Emily Heimerdinger acknowledges that there was a time when she would not have been interested in delivering the kind of presentation she made on a recent Thursday evening in the Frick Center. Heimerdinger, a senior accounting major from Elburn, was one of several student speakers at the annual end-of-the-school-year celebration of Elmhurst’s Center for Professional Excellence (CPE).
She was there to talk about the benefits of the CPE’s mentoring program. Heimerdinger said her presence as a speaker was itself evidence of the program’s transformational power.
“I never thought I would be so excited to talk in front of a room full of people,” said Heimerdinger, adding that she once would have lacked the confidence to speak publicly. “But that’s how passionate I am about this mentoring program. It has given me so much confidence and helped me grow in so many ways.”
Heimerdinger entered the program three years ago, as a sophomore with an undeclared major, looking for a little guidance about choosing a career path. She found that and much more. The staff at the CPE connected her with Paul Halverson ’72, an Internet marketing entrepreneur and sales associate with BluePoint Alert Solutions, a producer of emergency law-enforcement rapid-response systems for schools and other institutions.
The two began meeting weekly to talk about careers, school and whatever else was on Heimerdinger’s mind. Three years on, the conversations continue. Heimerdinger said she has come to think of Halverson as not just a mentor, but as a confidant and friend. As she prepares to begin a full-time internship with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and then graduate in December, she credits the mentorship with helping her prepare for life beyond college.
“We’ve talked about the pros and cons of different careers, and we’ve talked about everyday things,” she said. “It has been so important to me.”
Both Halverson and Heimerdinger said they plan to continue their mentoring relationship even after her graduation.
“It has been wonderful to see her growth and her maturity,” Halverson said after watching Heimerdinger speak at the CPE event. “I don’t know if [three years ago] she could have done what she did today.”
Indeed, Heimerdinger said that one of the first lessons she learned from her mentor was the need “to get out of my shell.”
“He would give me little assignments like walking up to someone I didn’t know and introducing myself,” she recalled. “I was nervous, but it gave me the confidence to see that I could get to know people.”
The mentoring program makes about 230 volunteer mentors available to Elmhurst students each year. Nearly 200 students are participating in the program this year, said program coordinator Julie Gonzales. Students meet regularly with mentors who provide advice and insight into ways for students to grow professional personally. Gonzales said that the nature of each mentoring partnership is determined by the student’s objectives and needs. “Every student is an individual, and every mentor is an individual. We try to create the best match, and we are very successful,” Gonzales said. “We meet students where they are.”
Halverson said the CPE provides oversight to ensure that students get the most of out of their mentorships. Mentors and students submit regular activity reports and evaluations. He also recommended that students begin working with mentors early in their time at Elmhurst. Halverson said that Heimerdinger’s relatively early start in the program gave her time to gain maximum benefit from her mentorship. He added that the best mentors are always focused on helping students answer their own questions.
“It’s not about my agenda as a mentor, it’s about her agenda,” he said. “I listen and try to help Emily solve things for herself.”
Heimerdinger said that Halverson earned her trust early on.
“From the beginning, he said, ‘It’s up to you if you want to continue this,’” she said. “I appreciated that. I know I can always count on him.”