Tuesday, April 9, 2013

UT System’s participation with nonprofit helps veterans achieve career goals

When asked why he created the veteran mentoring program American Corporate Partners (ACP), CEO Sid Goodfriend said he’s a very fortunate person who was set to retire by his mid-40s after a lucrative career on Wall Street. “I found myself wanting to make a national contribution, and I realized that most of the success I’d had was from strong mentoring relationships.”

He also has "great admiration for those who serve in the military, allowing others to live relatively free from worry regarding national safety and security." Thus was born ACP, with its mission to assist veterans in their transition from the armed services to the civilian workforce.

Launched in 2008, ACP’s nationwide mentoring program pairs professionals with veterans based on career interests and location.

Launched in 2008, ACP’s nationwide mentoring program pairs professionals with veterans based on career interests and location. In 2011, ACP launched an online question-and-answer community, ACP AdvisorNet, to assist a growing number of veterans with their professional development goals.

The organization has over 1,600 veterans enrolled nationwide and 43 corporate partners, including American Airlines, AT&T, Pepsi, and Texas Utilities. ACP is currently partnered with two higher education institutions–Harvard and The University of Texas System, which has been involved since 2010.

Goodfriend receives no compensation for running the organization, and all funding comes from the companies that participate, with the exception of Harvard and UT System.

He is quick to point out that ACP is interested in helping veterans with “careers, not jobs."

“Two-thirds of our applicants are enlisted,” Goodfriend said. “They are returning from service in their early 20s without a four-year degree. Many can find a job, but not a great job, and not a career.”

Joan Blakey, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington, has been a mentor for three years and has had two protégés.

“I know that many veterans struggle with a myriad of issues, especially once they leave the military. They give up so much in service to their country; the least I can do is help make their transition easier. This program is a tangible way to help and get involved,” she said.

Blakey, whose sisters are veterans, describes her current protégé, Cedric Jones, as a friend, a talented individual with great potential to go far – “to fly.” 

“Anything is possible. I’m trying to help him see that. I don’t pretend to know everything he has faced; I can’t imagine, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet a great human being who I otherwise would not have met, and I’ve been able to share what I have learned with someone else,” she said.

After serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Jones heard about the mentoring program from a friend and said it dawned on him that someone who was outside of his normal network could add value to his career direction.

Most veterans want an opportunity to showcase their skills, he said, and the ACP mentoring program helps in planning for how to best take advantage of that opportunity once it arrives.

Jones meets once or twice a month with Blakey over coffee or dinner, they talk on the phone or text a few times a week, and their work is guided by Jones’ goals.

He wanted a job that was more in line with his career path, so they worked on his resume. Blakey gave him tips, coached him through the process and wrote a letter of recommendation.

“Cedric was also in school, so we talked about school and the importance of staying focused. Now that he has the job he wanted, we focus on how he can do his job to the best of his abilities. We created a work plan that he could execute. We really work on anything related to career and life,” she said.

Currently, Jones is a recruiter for a research project dealing with veterans. He loves his job and is able to help other veterans through his position.

"I was able to move into a position that I love and get promoted while planning for graduation in May."

“The added perspective and insight Joan provided is invaluable,” said Jones. “She advised me on presentations, school work, and life. I was able to move into a position that I love and get promoted while planning for graduation in May. Joan truly has paid it forward, and I thank her for it.”

Blakey’s UT Arlington colleague Alexa Smith-Osborne, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Center for Clinical Social Work, has also served as a mentor to two individuals in the ACP program. As a military family member and resilience researcher, Smith-Osborne wanted to share her research background to help individual service members.

Since her protégés are not local, she plans monthly phone conferences and corresponds by email on topics related to career objectives and opportunities.

"The ACP program is an opportunity to give back to those who have volunteered to serve their country in today’s military, which is more difficult to navigate post-military service than in past combat eras," she said.

If you are an employee, staff, or faculty member at any of the 15 UT System institutions and would like to be a mentor, contact info@acp-usa.org. For more information, visit www.acp-usa.org.

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