Posts By :

Lisa Patterson '98

A PLU alum and a PLU student chat and laugh at an event
LuteLink 1024 404 Lisa Patterson '98


As students grapple with what a post-PLU life looks like in the wake of a global pandemic, economic instability and social change, PLU alumni are poised to help.

Through the new LuteLink platform, PLU students can instantly connect with PLU alumni for networking, informational interviews, resume reviews, mentorship, job shadowing, internship advice and more. Alumni can search for fellow alumni in a geographic region, industry or interest area.

LuteLink began in fall 2019 and there are over 1,200 Lutes registered and growing.

“LuteLink is an amazing resource for students and alumni to expand their network and build mentor-focused communities,” said Kevin Andrew, co-director of Alumni and Student Connections (ASC). “The alumni who are registered in LuteLink are people that truly want to help students think about their future and be resources for realizing that future.”

Student Harleen Kaur is a business administration major with a concentration in marketing and management. As part of her Behavior in Organization class, she used LuteLink and connected to Mark Foege, ’86 ’99, who is principal/marketing and growth strategy advisor of the Colvos Group.

“I would tell other students to utilize this because we all know what we are passionate about, but we’re not exactly sure what our career path will be. By utilizing LuteLink, it helps you connect with and learn from people who are in the career path you want to go into,” Kaur said.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit and PLU students had to transition to online learning, Foege reached out to Kaur. He wanted to see how she was doing in this unprecedented time and offer additional support.

Before LuteLink, there wasn’t a simple way for students to connect to alumni on their own, said Jessica Pagel, ’08, co-director of ASC.

“LuteLink helps open up a world of possibilities and connections to our students who might not have any of those connections through their own personal networks,” she said. “Being a first-generation college student myself, I think especially of the growing population of first-generation students at PLU and how beneficial this expanded network can be.”

The full impact of COVID-19 on employment is still unknown. But, in times when students are reporting rescinded job offers and cancelled internships, making these types of connections becomes even more important.

“Alumni offering support to students is one of the most direct ways to make a difference,” said Andrew. “Whether it’s sharing career advice, offering a recommendation or checking in with a student, these simple actions can open doors to the future for PLU students.”


Pacific Lutheran University’s first-ever J-Term Job Shadow Program launched in January 2020. And thanks to LuteLink, students were perfectly matched with PLU alumni who hosted them. The new pilot program was announced via email last fall to undergraduates and more than 100 expressed interest, filling out a questionnaire and sharing their career goals and interests.

Forty students participated in the inaugural event at a wide variety of employers, including Starbucks, Amazon, Kaiser Permanente, the state Department of Ecology, Seattle Pro Musica, the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma and more.

Stephanie Valenti ’23 was one of three students who visited Tacoma-based VSG Marketing. That experience sparked a conversation with her academic adviser and inspired a new goal to minor in studio art.

The second iteration of the J-Term Job Shadow Program will be announced this fall. Students can schedule alumni job shadows throughout the year using LuteLink.

Tim Graciano '05
Economics Mentorship Program 1024 504 Lisa Patterson '98

Economics Mentorship Program

The Department of Economics, with support from PLU Alumni & Student Connections, is helping students consider how their studies can be applied to real-life career paths with a program launched about two years ago. It matches economics students with mentors who are PLU economics alumni.

“We have mentors that are CEOs, senior VPs of major companies,” said Professor and Chair of Economics Karen Travis. “Students would rarely have the opportunity to find such accomplished people through their typical networking. The quality of these alumni is phenomenal.”

Chloe Wilhelm ’20, a double major in economics and political science, was matched with Tim Graciano ’05, a senior manager at Amazon.

“I was a little intimidated at first,” said Wilhelm. “I was a little shocked that I was able to get paired up with someone like that, but as soon as we started talking, he was just so easy to talk to and I was really able to connect with him.”

They talked. And talked some more about economics, PLU, and what comes next.

“Some of the things I challenged Chloe with were to think really critically about the different paths she wanted to pursue,” Graciano said. “The great thing about economics is that it opened up a lot of doors. I challenged her to think about the right balance between her interests and passions and what meaningful work for her would look like.”

Madison Salisbury ’21 is entering her fourth year at PLU and is double majoring in economics and business. She heard about the mentorship program through Travis and the Economics Club. She was paired with Molly (Banks) Kennedy ’03, marketing manager at Zillow Group.

She shadowed Kennedy for a day at Zillow headquarters in Seattle.

“The thing that was most beneficial throughout this mentorship process is the ability to have Molly as a resource,” Salisbury said. “Before Molly was my mentor, I had no idea what a career in marketing could look like. Molly helped me understand the different jobs I could have within marketing. She also gave me a better understanding on how the marketing industry works.”

Graciano challenged Wilhelm to “dig deep” and find a career path to complement her skills and fire her up. He helped her apply for an internship at the Washington, D.C., bureau of The New York Times, and she nailed it.

“There is kind of a gap, I think, between what people are doing in school and how they want to apply their degree once they get out into the workforce,” Wilhelm said. “And for me, this program completely closed that gap.”

The pair even did a mock interview before Wilhelm’s real phone interview. “I felt way more prepared going into that interview,” Wilhelm said.

So far, about 20 Economics students have been matched with mentors, according to Travis.

“The students answer a short survey about interests and then I do the matching with staff from Office of Alumni & Student Connections,” she said. “We sent a survey out to alumni to gather names of those interested.”

Last year, the program attracted more mentor volunteers than students. But that could change as students begin to hear about the value of mentorships from students who have benefitted from the career relationships.

“This mentorship has helped me improve my networking skills and has helped me get out of my comfort zone,” Salisbury said. “I have a better understanding of what I want to do after I graduate. Being able to connect with Molly has been a real value and I am very thankful she took time out of her busy schedule to meet with me.”

Creative Director Simon Sung and his current and former design interns Elexia Johnson '18, Colton Walter '19, and Paulo Chikoti-Bandua '20
Mentorship by Design 1024 504 Lisa Patterson '98

Mentorship by Design

When Elexia Johnson ’18 cracked open her design portfolio, she was aiming for an internship as a designer on PLU’s Marketing & Communications (MarCom) team.

She didn’t expect the reaction she received from Executive Creative Director Simon Sung.

“When I first saw her portfolio, um, it wasn’t very good. It was bordering on really bad and I told her it was really bad,” said Sung.

But the interview wasn’t over quite yet.

“I asked her, ‘Do you have anything you can show me which you really like?’ and she showed me these illustrations she had done in her spare time — and they were beautiful.”

Sung spotted Johnson’s raw talent. All she needed was someone to help her realize her own potential.

Sung asked how she drew the illustrations.

“She said, ‘I listen to music,’ ” Sung recalled. “So, I said, ‘Lexi, if I hire you, can you find that music? Because that’s what I want.’”

The design team for PLU’s Marketing and Communications department includes Sung, two full-time designers, and usually one intern. The intern is part of the team that’s responsible for a lot of work — everything from university print publications like ResoLute to helping create a dynamic web presence. Sung also oversees the PLU Impact staff, a group of 10-12 students who create school posters, prints, and design projects on campus and off.

Usually Sung takes on a different intern each year. Over the years, there have been more than a dozen. But Johnson returned to the post three times.

“Yes, I hold the record and I’m proud of it,” she said. “I like to think it was my snickerdoodle muffins that convinced them to let me keep coming back. But in all honesty, it was definitely the team. Everyone there is so knowledgeable. I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible to become a great designer/artist.”

Today Johnson, who majored in communications studies with a minor in business marketing, applies the skills she learned in the classroom and at the elbow of Sung and his team to her work as a product designer at Knack Collective, a Seattle marketing agency.

Johnson said the internship taught her not only about the creative process and design, but also about life and what it’s like to work under a good leader.

“At PLU I was going through a really hard time, just dealing with a lot,” she recalled. “Having that office be my comfort zone honestly kept me at PLU. The field trip, lunch outings, TV show debates, and diversity was all just great. I honestly haven’t experienced anything like it since I’ve graduated.”

Sung believes mentorships happen effortlessly at PLU because the school is full of high achievers like Johnson who embrace learning. It’s one of his favorite things about his job.

“It goes beyond just learning about the student,” Sung said. “It’s being invited to have dinner with a family. Being able to talk to a mom or an aunt. That’s power. That’s beautiful. That’s why you keep living. That’s what it is about. You want to see these people succeed.”

Colton Walter ’19 will never forget his first day as a graphic design intern and the massive assignment dropped on his desk. Sung wanted him to design wraps for the PLU vans. He likes throwing interns straight into the fire to challenge them.

Walter, who studied strategic communications and business marketing, took a deep breath and got to work. The project took time to come to fruition after a series of meetings and revisions. It taught him patience and how the real world works with meetings and process.

“The vans were a great start and a great metaphor for my whole time at PLU of taking on a project that I wasn’t familiar with, but learning a lot in the process,” said Walter. “Seeing my work out there in the real world gave me a good feeling about it.”

Walter met Sung through another PLU mentor, Professor Emerita of Communications Joanne Lisosky.

“I’m really grateful that I was able to get an internship like this at PLU and I think it really was able to show me pathways I didn’t know existed,” Walter said. “I think it enabled me to tap into a creative side and look at different sources of inspiration.”

Now Walter applies many of the skills he learned at PLU in his job at the Washington Shoe Company in Kent, where he helps with branding, design, marketing, and more.

Graduate student Paulo Chikoti-Bandua ‘21 is the newest intern with the MarCom design team. He was born and raised in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and spent time in Washington, D.C., and Tulsa, OK before moving to Tacoma to study marketing analytics.

“The people at MarCom have been nothing short of welcoming and generous. Having only moved here to Tacoma in August 2019 I have been made to feel as though I’ve always been part of the team,” Chikoti-Bandua said. “Additionally, MarCom is an incubator of creativity and humor, which together help to bring the best ideas to life.”

Sung is now one of his mentors, too.

“Simon makes time for short weekly one-on-one chats, which is pretty awesome given the many things he has going on in his position,” Chikoti-Bandua said. “We talk about a variety of things related to design, TV shows, goals and life,” he said. “As a designer he constantly wants to remain in touch with what’s new and looks to incorporate new technologies into our workflow. This vigor for self-development is contagious and positively affects those on his team.”

Connecting with students is Sung’s superpower. When COVID-19 struck and postponed May graduation, he stepped up with faculty members and volunteered to call students to congratulate them personally on behalf of PLU.

For a guy with a bubbly personality who makes conversation seem easy, his superpower almost failed him. Sung felt pangs of anxiety making calls.

“I was so nervous to cold-call four students I knew nothing about,” he said. “And I thought about it — ‘Why? Why do I struggle?’ And I think it kind of goes back in line with my belief in terms of how staff, or just how people should interact with people. You should know them. It should be authentic.”

The MarCom design internship has Chikoti-Bandua thinking about a career in design.

“Design is the way of the future for me,” he said. “I’ve previously thought of design as something only limited to commercial applications.”

But he now believes designers across the world will play a major role in the redesign of many of macro and micro interactions in global healthcare, government, big data, and the ways in which the private sector operates.

“That’s something that I want to be a part of,” he said.

Johnson plans to attend graduate school at the University of Roehampton in London to earn her MBA.

“PLU graduates are going to be change-makers. They are going to change this world in a great, positive way. And if you can help them in some small, tiny fashion, then, hey — do it!”

“Simon is an amazing leader and the best boss I’ve ever had,” she said. “He truly showed me what it means to be a leader, as well as how important it is to empower your teammates for a project’s success. He’s just an all-around great example of what leadership in the creative industry looks like.”

“I always appreciated that he challenged me to be better, and saw things in me that I couldn’t see in myself.” And today, her impressive portfolio is something she’s proud to open.

Once that mentor and mentee connection is made, it’s oftentimes lasting.

Even though she graduated, Johnson and Sung stay in touch.

That’s just how Sung — a leader who doesn’t mince words and gives students “tough love” to help them grow — likes it.

“PLU graduates are going to be change-makers. They are going to change this world in a great, positive way,” Sung said. “And if you can help them in some small, tiny fashion, then, hey — do it!”

Steve Smith, '81 and MAE '88
The Learning Curve 1024 504 Lisa Patterson '98

The Learning Curve

Steve Smith, ’81 and MAE ’88, has been on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.

In both his professional life and through his volunteer work as a member of Rotary Club of Tacoma, he encourages others to give their time and offer their wisdom.

Smith is the executive director of the Black Education Strategy Roundtable in Federal Way. The organization’s mission is to make systemic change to help improve the outcomes for Black students across the state, starting with early education. The Roundtable wants students to not only receive a diploma, but to be prepared for post-secondary education or whatever life paths they choose.

As a Rotary member, Smith recruits business professionals to be matched with elementary school kids who need a reading buddy. Relationships can span a school year — and sometimes three.

Smith has learned a lot through his experiences. Here are some mentoring tips he shared during a recent conversation with ResoLute:


Mentors Do Not Have to Have All the Answers

Smith once was a mentor to a kid who was struggling in college with “barely a nickel to his name.” Later, the student started software companies and suddenly was making a lot of money. Smith didn’t really understand that business, but the mentorship continued as they discussed big-picture life issues, like friendship, business ethics, and more.


Be Patient and Present

Sure, the reading program helps kids get caught up to their age-appropriate reading level. But, perhaps more important, it gives students adults who are committed to their success and invested in it. Smith knows top-level executives who block out 30 minutes of reading buddy time on their packed calendars. Their time commitment is ironclad.


Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree

Smith has conducted healthy arguments with his mentees because he doesn’t just tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes he tells them what he thinks they need to hear. He never tells them what to do. But he might introduce pathways that a mentee may have overlooked.


The More Mentors, The Better

He tells those just starting out in the career world to connect with people they look up to — or are where they’d like to see themselves some day.


What if a mentorship isn't working?

Sometimes mentorships run their course. Sometimes they just never really click. If this is the case it is good to identify the issue and help create a different match.

Associate Professor of English Jason Skipper at King's books, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Tacoma. (Photo: PLU/John Froschauer)
Becoming a Writer 1024 504 Lisa Patterson '98

Becoming a Writer

Jason Skipper was a first-generation college student whose picture of college life was a snapshot of what he saw in movies – all party and little work, characters that crammed an all-nighter and aced the big tests.

“I mainly went to college to form a band, drop out of school, and go on the road with the intent to go back to school later to study filmmaking,” Skipper said. “I had no clue what it meant to be a college student.”

Oh, how things have changed.

Now the PLU professor of English with a doctorate and a published novel can add the university’s Faculty Excellence Award in Mentoring to his list of accomplishments.

“Most of the advice I pass along to students is knowledge I’ve gained from a lifetime of saying dumb things at inappropriate times, not reading directions closely, and picking complicated paths out of curiosity when, in the long run, the simple path would have saved time,” Skipper said. “My thinking is, ‘If someone can benefit from my milieu of mistakes, that’s a win-lose that makes my loss feel worthwhile.’”

The university sponsors Faculty Excellence Awards to recognize outstanding accomplishments in five areas of work: teaching, advising, mentoring, research and service. The recipients are nominated and selected by their peers.

The Faculty Excellence Award in Mentoring was established by a gift from the late Tom Carlson, professor of biology, and Honors Professor Emeritus of Biology Art Gee who excelled as a mentor to colleagues and students.

Annalise Campbell ’17 was one of Skipper’s students, and their mentor relationship helped lead her to her career.

“Mentors are important because they are the people that you often don’t know that you need until you have their help,” said Campbell, who teaches English at Thomas Jefferson High School in Auburn. “Dr. Skipper is not only a wonderful mentor, but also a personal hero of mine. (He) gave me the right amount of push I needed to fully discover my passion not only for writing, but for teaching the craft.”

Courtney Gould ’16, was a freshman when she first took one of Skipper’s classes. She recalled coming into it confident that she was a “great writer” already. His critiques threw her at first.

“Many of us writers resist instruction at first. We really want to believe we’re perfect at what we do,” Gould said. “Even though many of us might go through an initial period of resentment, Professor Skipper’s patience and perseverance make him an excellent mentor and ally. Even when he critiqued me, I knew he cared about my work, and that faith has stuck with me ever since.”

Skipper agrees that teaching writing comes with unique challenges and approaches.

“The first few days of class we work to debunk the ignorant notion that anyone capable of writing a sentence can just as easily write a story that an audience would want to read,” he said. “We also talk about what it means to be a writer.”

“Most of the advice I pass along to students is knowledge I’ve gained from a lifetime of saying dumb things at inappropriate times, not reading directions closely, and picking complicated paths out of curiosity when, in the long run, the simple path would have saved time.”

Skipper works on helping students develop self-reflection within their communication — because if they can develop those skills, it can be applied to life regardless of whether they choose a writing career.

Skipper shows students how to “step back from their own work, consider it critically with humility and compassion, then proceed to revise — even if that means taking the whole thing apart and rebuilding it to make it work. These aren’t just skills for writing an engaging, meaningful story; these are practices for living an engaged and meaningful life.”

Students like Gould arrive in his classes with the goal of becoming a writer.

“There are students who want nothing more than to be a writer, because their lives were transformed by books and they want to do the same for others,” he said. “Often these students want more than anything to talk about those books, and they’re excited to talk to someone who understands this desire to tell stories.”

He often scans his “mental bookshelf” and recommends things they may not have read.

Skipper believes the best mentors are those who don’t even know they are doing it.

“The instructors at PLU are generally quite happy to speak about their area of expertise with students outside of class,” he said. “If a student has an inkling of curiosity about an area of study, they should seek out instructors in that area for a conversation. It’s also good for students to familiarize themselves with that instructor’s scholarship. It can make a tremendous difference to know what the scholar you may be working alongside has contributed to the community you’re considering joining.”

Gould is grateful to have crossed paths with Skipper at PLU. She’s about to join his community as a published author of “The Dead and the Dark,” a supernatural thriller.

She recalls his advice to, “write the story we knew we could write, because specificity is key.”

“I used that feedback when writing “The Dead and the Dark,” and I do believe it’s that advice that made the book publication-ready,” Gould said.