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Buffalo State’s Honors Program Partners with M&T for Mentoring

Posted: December 22, 2020

Buffalo State College honors student Oneika Webb has aspired to a career at M&T Bank since starting college.

“I always heard it was a good place to work, and I visited the M&T table at job fairs when they were on campus,” said Webb, a computer information systems major and creative studies leadership minor who is originally from New York City. She graduated this December, a semester ahead of time.

This fall, Webb had the opportunity to participate in a mentoring program that Buffalo State formed with M&T. In late November, the bank offered her a position in its Management Development Program (MDP). She will begin in July 2021.

Webb is one of 15 Buffalo State minority students in the Muriel A. Howard Honors Program who were paired with mentors in M&T’s legal division across four states this fall. James Finnerty, Buffalo State’s vice president for institutional advancement, and Laura O’Hara, general counsel for M&T and a member of the Buffalo State College Foundation Board of Directors, worked with Kara Handzlik, associate general counsel and manager for legal operations at M&T, to launch the program.

“Soon after we announced funding for the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship last summer,” Finnerty said, “our board wondered what call to action we could take to move the needle on racial inequality.”

O’Hara became a mentor and asked others in the legal department, not all of whom are lawyers, to participate. The goal was to introduce students to the professional world and help them gain insights into networking, creating a strong résumé, preparing for job interviews, and finding work-life balance, among other things, said Amy McMillan, professor of biology and director of the honors program.

McMillan invited 90 minority honors students to apply, and 15 were selected.

Finnerty said he was pleased with how quickly the program got off the ground, despite the limitations of the coronavirus. Students met weekly on the online platform People Groove and connected via e-mail and the professional social network LinkedIn.

“Everyone was committed to jumping in and making it happen,” he said. “I think it’s been a huge success.”

McMillan said benefits to the students are numerous.

“First, they have a connection to a professional with many life and work experiences,” she said. “Second, here is another caring adult who can listen to issues, provide advice, and really care about the student and his or her success. And third, mentors can give insight into the kinds of jobs that are really out there.”

She added that mentors have connected students to employees in other areas of M&T, such as data analytics, who have offered them career advice.

Webb was paired with an M&T attorney in September.

“I told him my goals,” she said. “After I found out I had three interviews for a full-time position at M&T, he provided tips—dos and don’ts.”

Webb already had an impressive résumé, including internships with Ernst and Young, Northtown Automotive, and IBM, where she’s currently working.

Although she first sought a position on the operations side of the bank, after learning about the MDP, she thought it might be a good fit. She already was considering replacing her original career goal of coding with one focused on project management, primarily fueled by the System Analysis and Design course she took her junior year.

“I think I’m a great leader,” she said, “good at explaining things, doing research, and working toward a goal.”

While Webb’s accomplishments are remarkable, her experience is just one example of the mentoring program’s impact.

“This initiative is really about trying to help students persist and be successful in their education,” Finnerty said. “And M&T Bank now has a better understanding of our students and their challenges.”

He said he’d like to expand to other divisions at M&T and eventually replicate the program with other corporations.

“I think it helps students consider careers they hadn’t previously,” he said, “and gain insight into the workplace from people in the trenches.”

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