Program for student veterans celebrates its first year
(PHOTO: Mike Petschel (left) and Matt Depuy, Boots to Suits graduates)
By Marcia Neville | University Communications
DENVER – During a recent gathering at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, leadership from the University of Colorado Denver, student veterans and business leaders saluted the successful first year of the Boots to Suits mentorship program. Boots to Suits pairs students who are military veterans with career mentors to help them transition smoothly from student life into the workplace.
The growth of the program has been steady. Izzy Abbass, an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm and the current program director of Boots to Suits, described CU Denver as “one of the most veteran friendly campuses” in both Colorado and the nation. He said the program has served 75 student mentees, so far, with more signing on. The majority of the career mentors are members of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, a founding partner of the program.
Comcast is one of the companies closely involved with Boots to Suits. It served as the presenting sponsor for the anniversary salute and two Comcast Mile High Region employees already have served as mentors. Nationally, Comcast recently hired 1,000 veterans in just a year’s time and has now pledged to hire 1,000 more in the next two years.
Attending the event on behalf of the company was Jeff Hamstad, vice president of Human Resources, Comcast’s Mile High Region. “Mentoring is an important part of employee development at all levels,” Hamstad said. “I’m excited to know that we can extend the Boots to Suits mentoring opportunities to all Comcast employees, not just those with a military background. We need to get that message out to our employees when we promote the program internally.
“We like to see people in our organization continue to develop and grow within their own careers and serving as mentors gives them an opportunity to do that,” he added.
Recent CU Denver master’s graduate Mike Petschel is responsible for proposing the Boots to Suits idea and credits his own career mentor, Jan Rutherford, a Boots to Suits advisory board member, with helping him land his current job at Molson Coors International. “In the 3-4 official meetings we had, and in the many informal meetings at his house, he advised me on how to build a network, and how to get my foot in the door,” Petschel explained.
“I couldn’t have gotten my job without Jan,” Petschel said. “He taught me how to be persistent without being a pest. And, now I’m learning how to network from within a company.”
Featured anniversary salute speaker Debra Fine focused her “Fine Art of Small Talk” presentation on the conversation and interview skills students need when they begin the job-search process, telling the student veterans that every conversation is an opportunity.
“You never know where a conversation will lead,” Fine advised. “Veterans tend to be humble. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself with confidence.”
One student veteran with new-found career confidence was wrapping up one of the best days of his life at the anniversary celebration. Earlier, Matthew Depuy had been offered, and had accepted, a full-time job in human relations with the City of Denver.
“When I retired from the Army after 20 years of service in 2010, I never could have imagined I would have this opportunity,” he said. “This is incredible.”
Depuy is quick to explain that he’s not a joiner and that he had to talk himself into giving Boots to Suits a try because “it couldn’t hurt to have a mentor to explain the process and procedures in working for civic governments.” The next thing he knew he was paired with mentor Nita Mosby Henry, Denver’s executive director of the Office of Human Resources.
“Coming from the military, I was a fish out of water looking for a job. Nothing about the process was familiar to me,” Depuy remembered. “But, with Nita, I could go in and ask her anything. Even about whether I should grow out my hair. I was nervous about that.”
“From the day I walked in the building they were so accepting. Everybody was so friendly,” Depuy said. “The City of Denver is just a great group of people.”
As the anniversary salute continued, the buzz of conversation increased, and Fine’s suggestions about small talk were implemented. That’s when Depuy was introduced to Petschel and learned that it was Petschel’s original concept that eventually became Boots to Suits. The conversation that followed was all of three words long when Depuy simply said, “thank you, man”.
The demand for career mentors continues to grow as more and more student veterans become aware of the program and talk themselves into giving it a try, like Matthew Depuy did. Mentors are encouraged to volunteer now.
Boots to Suits is part of CU Denver’s Office of Veteran Student Services. The Office is also home to the University’s Student Veteran Organization which is the largest student organization on campus and the largest student veteran organization in the state.