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Mentorship Circles: an innovative way to reinvigorate virtual networking

February 10, 2021
By Chris Wise, Graduate Recruitment & Marketing Associate

Amongst all the disruption resulting from and adaptations in response to the pandemic, COVID-19 has also changed our way of networking, both academically and professionally.  We now face greater challenges to effectively connecting and engaging at networking events. Now, students are, perhaps more than ever, looking to take advantage of the learning and networking opportunities provided through their university programs in order to find new ways to navigate the uncertainties in the job market when they graduate.

Within this current context, it is fair to say that we have all been getting (more) used to Zoom webinars and virtual events and, as a consequence, many virtual formats may have become somewhat predictable. However, the support team for the John Molson MBA in Investment Management program, offered by the Goodman Institute of Investment Management, has found an innovative way to foster more engaging and interactive networking events for its students.

Mentorship Circles at the Goodman Institute of Investment Management

Launched last summer, Mentorship Circles at the Goodman Institute of Investment Management allow small groups of MBA in Investment Management students to connect virtually with prominent alumni of Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business and other industry leaders.

“Our alumni speakers share their career path and leadership lessons, as well as their experience helping their companies navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Our students have an opportunity to ask questions and seek career advice.” Aisha Topsakal, Associate Director at the Goodman Institute of Investment Management.

Mentorship Circles are weekday lunchtime or evening events designed to be exclusive for a select group of students who must vie for the privilege of participating in these intimate meetings with alumni. Participants get the opportunity to ask questions or seek advice from someone who has been in their shoes.

Since COVID 19, it has been difficult to replace in-person connection; thus, small groups help to facilitate meaningful connections between current students and guest speakers. Invitations for upcoming events are sent to the class with information on the featured guest, but only offer a limited number of spaces reserved on a first come, first served basis. Many students reply within 20 minutes of the invitation being sent!

Chosen students are encouraged to conduct research on the guest prior to the meeting in order to come prepared with a few questions and actively engage in the meeting. Not only may the guest call on more quiet students to participate, but a moderator from the program also ensures that all members of the small groups participate in the discussion.

Likewise, the guest speaker is given the opportunity to consult the LinkedIn profiles of the students prior to the meeting, which the guest can then use to ask specific questions to each student. Aside from an introduction of the guest at the beginning of the meeting by the moderator, the conversation is allowed to flow freely. The smaller group size and the unstructured setting also allows the guest to be more honest and spontaneous when compared to more common webinars structured around a PowerPoint presentation.

Guest alumni also benefit from the format

Many program alumni have been keen to participate in the networking session and give positive feedback on the initiative once they have; their willingness and generosity to get involved shows how close-knit the John Molson community can be.

Annamaria Testani, BComm 93, EMBA 00, was keen to give back to her alma mater and, after being nominated in 2019 to Concordia’s 50 Under 50 Shaping Business (in the Finance and Asset Management category), she was invited to share her experience with John Molson graduate students. The Senior Vice-President for National Sales at National Bank Investments, Annamaria has been a coach at the bank and, having many areas of expertise, she is willing to get involved in a variety of ways to help up and coming John Molson graduate students.

“You got to invest the time and give a little bit back and, for me, this is one way of doing it. And it’s fun!

Annamaria offered to be a part of the Mentorship Circles through one-on-one mentoring sessions with a group of six MBA in Investment Management students. She believes that mistakes are “coachable moments” and was not afraid to push and inspire her mentees: “Not only did I help them with their CV, told them to apply to certain jobs, what to say and what not to say, but it was surely the most radically-candid conversation they’ll ever get.”

A testament to her generosity, Annamaria offered follow-up mentorship sessions, but only to those students who were working hard to earn the opportunity. “I wanted to make sure that they were fighting for it, that they wanted it more than anybody else. I told the students, ‘You’re getting in, but you’re not staying in. I will grant you the first interview; the second you’ll have to earn and do the homework, whatever that may be. And once the call is done, the good belongs to you; I won’t have any claim to it.”

Annamaria sees the Mentorship Circles as a great way for students to anticipate and prepare for their post-graduation careers. “If you prepare, your leadership will shine through. As a mentor, I am only the lighthouse; I will shed light on where you want to go. In your life, you’ll hit a fork in the road, so you need to prepare for it and develop the thought process that will help you to pick the right side.”

Strengthening the John Molson community

The idea of Mentorship Circles was borne out of continuous efforts by the program team to improve their offer to students, to better engage with them, and to create more meaningful opportunities to interact with successful alumni and business leaders.  This is particularly important while Concordia’s programs are being delivered remotely for this academic year. The events not only help to strengthen the community of students and alumni, but also offer important opportunities for current students to network with established professionals in their field in interest. 

Students in the John Molson MBA in Investment Management program get to earn an MBA while specializing in finance and pursuing the CFA charter, however some may develop interests outside of finance and leverage the MBA component of their degree to forge a new path in another field.  As such, although most guest mentors for Mentorship Circles will come from the world of finance, several will also come from different areas of business to ensure that Goodman students are exposed to a wider variety of perspectives and career choices. “But how cool is that? You get all this first-hand experience [from the various Mentorship Circle mentors] and you’re not even in the workforce yet!” Testani exclaims. “Concordia should do more of this type of initiative; it absolutely enriches the program.”

In addition to Annamaria’s involvement, past Mentorship Circle events have featured an equally impressive list of alumni, including: Christine Filgiano, Joseph Gallucci, Chris Thompson, Gary Berdowski, David Vachon, Vitor Magalhaes Silva, Louis Groleau, Jeffrey Lindell, Dhiraj Shangari, Daniel Schlaepfer, Michael Ayres, and Marlene Osganian.

More recently on February 2nd, a select group of student were able to meet Nadine Renaud-Tinker, the first woman President at RBC Royal Bank’s Quebec Headquarters. Dean Anne-Marie Croteau was on hand to introduce the illustrious guest and Ms. Renaud-Tinker generously elaborated on the importance of diversity in the workplace, as well as on the challenges and opportunities arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, both at RBC and more broadly.

Participating students were provided with information on new opportunities at RBC and on how different positions are being created to respond strategically to the pandemic. Ms. Renaud-Tinker’s main take away message was about the need for graduate students to remain adaptable to the changing business environment and to network as much as possible.

Creating opportunities for students

Remote learning has pushed the program support team to innovate in the ways that it creates opportunities for its students. “As the COVID-19 crisis continues, our students are wrestling with how the current economic uncertainty will impact their career and, after months of lockdown, we are all seeking new ways to connect and build new relationships,” says Tara MacDonald, Program Coordinator at the Goodman Institute of Investment Management.

Successfully landing a job through such effective mentorship and networking opportunities is not only important to students graduating from the program; the program is designed to allow students to work while studying, meaning that MBA in Investment Management students stand to benefit immediately from the fruits of their networking and career-building efforts.

This idea was developed by the team relatively soon after the University’s closure in the Spring. One can only imagine how this idea can be further developed to facilitate and improve engagement between current students and program alumni, and what other innovative and agile initiatives the team will come up with to improve the student experience.


The MBA in Investment Management is a rigorous three-year program that prepares students to pass all three levels of their CFA Charter exams, while earning an internationally recognized John Molson MBA. Offered jointly in Montreal and Toronto, our evening and weekend classes allow students to continue working full time during their studies. Visit the program website to find out more.

You may also be interested in reading a previous blog post by Michael Ayres, mentioned above, about his journey through the program.

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