AEGON Mentoring Program Bridges College with the Real World
By Ruth Paarman
Thanks to the AEGON/Transamerica employees in Cedar Rapids, a diverse set of Vaughan Institute students are learning more about the real world of insurance and investments. In return, the company and its employees garner a new appreciation for the younger generation that will one day be part of the company's operations.
With a longtime passion for mentoring programs, Dave Blankenship, President of AEGON USA Investment Management, LLC, signed up as a mentor earlier this year. He identified it as an excellent opportunity for his team and recruited mentors from among his managers.
"Mentoring students is good for emerging managers, because it's a short-term, low stakes assignment, and it's good practice for them to think on their feet and articulate what they do," Dave says. "For mentees, big picture career mapping is very hard for them to grasp. To get it from someone who has the job is much more meaningful."
Over the past four years of the program's five-year life, 16 AEGON/Transamerica employees have participated in the Vaughan Institute mentoring program. This year, nine mentors from different departments participate in the program.
Risk Analyst Ming Lodh and Portfolio Analysts Andy Aalderks and Rachel Ward have mentored students interested in the risk side and investment portfolio side of insurance. They fully support the program and its value to the students, their employer and their chosen industry. As with all mentors, they enjoy helping students focus on specific skills they will need, but may not learn in their initial courses, such as Excel. They appreciate knowing fellow UI graduates gain a real world advantage and broaden their knowledge of the industry.
"There's a negative stereotype with insurance being boring," says Andy, who has co-mentored with Rachel since 2009. "The mentoring program helps address that the insurance industry does have exciting careers, so it expands students' knowledge of the field."
Rachel observes that students get a better sense of how they might apply their knowledge when they interact with mentors in the workplace. They also learn what they want to know and develop other skills they need in order to effectively network and interview.
"The program has a lot of variety, with group events as well as one-on-one mentoring," Rachel says. "We have structure when they are here, but we also let them tell us what they want to learn about."
"All the different sub disciplines coexist here—not just finance and investments. We want to help them build their knowledge of the industry and decide on a track they could take in their careers," says Ming.
As a native of China who received her MBA in the Tippie College of Business, Ming became active in international student mentoring in 2012. She serves on the steering committee and helps place international students at AEGON. She was more than happy to be one of the four mentors this year—two from insurance and two from investments.
"Many international students like to hear from someone who also went to a foreign college in a program like the Vaughan Institute and found a job in a field that was new to them. It's nice to share my experience with these students," says Ming.
These mentors see the students move from just studying to studying with a purpose.
"They are more motivated when they see their industry's application side," Ming says. "We show them how knowledge will be applied in the real word. Application is the key word."
Dave couldn't be happier to involve more AEGON managers in this program. He appreciates the awareness it brings to industry careers, and the fresh outlook students bring into the company always impresses him.
"Mentoring is good for the community and the students. It's a great experience and development opportunity for mentors as well," says Dave. "The fresh outlook, new skills, and naïve but relevant questions they ask really infuse energy into a group. We've received more than our share out of these partnerships."