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HCDE + Microsoft Mentor program: Bridging the gap from academia to industry

October 28, 2019

The HCDE + Microsoft Mentorship Program pairs students with working professionals for a year-long career coaching program.

Full room of students and mentors talking in a room

Mentors and mentees connecting at the inaugural HCDE + Microsoft Mentor program kick-off day in October 2018 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.


The Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and Microsoft are in the second year of a new partnership designed to pair students with a professional mentor to ease the transition from school to the workforce.

HCDE students entering the final year of their degree apply for the mentor program over the summer, and department advisors match roughly 50 students with a mentor at the beginning of the school year. 

Six panelists speaking to a full room of studentsA panelists of professional mentors leading a discussion about UX careers at the mentor program kick-off day in October 2018.

The mentors were recruited by HCDE alumna Gail Thynes (BS '16), who works as a UX Designer on the Microsoft Cloud + AI team. Together with a team of volunteers at Microsoft, Thynes helped launch the program last year to address two scenarios she has witnessed since graduating. The first is the post-graduation shock that many students experience while learning to translate design in school to design in the real world, and the second is the desire to gain more leadership experience that she has heard from other early- and mid-career professionals.

The HCDE and Microsoft mentor-mentee pairs meet monthly throughout the school year to work on the student's short-term career goals and discuss critical on-the-job skills. 

Haley Rohl (MS '19) participated in the inaugural program last year. Rohl, now a UX Designer at Pitchbook, credits her experience in the program with helping land her job. 

"The mentor program was extremely valuable to me," Rohl said. "It gave me a chance to ask specific questions and make inroads with people actually working in the industry."

The logistics of the program takes different forms based on the needs of the mentor-mentee pair. Some mentors provide students with on-the-job shadowing, and others offer advice on job interviews and portfolio preparation. 

When Rohl was actively job searching, her mentor organized members of his team to conduct a mock interview. "Nothing could have helped more than having a full panel of project managers, designers, managers, and researchers all in the room to give feedback on my portfolio and ask me general interview questions," she said. "My mentor was even thoughtful enough to create a diverse environment that would prepare me for a diverse set of interviewers. The next interview I had was the job that I got!"

Five months after graduating from HCDE, Rohl and her mentor are still in touch. "My mentor and I are still in contact, and he has been great not only with technical advice as well as overall career advice—and how to stay sane in this sometimes crazy industry," she said. "Whether its UI advice, career help, or more general design advice, as long as you set goals ahead of time, the support from these high-quality mentors can be critical. I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the program!" 

With Thynes' ongoing support at Microsoft, the second year of the HCDE + Microsoft Mentor Program has even more professional volunteers. A network of Microsoft volunteers now works to organize the program, including training for mentors, events to connect students and mentors, and bringing in new Microsoft teams to the program.