A pathway to success
Mentoring program Pathway Partners establishes important relationships for high school students
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — When Al Nystrom, Marshfield business banking manager at BMO Harris Bank, meets with Marshfield High School junior Nick Okon, the two talk about banking, investments, and the financial industry in general.
“I wanted to connect with someone in the community who is someone I had shared interests with and someone that potentially I could follow later on in my career,” Okon said. “I wanted to actually connect with someone who is a leader in the community and they know exactly what the potential career path would be and, say, education path that I might have to take.”
The bond between Okon and Nystrom is precisely the goal of Pathway Partners, which is a “career focused mentoring program” that started in 1999 at Marshfield High School. The United Way partner program aims to connect students with adult mentors from the community who work in fields that match the students’ career interests.
“It is a voluntary program, and I think that’s one of the beauties of the program is that students come into it wanting to be involved and wanting that relationship,” said Pathway Partners Executive Director Beth Albee. She added that the relationship is a “two-way street” where both mentors and students come away from the program having often gained a friend and a valuable perspective.
Nystrom said that for him it is exciting to work with Okon because he sees a need for students that are interested in his industry.
“I get pretty excited when I hear that there are young people interested in a financial career. There’s a real shortage of that, especially in central Wisconsin. So when someone like Nick expresses an interest, … I’m very eager to share what I’ve learned about that in the 28 years I’ve been in the financial industry.”
Nystrom has invited Okon to client events for BMO Harris, one of which included a talk from the company’s chief investment officer, and also offered Okon the chance to meet other employees of the bank.
“I think this program kind of helps you build a more personal relationship with someone that’s an adult that you can kind of not only learn from but also just develop a human relationship (with),” Okon said.
Okon said he was initially nervous to be paired with a prominent and successful member of the community, but that hesitation quickly vanished after meeting Nystrom.
“But really, he’s real easy to relate to, he’s really easy to talk to, and the more you meet the more you just kind of develop a personal relationship,” Okon said.
Nystrom added that he enjoys being involved in Pathway Partners.
“I get a new relationship with a good guy I didn’t know before this program, so I made a new friend in the process. It’s energizing to work with young people,” Nystrom said.
For Marshfield High School junior Annie Hoeser, Pathway Partners is part of her family’s history, and she joined the program to become an active community member.
“All my older siblings did it,” Hoeser said. “I just wanted to get more involved with the community.” She later added, “We do stuff in the community and volunteering stuff, and then while we’re doing it we talk about college (plans).”
Hoeser’s mentor is Jenny King, an epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. King said that she chose to be a mentor in the program because she remembers how demanding high school can be with many difficult decisions to be made.
“I wanted to get into it because having been through high school I know it can be kind of a challenging time. And even if you do have a great relationship with your parents, it’s always nice to have somebody else to kind of bounce ideas off of, whether it’s college ideas or just, ‘What should I do with my friends this weekend?’” King said.
King added that more than a mentor-student relationship, her time with Hoeser feels like a friendship.
“I kind of feel like a peer. It’s been fun for me to kind of get to know Annie better and know more about what she’s up to,” King said. “I’ve been there done that. So if I can help somebody else kind of navigate college applications, job applications, … trying to pick a career, I’d love to help.”
Hoeser said that her relationship has grown with King over the nearly 12 months that they have been paired together.
“It just gets easier and easier every time (we meet),” Hoeser said.
Pathway partners currently has about 30 students in the mentoring program, and while flexible, the average is for students and mentors to meet for an hour per month. Students can sign up any time from their freshman through senior years. Those interested in participating in Pathway Partners should call Beth Albee at 715-387-8464, ext. 4335 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.