For Jay Towns, mentorship mattered. While studying music theatre at Northwestern University, Towns was initially unsure of his career goals. Eager to expand his horizons, he took an entrepreneurship class that introduced him to two Northwestern Alumni Association mentorship programs: the Northwestern Network Mentorship Program (NNMP) and the Affinity Leaders and Learners (ALL) Mentorship Program. According to Towns, the impact of these programs will stay with him forever.
The NNMP is a global online platform designed to cultivate meaningful relationships between students and alumni mentors, while the ALL Program provides a more tailored mentorship experience for students who may prefer to connect with someone with similar personal or life experiences. Towns participated as a mentee in both programs simultaneously, where he connected with two alumni mentors—music major turned public relations professional Michael San Gabino ’13 and global marketing executive Darius Hines ’02, ’12 MBA. Their unique perspectives helped inspire Towns to explore the full extent of his potential as a creative.
Now, thanks in part to their guidance, Towns has become a full-time multihyphenate artist. Alongside his role as multimedia creative specialist at worldwide advertising agency DDB, he freelances as a photographer, content creator, music producer, and more. This National Mentoring Month, he shares what mentorship at Northwestern meant to him.
How did you benefit from participating in both mentorship programs?
From the ALL Program, I was interested in hearing about the experience of a Black man working in corporate America. Darius, my mentor from the program, had a nonlinear career trajectory, which resonated with me because I had no idea what I wanted to do at the time. I had skills, talents, and abilities that I knew were valuable, but I didn’t know how to package them. Darius helped me with that.
Michael, my mentor from the NNMP, also had a nonlinear path. The Northwestern ecosystem is the reason he felt confident to make that career shift. He advised me not to short-sell myself and also not to pretend to know something I don’t. He encouraged me to continually focus on the aspects of how I learn and develop myself. I took his advice directly into my advertising agency internship experience. I didn’t go to portfolio school; I studied music and theater. But I thought I’d be great at the job, so I put myself out there and did my best. I got hired, and I’m doing a lot of fun work there right now.
By hearing from two completely different people, I was able to synthesize their insights and learn that your talents make new spaces for you. There’s no better value than that.
Why should students consider joining these programs?
If you have the capacity to layer different perspectives, you end up with a better product. Speaking with both mentors helped me paint a bigger map. Think of Northwestern as the part of the map that shows how to get from point A to point B. Hearing an alum’s perspective was like adding the topography onto it. Now, I could see all the buildings. Then, I talked to another mentor, and I could see the traffic patterns.
Nothing about the world changed, but the way I interacted with the map changed. I could apply a different satellite vision if I felt it was relevant to my experience.
Students should definitely do both programs. The more information you have, the more likely you’ll come across relevant information to you. My life and Northwestern experience are more vibrant because I’ve been able to draw from extra perspectives. You will never have those experiences if you don’t go for it.
What do you think students get out of alumni mentorship?
Students can get a larger view of the world. Mentorship gave me a sense of what life after graduation would be like. My transition was eased. I felt a reassuring sense that everybody who graduates goes through this, and that you can actually prepare yourself to go through it better.
Talking about post-grad life with my friends was completely different than the conversations I had with alumni. As a student, you’re so invested in what you’re studying, you can’t imagine life outside of it. Alumni help you see how the things you do in college can help you become a part of society. Finding who you are within the things that you do, rather than ascribing your personality to those things—that’s really the goal.
How can mentees make the most of their experience?
Stay connected. It’s been interesting to see how my mentors’ careers develop. We forget that people are more than what you see the moment you meet them. You get that value over time from cultivating the relationship.
Talk to them about their University experience. The only thing every mentor has in common is that they went to Northwestern. Compare this with how they talk about the world; that’s much more informative than just asking them about their job.
Become comfortable with the uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to disagree. I take things from both Darius and Michael, and that’s the point. You’re not supposed to be a carbon copy of your mentor. Zoom out, think about the themes of the experience, and use that information to make your own inferences.