Tony Smith, director of the Experiential Learning Center, explains the Boots to Suits program at MillerCoors

Chris Kitchen, manager of reverse logistics at MillerCoors and a 13-year Naval reservist, jumped at the chance to be a mentor for University of Colorado Denver students who are military veterans.

“I think it’s an opportunity for me to give back to other members of the military,” Kitchen said. “The military has been pretty good to me. I think my perspective would be fairly helpful (to mentees) because my experience is pretty unique.”

Kitchen and 12 other MillerCoors employees on Monday received information on becoming a mentor in CU Denver’s new Boots to Suits program. The program launched in February is designed to help veterans shift from being service members to students and to business professionals and leaders.

Tony Smith, director of the CU Denver Experiential Learning Center, led the information session at MillerCoors in Golden. Smith explained some of the challenges military veterans face — networking, building confidence, translating their military skills into business settings, among them — when they begin the transition to civilian life.

Smith explained that mentors meet with their mentee five or six times during a 16-week semester. Smith told the mentors that the veterans aren’t necessarily looking for a job or an internship.

“They are truly looking to have an advocate,” he said. “This is a relationship where they can actually lean on you a little bit to ask some questions and understand how they’re going to make this transition from military to college to the world of work.”

Boots to Suits, which is a team effort between CU Denver and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, has placed 20 veteran students with mentors so far and hopes to place a total of 148 mostly senior students with mentors, Smith said.

Mentors give students feedback on their resumes, offer networking opportunities, explain their industry and provide general support. The MillerCoors group said they would organize a group meeting for the mentees to learn about the company’s interview process.

MillerCoors also has donated $5,000 for suits for veterans to wear to job interviews.

“Most companies look at military experience as a plus — that’s been my perspective,” said Kitchen, who was in Navy active duty for nine years, and mobilized as a reservist to Afghanistan in 2007-08. “I do think from a military standpoint, though, it’s tough to adjust to the corporate culture and the vocabulary. It’s just different.”

Smith said the MillerCoors employees would be matched up with mentees within about two weeks. He said most mentors in the program have already “gone above and beyond” in their support of the veterans.

Judging by the enthusiasm of the group in Golden — as well as the five employees patched in on a conference call — MillerCoors mentors will be the same way.

“This has been excellent,” Al Timothy, MillerCoors vice president of community affairs, told Smith via the conference call. “I think this really gives us all a foundation, a footing to move forward with our mentee.”

(Photo: Tony Smith, director of the CU Denver Experiential Learning Center, explains the Boots to Suits program to MillerCoors employees.)

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