As School of Foreign Service upperclassmen look beyond Georgetown to the professional world, a hallmark SFS program connects them with “friends,” or alumni mentors who provide opportunities for guidance and networking.
The Friends of the SFS program was originally created by Dean Emeritus Peter Krogh about 30 years ago and has been overseen for the past 25 years by Dean Andrew Steigman.
“The initial group of friends were drawn largely from distinguished personal friends of Dean Krogh, but as they dropped out, I’ve shifted the program to include only SFS alumni, many of whom are more recent graduates,” Steigman wrote in an email.
The program includes a list of 24 friends who mentor up to 12 volunteers, meeting with them at least twice a year,
One of these mentors is Zaid Zaid (SFS ’97), a lawyer with Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr in Washington, D.C. Zaid said he tries to meet with students more than just the required two times.
“I’m happy to stay in as much contact with students as possible,” Zaid said.
SFS friends are given the freedom of both how and where they conduct their meetings.
“It’s always been at my home, and it’s usually dinner. It’s relaxed and we have an informal conversation,” said Hillary Thomas-Lake (SFS ’88), who has been involved with the program for seven years.
A volunteer student coordinator facilitates the interaction between the student groups and mentors.
“The SFS sometimes struggles to connect its students with alumni in a professional capacity,” student coordinator Ted Hocter (SFS ’14) wrote in an email. “Dean Steigman’s program has really been the only official SFS career outreach that I’ve seen for undergraduates.”
Sometimes, mentors can be not only a source of advice, but also a key connection for an internship or job opportunity.
Frank Samolis (SFS ’73), an SFS friend who currently works as an international trade lawyer in the District, has hired past mentees at his firm after their graduation from law school.
“It’s a nice network to build over time both for the mentor and the mentee,” Samolis said.
Thomas-Lake, a co-founder of LTL Strategies, an African development firm, has also hired past SFS mentees.
“A few instances we end up with people who will end up in my office,” Thomas-Lake said. “The different students I’ve been in contact with have been pretty dynamic and self-starting.”
The 24 mentors have a variety of careers, ranging from diplomats to journalists.
“I was drawn to the program because I’m actually interested in defense contracting and the man I’m partnered with, Matthew Billingsley (SFS ’90), has experience at Booz Allen Hamilton and he now works for Boeing,” first-time participant Matthew de Silva (SFS ’16) said. “I’m interested in learning about his career and how he’s gotten to where he is now.”
While eager to be a friend once again, Samolis wishes he could have had this opportunity during his time in the SFS.
“It’s been a terrific program. There wasn’t anything like that when I was an undergrad in the School of Foreign Service,” Samolis said. “I enjoy it because it’s always great to work with students.”