Students learn plenty in the classroom, but there is still room to learn from working professionals. That’s why Rebels Forward mentorship program is growing across the university.
“Rebels Forward is about building these very important relationships between busy professionals and students,” said Eileen McGarry, executive director of UNLV Career Services. “We offer a platform to help efficiently and easily execute a well-organized mentorship plan. There have been pockets of mentoring going on across campus, and we wanted to bring them together and help others to get involved as well.”
Electrical engineering junior Haylee Buff knows how much professional mentorship can help. Through the engineering college’s Rebels Forward, she was matched with Justin Veilleux, ’04 BS Computer Engineering and ’20 MBA. As principal at FEA Consulting Engineers, Veilleux has worked on some of the biggest projects in Las Vegas, including being the electrical engineer of record on Resorts World, Circa, and the Cromwell.
“Justin showed me so many more things than I realized I could possibly do in my field,” Buff said. "(For example) he showed me some of the work he did on Resorts World – diagrams for the electrical work. It was fascinating. It’s different when you see it in the classroom versus when you see it in the field.”
Access to successful professionals like Veilleux will open up a wealth of opportunities for students, said Marion Mason, UNLV's director of engineering career services.
“It’s a presitious group of mentors – CEOs, project engineers, companies like Google, NV Energy, Intel, Konami Gaming,”
Hospitality student mentee Nataliia Kovtunenko found similar access in her industry. “I experienced something that I would not be able to get from the classroom," she said. "My mentor constantly guided me and gave me suggestions on ways to learn and grow, both personally and professionally.”
That access gave Buff the confidence to seek out opportunities she might not have otherwise done. “When I applied for some internships, I was nervous about the process. He coached me through it and helped me,” she said. “I got my internship with JTH Consulting contractors. Among other things, they work with military bases here, Nellis and Creech … and we work on pilot training. We do simulators and inflatables that give signals to the pilot to help them train for what it would be like in a real bombing. It’s something I never imagined doing.”
Veilleux said he’s most interested in helping guide students on the often tricky transition from classroom to career.
“When I was in college, I had no idea how it would turn into my career specifically,” he said. “You go into school and you learn theory but you don’t always see the practical side. For example, I don’t think a lot of students have the exposure to some of the job-specific things like CAD (Computer Assisted Drafting).”
Through the Rebels Forward platform, students and mentors sign in and find guidelines for mentoring meetings and tools for organizing the sessions. Students have a forum to establish goals, and the platform allows for the two to create a plan to work toward those goals, schedule regular meetings, and message one another directly.
“We don’t talk about classwork. It’s more advanced feedback. We talk about the next steps and now to put those in motion,” Veilleux said. “I think it’s more that they feel more confident about what to expect when they graduate and get into the career world.”
Another of Veilleux’s mentees, junior Isabella Capriotti, said she was intimidated when she first signed up for Rebels Forward.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to bother people,” Capriotti said. “But both of the mentors I’ve had have been so open and so nice. And who better to talk to than someone who has carved out their career?”
Capriotti spent last summer in Omaha working in a software development internship with a large consumer product company.
“The mentoring really helped me get out of my comfort zone,” Capriotti said. “I was at a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do going forward. Working with mentors who are already professionals really helps you get out of your little world. It is such a good reality check. Your goals seem more realistic, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
UNLV Career Services Assistant Director Alejandro Chacon has been charged with continuing to build Rebels Forward as a universitywide resource and unite those colleges, such as Hopsitality and Engineering, with already thriving mentorship programs.
“We have been working with nursing, public health, and several other colleges that either already have programs, or want to start under Rebels Forward,” he said. “We are also looking forward to creating mentorship programs for affinity groups, such as veterans, under Rebels Forward.
Meanwhile, Veilleux encourages alumni to get involved to benefit the students and themselves.
“We have the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of our university, its students, and even our own industries,” he said. “Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is what we as professionals and businesses have to learn from the students. Understanding what the next generation of professionals is looking for from their employer, their job, and their career can help us adjust and make sure our companies can recruit the best talent and remain competitive and viable.”