Economics Mentor Program Helps Students Clarify Goals

2013 Mentorship Orientation 011 Economics alumnus Jeff Roe, left, with senior Reid Johnsen

Senior Reid Johnsen gave up a promising career as a marine engineer in Singapore to study economics, with the goal of discovering a more fulfilling profession. Just what exactly that profession might be, however, was a bit of a mystery. That is, until the stars aligned for him when he was selected to participate in the department's undergraduate mentorship program, and not long after commencing research on his thesis with assistant professor Hendrik Wolff.

Reid will start his graduate studies in economics at the University of California at Berkeley this fall, focusing on the economics of energy in the agricultural and resource economics program. A double major in economics (honors) and math with a minor in statistics, Reid maintains a 3.86 GPA while participating in a number of extracurricular activities. A fitting apogee to Reid's many achievements, acceptance into a top-tier graduate school nonetheless included a lot of "awkward and unpleasant" practice developing the soft skills of successful relationship-building along the way. 

Enter alumnus Jeff Roe, '88, President of Premera Blue Cross and Reid's mentor. Volunteering their time and expertise, undergraduate mentors assist students in the transition from academic to professional life, offering advice, connections, and real-world opportunities. Among the many things Reid has learned from Jeff this year, he cites the advice to "put himself in situations that are uncomfortable" and learn from the resultant mistakes, and to "take note of all the mentors in [my] life, not limiting myself to just one role model." This advice served Reid well in approaching faculty, such as Dr. Wolff, with whom he wanted to develop a relationship and whose advising ultimately helped Reid with his successful graduate application.

And it's not just students who benefit from the relationships built here: “Through the mentorship program, I've met many smart, capable and driven UW economics students," Roe says. "All have been impressive, and with his experience and intellect, Reid is at the top of the class.” A busy executive and highly sought-after speaker, Roe finds the time to mentor an economics undergraduate each year. Interacting with students often prompts professionals who have been away from the classroom for some years to reflect on their own careers and take stock of their accomplishments. Through the mentoring process, mentors come to realize how much they have learned and how much they have to offer college students.

Alumni and friends interested in volunteering with the economics mentorship program are encouraged to learn more and contact the department or any of our current mentors with questions.