only of work but of self," said Robin Goldberg, Cho's mentor.

Personal relationships may lead to valuable career contacts, granting some students the opportunity to score internships over the Internet.

While Filreis said career planning is secondary to the service's principal goal of providing writing advising in a real world context, he admitted that discussions inevitably arise between mentors and mentees concerning job prospects.

Following their first session, College junior Carol Ying's mentor helped her land a public relations internship with the Penn Women's Council.

"[Although] I never received any career advice at Penn, it was easy to find a job," alumni mentor Constance Bille said. "I know much more about the world than most faculty."

Director of Career Planning and Placement Patricia Rose said individual career planning programs have sprung up in the absence of a University-wide initiative.

Students expressed enthusiasm about connecting with people earning a living in their field.

"It gives me hope that maybe someday I will have a career in this," Cho said.

Alumni mentor Marc Machiz said that since Penn students receive minimal personal attention, it is important for the "Filreis collective" to be involved in the process of education.

"It is necessary to redefine the alumni as part of a learning and teaching community, rather than as a mailing list full of donors," he said.


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Last modified: Thursday, 02-Oct-1997 22:36:12 EDT