Mentorship Model Found at U of M


Let’s focus on a new form of mentorship, aimed at talent development and retention, with the University of Memphis’ LEAD program: Professional Connection Lunches.

The University of Memphis is well known for its sports and degree programs, but it is quickly receiving national attention for its efforts focused on leadership development, mentorship and talent retention. For example, the university was recently recognized as one of the “Top Ten Universities That Produce the Most Interns” by the U.S. News Short List. This prestigious list places Memphis with other institutions, like Dartmouth College, Syracuse University and DePaul University. The key to their success, in my opinion, lies in partnerships and engagement with community stakeholders, as well as their innovative approach to making mentorship easy and flexible with today’s hectic schedules.

The LEAD program (Leadership Education And Development) is an easy example of how they are creating new models for engagement between students and professionals. LEAD is a holistic leadership platform combining a four-year academic scholarship with classroom instruction, workshops, community projects, mentorships and active engagement in campus and community organizations. Leadership with accountability is woven into every element of the student’s on-campus and off-campus life. The program crosses all majors.

Just through the program alone, the university is investing more than $1 million annually in leadership development and attracting students from Alaska to Maryland. The idea, overall, is to help “polish” the students and infuse skills necessary for success like professional etiquette, conflict resolution and networking so that they are ready to excel in a corporate environment once hired. As you can imagine, the best “polishing” comes from business leaders who are willing to share their time, talents and expertise.

Realizing that engagement from business leaders is critical and that time is limited with everyone going 100 miles an hour in 100 different directions, LEAD created a snapshot mentorship opportunity called Professional Connection Lunches. The lunches, held from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., bring students and professionals together for fun, interactive discussions and exercises centered on leadership. Each lunch has a different focus with different attendees, so that each experience is different and content rich. For example, recent lunches have featured mock interviews, exercises on social media, and personal branding. In each case, both professionals and students walk away learning something that is applicable.

Professional Connection Lunches are free and include lunch and parking. This semester, lunches are scheduled for Feb. 22, March 29 and April 26. Learn more by contacting Justin Lawhead at

Jeremy Park, director of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club, can be reached at and followed on Twitter (@lpbreakfastclub).