Tiger Ties mentorship program taps into Clemson’s No. 1 alumni network
Mike Coiley ’86 believes in the power of networking. He’s seen the benefits of relationship building firsthand – as an undergraduate interacting with Clemson professors and throughout his 30 years in financial management. When he heard about Tiger Ties, a mentorship program that pairs College of Business and Behavioral Science graduates with students, Coiley knew he could make a difference. Through Tiger Ties, New Jersey-based Coiley is giving back to his alma mater, in a vastly different way than his previous involvement as a donor and sports fan.
For the past two years, Coiley has worked one-on-one with Vanessa Guest, a sophomore business management major from Moore, SC. The two were matched up after Guest filled out a Tiger Ties application online as a freshman. They communicate by phone, via email and in person when Coiley travels to South Carolina for Clemson events. Guest said she has gained invaluable career insights from their many conversations. “Mike has given me great advice about decisions to make in the future. He’s helped edit my resume and taught me so much about networking, a skill I wanted to improve,” she said.
As managing director at CIT Healthcare, Coiley travels frequently. While in South Carolina, he checks in with his mentee and the pair attends Tiger Ties receptions together. “It’s hard for young people to initiate a discussion in a business setting,” Coiley explained. “Tiger Ties events lessen the intimidation factor. The crowd is receptive to networking which allows students to test their interpersonal skills,” he said.
Guest said having Coiley nearby gives her confidence to “work the room.” He has given her tips about approaching people and finding common ground. She’s learned to engage and disengage in a polite way. “If we exchange business cards, I know how important it is to keep the lines of communication open,” Guest explains. “You never know when that person might help you in the future.”
Coiley compares his relationship with Guest to his connection with colleagues. “I’ve worked with lots of folks over the years, and I’m always happy when they reach out to me as a sounding board. Many people helped build my career and now I’m paying it forward,” he said. With Guest, he leverages his knowledge and his network. “Vanessa asks great questions. I may not always know the answer but I can connect her with someone who will,” he said.
According to Renée Hebert, director of the College’s Office of Student Enrichment, the Tiger Ties program continues to grow, now boasting more than 500 mentors and mentees. “We have an outstanding alumni network at Clemson. In fact, Princeton Review ranks Clemson’s alumni network No. 1 in the nation among Best Value schools. I’ve been impressed by the number of graduates who’ve stepped up to mentor our students. It’s important to mention that geography makes no difference — no matter where alumni live, we can use their help.”
Kimairis Toogood ’03 mentors two students from her home in Abuja, Nigeria. Despite the five-hour time difference, Toogood, who holds a Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution and serves as peacebuilding advisor to the British Council’s Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, never misses a beat. She’s up late at night responding to emails and Skyping with Susannah Haisley ’16 and Ashley Rodgers ’15.
Toogood’s career path in international relations has given her a unique perspective that she wants to share with Clemson students. Tiger Ties provides the perfect forum. In addition to their similar interests in political science and travel, Haisley said Toogood played a key role in helping her acclimate to Clemson after she transferred as a junior from the University of Richmond.
Just as Toogood considered law school after college, Haisley is also grappling with the idea of law as a career. Though she still plans to take the LSATs, Haisley is now exploring other alternatives, options she wouldn’t have known about if not for her blossoming relationship with Toogood. “Kim has been a great role model for me,” Haisley said. “I’ve never met anyone like her – she’s accomplished and inspirational and motivates me to do more with my life.”
Haisley has secured an internship with RepDevGlobal, a non-profit organization that Toogood established dedicated to teaching minority youth about global issues while encouraging involvement in international relations, both academically and as a future career. This summer, Haisley will perform administrative functions remotely. She hopes to work onsite in Washington, DC, occasionally this fall.
While Toogood says her experience with Haisley has elements of life coaching, the interaction she shares with Rodgers is much more practical. An English major who added marketing to her Clemson degree, Rodgers joined Tiger Ties to become more immersed in the College of Business and Behavioral Science. As luck would have it, she was paired with Toogood, who also hails from DC, where Rodgers plans to relocate after graduation. “Ashley is very career-focused,” explained Toogood. “We talk about the DC area — places to live and things to do — and discuss the best ways for her to market herself and apply for jobs.”
While some Tiger Ties pairs have immediate goals, others join the program to experience long-term learning over several years. Peter Murphy ’18 applied for Tiger Ties soon after arriving on the Clemson campus as a freshman. The Littleton, MA, resident said it was difficult adjusting to life far from home. Tiger Ties, and his friendship with mentor Scott Frierson ’85, made the transition easier.
Executive vice president for CresCom Bank in Greenville, Frierson has been part of Tiger Ties for three years. “The program has helped me grow and develop alongside my mentees. With Peter, we have the chance to develop a strong bond over the next four years. He’s a bright young man with a great plan for the future. My role is to be an advisor, a resource to help that plan along,” said Frierson.
During their monthly meetings, Frierson and Murphy discuss everything from course selections to resume building, often sliding off-topic to debate the latest Clemson sports team. “I told Peter early on to think of our meetings as conversations, not interviews. The informal and relaxed interaction works well for us,” said Frierson whose son is a Clemson junior.
As the summer approaches, Murphy feels more focused about his next three years at Clemson, thanks in part to his Tiger Ties mentor. The program has allowed him to broaden his outlook on life. “Peter and I talk about purpose and passion,” said Frierson. “I encourage him to follow his heart and not just go through the motions. Diversify and be well-rounded: study abroad, apply for internships. The college experience involves much more than just the classroom.”