The transformative alum–student bond
An environmental studies student at Mount Holyoke and an alum working for the World Wide Fund for Nature make a life-changing connection.
Alumna mentorship has been an important part of Emily Chang ’18’s experience from her first year at Mount Holyoke College.
She met her mentor, Yiting Wang ’11, at an event at the College’s Career Development Center when she was a first-year student. They remained in touch, sharing a mutual passion for international environmental policy and climate justice work.
Two years later, Wang offered Chang an internship at the World Wide Fund for Nature, known in the United States as the World Wildlife Fund, at its offices in Beijing, China.
Chang, an environmental studies major and English minor, lit up as she described her first meeting with Wang.
“Yiting had just finished her master’s degree and I signed up for her session because I was interested in her career path,” Chang said. “We had a really good conversation about environmental studies at Mount Holyoke and how important it was for Chinese students to go into environmental policy. I asked for her email so I could send a thank you. And she gave it to me!”
One of the significant benefits of attending Mount Holyoke are the deeply loyal alums — and the strong connections students are able to make with them, especially when they reach out the way Chang did. As is the case with Chang and Wang, the wide variety of interests of both groups make good matches possible, even easy.
Chang is Chinese American; Wang was a student from China who also majored in environmental studies. Both worked for the College’s Miller Worley Center for the Environment as fellows. Chang has been deeply involved with the Climate Justice Coalition, which Wang has supported as an alum.
As a student, Wang had also been the beneficiary of the alum network. An alum helped her find a summer internship at the Centre for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi, India.
After she completed a master’s degree in environmental science from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Wang began working at the World Wide Fund for Nature in China, and she reached out to the College immediately.
“As soon as I had the capacity to bring on interns, the first thing I did was to email Catherine Corson,” Wang said. She knew that Corson, the Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Miller Worley Center, was familiar with environmental studies alums and students and would be well-positioned to connect the two.
“Environmental studies students and graduates share a passion for sustainability as well as for the College,” she said. “It's a natural fit for them to work together, and mutually beneficial. The student gets great experience and the alum gets help in their work,” said Corson, who is also the Miller Worley Associate Professor of Environmental Studies.
“I wanted to give back to my alma mater,” Wang said. “Also, knowing how qualified the students are, I was more than thrilled to have their help in the summer.”
Wang offered two Mount Holyoke students internships that summer: Chang and Anran Wang ’19. They were able to participate in these international opportunities through Mount Holyoke’s Lynk Initiative, which guarantees students funding for internships and research.
Familiar with the College’s interdisciplinary environmental studies curriculum, Wang was able to tailor the internships to fit the students’ academic interests. She also made herself available as a resource.
“We got lunch together a lot,” Chang said. “We had very honest discussions about activism, political ecology and non-governmental organizations. She introduced us to her colleagues and others in the city working on the environment, and helped us connect with specific people.”
Their mentor relationship didn’t end in September.
“I asked Yiting if I could continue working with her after the summer ended,” Chang said. Chang worked remotely with Wang to prepare materials for an important upcoming southeast Asian climate policy meeting. When Wang invited her student to a conference at Columbia University, Chang applied for and received Miller Worley Center grant-funding to attend.
“Being immersed in that environment and seeing how work gets done was fascinating,” Chang said. “Yiting helped me make connections between the dialogues about colonialism we have on campus and the conversations I was part of at the conference. I could see that our discussions at Mount Holyoke are relevant to people’s daily lives.”
Wang is eager to continue providing career opportunities for Mount Holyoke students, she said, a desire that stems from her own experience.
“When I arrived at Mount Holyoke as an international student with few connections in a new country, the alum network opened its arms to me,” she said. “Whether it was hosting me while I attended conferences or meeting me for informational interviews, alums were always there. I’m honored to be on the other side of the mentorship relationship now.”
She’s inspired Chang to pass it forward, as well.
“I will absolutely offer mentorship opportunities for students as an alum,” Chang said. “Mentoring is a dynamic and reciprocal relationship that can be transformative.”