Malia Carriker had already decided to major in biology and start on the pre-physician’s assistant (PA) track at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
However, she still had questions about her career path. Plus, she wanted to connect with the legendary Bennie/Johnnie professional network.
Enter the CSB/SJU Student Exploration through Alum Mentorship (SEAM) 1-2-3 program.
“I saw that the SEAM program was a good way for me to start getting involved with the excellent Bennie and Johnnie networking,” said Carriker, a sophomore from St. Michael, Minnesota. “I didn’t know where to start when looking to learn or even to find connections, so I saw this as a great opportunity to try and learn something new.”
Put simply, the four-year old program matches sophomores with CSB and SJU graduates in a field the student is interested in. Since its inception during the 2017-18 school year, approximately 130 students have been matched with graduate mentors, who volunteer for the program.
“The intention (of the program) was to give students a stepping stone to meaningful professional careers and a stepping stone before a required internship or experiential learning curricular requirement,” said Laura Hammond, director of SEAM and the associate director of XPD (Experience and Professional Development) at CSB and SJU.
“Exploring professional development early, and with the help of Bennie and Johnnie alums, is key for students’ career success. SEAM is just that. Geared for first-years and sophomores, students spend time learning about career paths with the mentorship and support of alums who’ve gone through their own career exploration journey,” Hammond said.
Both the students and the alum mentors apply for the program.
“While applying to the SEAM program, there are a few questions they ask beforehand, like what are you wanting to gain from this experience and what are your goals for this program,” Carriker said. “When it comes time to partner the alums and students together, there will be something in common between the two so that your alum can help the student as much as they can with resources and connections.”
Since Carriker was interested in the biology major on the pre-PA track and wanting to specialize in dermatology, she was matched with James Pathoulas ’16, who majored in biology at CSB/SJU. He is currently conducting a hair and scalp research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston before he returns to the University of Minnesota Medical School for his fourth year.
“Laura (Hammond) reached out to me and said that she had a student (Carriker) who had some interest in biology and medical school,” Pathoulas said. “Laura had actually been one of my mentors at Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s. I was just so happy to help.
“The program that Laura launched is really outstanding. She’s done so much for me, and because I had so many mentors at Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s, I wanted to give back,” Pathoulas said. “I’m always happy to talk to people interested in medicine or the sciences, so I was super enthusiastic.”
“He has been doing a lot of projects regarding dermatology and I got to learn more of what a dermatologist does and focuses on, which gave me a good comparison of the different tasks from what a medical doctor does versus what a PA does.” Carriker said. “It was also fun to hear about his own stories and memories that he had from CSB/SJU.”
This is where the 3-2-1 comes into play as part of the SEAM title.
Carriker met virtually with Pathoulas three times where the she was able to ask questions, gain advice and learn about his career path. Then, Carriker met twice with Pathoulas’ co-workers or friends, including talks with Mike Greenstein ’16, who was Pathoulas’ roommate at SJU and is currently applying to the PA program at Yale, and Isabel Pupo Wiss, who is also conducting research at Mass General before heading off to a PA program.
Finally, Pathoulas made a recorded video showing Carriker the dermatology department at Mass General.
“It doesn’t have to be structured like this,” Carriker said. “There are times where we would go on tangents which sometimes make for the best conversations. It just depends on what one wants to get out of this experience.”
“I was able to meet with Malia and just kind of talk about what were her interests,” Pathoulas said. “A lot of the professors that I had are still (at CSB and SJU), so we got to talk about that. It was just as much fun for me, and I hope it was fun for her.”
But there was also plenty of learning going on.
The SEAM program created opportunities and connections that will stick with Carriker. Most notably, she was able to take part in a literature review that Pathoulas was working on through the Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Dermatology on the reduction of scarring after gender affirming mastectomy for transgender men.
“He forwarded me all the information about the project and the articles to read so I could be caught up on what they were doing,” Carriker said. “I ended up writing a whole abstract after that for the project, which is what I ended up presenting at Celebrating Scholarship and Creativity Day (April 28) - which shows all of the opportunities a mentor from the SEAM program can offer someone.”
“This is an idea I got from my mentor, Dr. Ronda Farah at the University of Minnesota, who always said, ‘If you learn something from a project, share it with other people, other scientists, other professionals,’ ” Pathoulas said. “Malia was so helpful because of the literature review, but I just thought she should share this with the Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s community because this is a really niche topic. There’s nothing out there yet.
“Her efforts were part of some of the first studies ever on this. I don’t know if Malia knew that, but it was really cool and it will give her something to talk about with people when she applies (for professional schools),” Pathoulas added.
Even though the program is technically over, Carriker plans to say in touch.
“I also am going to stay connected with the contacts that James gave me of the PA's in case I have other questions and need to reach out to them,” Carriker said. “Talking with all of these mentors have strengthened my decisions of going to PA school and being a physician's assistant. One common piece of advice was do something you enjoy, pick a profession for the right reason to you. And everyone involved in this process did help me decide that the path I am going on right now is the right way for me.”
Both Carriker and Pathoulas would endorse the program 100%.
“This is a good opportunity for you to be set up with a mentor who wants to help, who can help give advice,” Carriker said. “This is a good place to start if someone is not sure or in-between majors or who doesn’t know what career path they would like. It's also a good way to see what your mentor or their co-workers and friends do on a day-to-day basis during the virtual visit. Not only are they describing what they do, you are able to see what a traditional workplace looks like for them and you are able to see the environment that they work in.”
“I would recommend this to alums, because it’s really fun to get a connection back to campus,” Pathoulas said. “My goal was to help Malia, but through helping her, I got to reconnect with all these different professors.”
Editor’s note: Interested in applying to the 2021-22 SEAM 3-2-1 program either as a student or a graduate mentor? Here is a link for students to apply to the program, and here is a link for a graduate mentor to apply.