Minnetonka’s VANTAGE Program Making an Impact with Mentorships
A vibrant and well-designed mentorship program is one of several elements spurring the tremendous growth of Minnetonka High School’s VANTAGE program.
How does the VANTAGE program go about sourcing 450 mentors from the Twin Cities business community? By using a very strategic and thoughtful approach that is paying dividends in a big way.
“We are very intentional about pairing mentors with our students, because the real challenge is recruiting the right mentors, so each student ends up with someone who is a great fit,” says Roger Andre, Director of VANTAGE. “We believe strongly in the power of 1:1 relationships. Optimal matching of mentors with our students ensures quicker traction and more meaningful learning for program participants.”
Tyler Kuepper, a recent graduate and former VANTAGE program participant, is quick to agree. “I have an interest in finance and I think that it’s been really cool to have conversations about things going on in the business world with my mentor, Ben Marks. He’s been a great match for me.”
Marks, who is founder and Chief Investment Officer of Marks Group Wealth Management, has found mentoring to be an equally rewarding experience. “First of all, these VANTAGE students are simply great kids. It’s been easier than I thought to develop a relationship with my mentees.”
His experience is not unique, according to VANTAGE Program Coordinator Missy Bemm. “The vast majority of our mentors have a great experience and continue with our program. In fact, 85% of our mentors are returning this year.”
Individuals who agree to serve as mentors are asked to participate in two primary ways. The first is a series of meetings with their mentee. During these one-on-one meetings, a variety of topics are discussed, including time management, stress management, leadership values and transitioning to the professional world.
The second opportunity for mentors is to provide coaching on their mentee’s projects. As a mentee, Kuepper found this to be extremely beneficial. “If I have a question about how to approach a particular data set, I’ll ask my mentor for his take on it,” he said. “When I was a project lead, we had a real challenge with motivation within our group. My mentor helped me with how to tackle that issue. Having access to a seasoned business person, who is willing to share their insights is really valuable.”
In addition to consulting on project work and providing general advice, mentors also serve as great resources during the program’s Human Resources (HR) day. In spring semester, the VANTAGE program dedicates a day to preparing students for the work world. Resumes are reviewed and modified, mock interviews are conducted and students create LinkedIn profiles. All under the watchful eyes of mentors.
The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the mentorship program. There are rewards to those serving as mentors as well.
“The benefit to mentors is a unique perspective,” according to Stephanie Lolich, VANTAGE Business Strategist. “They get fresh ideas from the students they mentor. They find it energizing, because they engage with adult co-workers and clients all day long. As part of our mentor program, they get to hear the unique Gen-Z point-of-view.”
Lolich, who also teaches in the program, credits mentors with elevating the classroom experience. “Our mentors are essential to the learning process. They become a coach as opposed to a teacher. Our projects couldn’t happen without mentors’ input and guidance. It benefits our students tremendously and improves the quality of the product we deliver.”
VANTAGE Director Andre acknowledges that the volunteer network provides the program with a significant boost. “I can’t imagine what we’d do without the countless hours that have been donated to the program,” Andre noted. “We have a great advisory board, filled with community professionals, who are aligned with each of our program’s strands.”
“Our mentors are well-networked and we have an extremely supportive community within Minnetonka High School. In fact, our existing volunteers help to onboard new mentors. They’re recruiting other people as a result of the positive experiences they’ve had with our students.”
Mentor Ben Marks reinforced Andre’s comments. “It’s been a joy to work with these kids. You develop a relationship with them and it ends up being very fulfilling. I’ve stayed in touch with several of my mentees, like Tyler, after they graduate. Often times they will reach out to me when they need help with college projects.”
Marks concluded with the sentiment that “It’s always nice to be a sounding board for them as they think about what’s next on their career journey.”
About Marks Group Wealth Management
Marks Group Wealth Management is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) located in Minnetonka, MN. Our advisors are fiduciaries, always acting in our clients’ best interest. We conduct our own research, build our own portfolios and design and implement strategies based on a client’s specific needs and priorities. Our holistic approach has resulted in Barron’s naming Marks Group as one of the Top Advisors in America for 12 consecutive years*.
VANTAGE is Minnetonka High School’s experiential, project-based learning program. Now in its eighth year, the program features seven focus areas for its 320 students: Business Analytics, Design + Marketing, Digital Journalism, Global Business, Global Sustainability, Health Sciences and User Experience (UX). As part of VANTAGE, students are offered unique opportunities to apply their coursework in real-world settings through experiential learning, including hands-on project-based assignments with local businesses, guest instructions and community mentorships.
*Barron’s Top Financial Advisors (2010-2021) is based on assets under management, revenue produced for the firm, regulatory record, quality of practice and philanthropic work.