The best way to avoid rookie mistakes is to learn potential pit-falls from a mentor. Mentors are trusted advisors who can be connectors, sounding boards, disciplinarians and encouragers who offer a valuable outside perspective. They provide knowledge and find ways to stimulate personal and professional growth.
Oklahoma Christian University’s new Computer Science professional mentoring program offers senior Computer Science majors the opportunity to connect one-on-one with Computer Science alumni who work in the Oklahoma City area.
Brooke Dobbins was one of a dozen students who joined the program.
“Professor North knows each of us very well by senior year and he paired us with a mentor intentionally and purposely. Ken Parker has been the perfect mentor for me,” said Dobbins.
Parker, a 1983 Math and Computer Science OC graduate, is the co-founder and CEO of Next Thought, a technology company in the education and training industry. The path to entrepreneurism started with a career in the aerospace industry, then Wall Street. That experience prepared Parker to take a risk with a financial technology start-up. He co-founded and built Risk Metrics to 1,200 global employees, eventually selling the company for $1.55 billion. The combination of his experiences both equipped him and led him to Next Thought. Parker’s mantra reflects the mission of OC’s computer science program.
“Change the world, have fun, make money – in that order,” says Parker.
Even with all of the valuable benefits, signing up for a mentoring program wasn’t an easy sell. Dobbins hesitated. She juggles a job at Boeing alongside her challenging course load and graduation is coming up in a few months. The level of time commitment was a big question.
“I took the chance and jumped in, and I’m really happy that I did. It has opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities,” said Dobbins.
Mentors work at world-class companies like Devon Energy, Hobby Lobby, Boeing, American Fidelity, Continental Resources, Chesapeake Energy, FirstLight Analytics, Cisco, Kronos, Seventy Seven Energy, National American Insurance and Next Thought.
“This mentoring effort will allow our seniors to gain a great personal relationship with someone in the industry. It’s new and innovative,” said David North, director of Computer Science advancement. “We have asked the mentors to challenge mentees and share with them things that will prepare them for careers and life. The mentors love the opportunity to give back to their alma mater.”
Utilizing technology from Next Thought software in one of her freshman classes gave Dobbins some insight into the company. Her first meeting with Parker revealed the greater depth of services offered and Parker’s vision for the future. Dobbins was particularly interested in the way Next Thought applied artificial reality to learning.
“We discussed the skills I’m currently using from my degree at my Boeing internship, what opportunities are available for new graduates, working in big industry versus small companies and how to become successful,” Dobbins said. “Ken is a visionary who has done big, intimidating things. It was encouraging for him to remind me that if there is something I don’t know how to do that I can figure it out, that his journey led him to his passion. I don’t have to know my ultimate passion in order to get started.”
Mentors were paired with mentees based on interest; like cybersecurity students met with professionals in that field. Everyone was introduced at a dinner hosted on campus in the fall. They committed to meeting a minimum of once each month over a period of four months with one visit at the mentor’s place of business. Other engagements were held over coffee, lunch or video chats. The program receives a glowing endorsement from Dobbins.
“I recommend that every student take advantage of pairing with a professional mentor. It’s a little intimidating at first. The time commitment is scary, but it’s not as much time as you would think and the benefits are great,” said Dobbins.