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Collin Nelson with Scott Breidigan
3/31/2022

Peer mentorship program creates connections in industrial engineering

Written By: Tom Ziemer

As a first-year industrial engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tess Vasilakos got an early lesson in the value of having an older student as a mentor. Not only did then-senior Felix Lichter (BSIE ’20) answer her questions about courses and faculty members and encourage her to get involved with the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IISE) student organization—he even helped her make sense of the dizzying off-campus housing rental race.

In summer 2022, Vasilakos will intern at Baker Tilly in Chicago, in part because of some helpful information from Lichter, who’s a consultant at the firm.

Vasilakos, now a junior, is paying that mentorship forward through ISyE Connections, a program that connects younger students with older ones who can lend their perspectives on coursework, internships, student organizations and life outside of class.

Recent graduate Sofia Noejovich (BSIE ’21), now an associate consultant at Microsoft, started ISyE Connections in summer 2020, drawing inspiration from her own experiences learning from mentors like PhD student Rachel Rutkowski (BSIE ’18, MSIE ’20).

“One thing I learned from engineering school that I know this program reflects is that we all accomplish more when we work together,” says Noejovich, who also saw a particularly urgent need for peer connections amid the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think we can always benefit from expanding our networks, getting different ideas and also feedback about what it is that we’re doing and what our goals are.”

Mentors and mentees sign up through an online form (those interested can fill it out here). They’re matched based on their focus area within the industrial engineering major—engineering analytics and operations research; healthcare systems engineering; human factors and ergonomics; or manufacturing and supply chain management—as well as career ambitions, interest in research and more.

“I think just having someone you feel comfortable asking questions to is a really big thing,” says program coordinator Molly Hart, a senior industrial engineering major and one of the board members of the IISE student club.

Vasilakos hopes more students follow her lead and take advantage of mentors like Lichter who are eager to help. The two are still in touch, trading periodic texts.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” she says. “You can get as much as you want out of it.”


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