Like many students, junior men's tennis player Kiril Kirkov found searching for the right internship to be difficult and taxing. Even with a campus career and professional development center that has expertise in resume crafting and job placement at his disposal, Kirkov needed a little something extra. What he found was a voice who had experienced much of the same things, and he found it through the Student-Athlete Alumni Mentoring Program.
The mentoring program was established in the fall and opened to underclassmen in January. The timing was perfect for Kirkov who didn't hesitate signing up. In fact, he was matched with a mentor within a week.
"When I first received the email for the mentorship program, I was very excited and immediately signed up for it," said Kirkov. "I remember that the program had initially only been open to seniors, and I had always wanted to participate as well. The user interface for signing up was very well-designed and I found a match within the three recommended people that the program first gave me."
Kirkov, a mechanical engineering major, was busy trying to decide if continuing his education with a master's program was the next step or if moving on to the professional world should come first.
Among the list of mentors was December 2011 graduate Forrest Grinstead. Like Kirkov, Grinstead was a mechanical engineer who played on the Tartan men's tennis team. The two had an instant connection and communication between the two took off.
Despite being in the working world for fewer than five years, Grinstead felt he had much to give and wanted to support his alma mater and current student-athletes.
"I was helped by a lot of people growing up and that put me in a situation to succeed at Carnegie Mellon," said Grinstead. "If there is anything I can do to help pay that forward by helping the next generation, I feel I have an obligation to do that."
Aside from the similar course of study and affiliation with tennis, Grinstead stood out to Kirkov because of his working location.
"Forrest lives and works in Silicon Valley and that's where I've always wanted to work," said Kirkov, a native of Florida. "First on my list is a good location and I found out Forrest had a similar outlook when he started his career."
Grinstead graduated a semester early and took a co-op term with Marathon Petroleum in Indianapolis rather than traveling or coasting his second semester senior year. Despite enjoying the perks of being in a large company, Grinstead realized it wasn't the right fit.
"I thought there was a chance I might want to go into the energy industry but found it wasn't for me," said Grinstead. "It wasn't as challenging as I would have liked. I felt I could cruise later on in my career when I have a family and kids, but now, in my early 20s, I want to be in a work hard, play hard atmosphere."
That's when he moved to the Bay Area, purely for location. He happened to have family there, including his brother, a fellow mechanical engineer.
"One of the things I talked to Kiril about was networking and just getting your resume in the hands of people who can help," said Grinstead. "By being able to network through my brother and the CMU Alumni Association and just by putting myself out there, I was able to find a job at a small consumer products start up."
Grinstead saw firsthand the benefit of having people who are willing to give you a shot or send your resume to a hiring manager or HR department and it was something that crossed his mind as he signed up to be a mentor.
"It only takes a second for somebody to pass on your information, but it can change your life if you get matched to the right position," said Grinstead.
The 2011 graduate is now employed at Acorn Product Development, a product development consulting firm which offers any and all mechanical engineering work to companies such as Cisco. Acorn was co-founded in the early 90's and came out of the wave of NeXT computer company that was started by Steve Jobs after he left Apple in 1985.
"It's a fantastic place for me as I get to learn from a few decades of experience," said Grinstead. "Now as a mentor, I can apply a few of the things I've learned to help someone else.
"Hopefully I can learn just as much from having a mentee as being a mentor. Because just like when you're trying to explain how something in the classroom works, you really stretch your knowledge of various concepts if you can explain it to someone else."
Through communication with Grinstead, Kirkov has realized staying a fifth year to complete his master's degree is what he wants to do. He'll also get hands-on experience this summer at Magic Leap in Silicon Valley where he'll be part of the mechanical team working on a virtual retinal display that superimposes 3D virtual objects onto real world objects.
"Forrest helped me with everything," said Kirkov. "From the first time we talked I sent him my resume and he revised it and he introduced me to different employers in Silicon Valley. Through Skype sessions he helped me with my interviewing skills and prepared me for finding a job. I am extremely thankful to Forrest for helping me with finding a job and giving me great advice."
"Kiril has put in all the work," said Grinstead. "If he hadn't made the first step and been proactive about seeking out a mentor he might still be looking for an internship. I'm glad things are working out for him."