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Mentoring is not uncommon in graduate school, but typically faculty members are mentoring students in their academic pursuits. Now, master of public policy students at the Sanford School can also find a career mentor through Sanford’s worldwide alumni network.

The Sanford Mentoring Program matches current MPP students with Sanford alumni interested in offering support based on their own educational and professional experiences. Mentees meet with their mentors, often virtually, at least once per month from the middle of their first year through the middle of their second year. This timing means mentors can offer the students help as they start their summer internships and master's projects.

2 men smiling

Héctor Luna Iñiquez MPP’21, a native of Mexico City, is switching fields from civil engineering to public policy. He doesn’t see them as that different, as both policy makers and engineers “try to make things better.” At Sanford, he is focusing on sustainable development policy. Luna Iñiquez was a research assistant for the Ministry of Energy at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C. in 2015, and would like to work in the capitol again after graduation, either on climate change or with a development bank.

Luna Iñiquez was paired with Adam Fischer MPP/MEM’19, Congressional staff member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“I had no previous mentor, so this is new for me,” Luna Iñiquez said. “It’s great to have insights into the real world perspective, from someone doing real policy. It’s also good to have someone to listen and talk about career goals.”

The two men began talking in late February. They meet via Zoom about every two weeks. “It’s been a great relationship,” said Luna Iñiquez.

When Fischer was contacted by Genille Anderson, director of MPP student services, about being a mentor, he was skeptical at first. He is a recent graduate, and has only been in his current position for not quite two years.

“How much do I really have to offer?” he recalls thinking.

Fischer wanted to stay involved with the school. He was offered his current position during the winter break in January 2019, and had to quickly figure out how to finish his last semester remotely. “Sanford was really there for me throughout that,” he said. So he decided to go ahead with the mentoring program.

Fischer soon found that he did have things to offer, such as talking about “how to break into a field,” and how to navigate “the ecosystem of the school.” 

“Everyone has such big decisions in graduate school, that it helps to have someone to talk things through,” he said.

2 women smiling

Cayla Matsumoto MPP/MBA’21 was very specific in what she wanted in a mentor.  “I had never had a female mentor. I wanted someone who could talk to me about working in a male-dominated field, and find ways to address those issues,” she said.

After spending a year with AmeriCorps in Ohio, and two years with the Peace Corps in Ukraine, Matsumoto worked with the Council of Development Finance Agencies. The council is a professional organization that includes member agencies at the state and local level. She is a Coverdell Fellow and her Sanford internship was with SelfHelp, which drew on her background in development and finance.

Matsumoto was paired with Marjorie Patterson MPP’10, financial and regulatory reporting manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The relationship developed quickly.

“Marjie is interested in economic development, the field I had been in, and I am interested in working with the Federal Reserve Bank,” said Matsumoto.

The two also found out they were both from Appalachia – Matsumoto from Ohio and Patterson from West Virginia. They also talked about how to balance work and life, and what career trajectories and life are like for professional women. Matsumoto wants to have children someday, and Patterson has a new baby, born in January.

“I agreed to be a mentor, because I found a lot of value in talking to alumni when I was a student,” said Patterson.

“Cayla’s background in community economic development was interesting and it has been a learning experience for me too. I think we were well matched. Talking about the parenting part was a bonus,” she said.

“I love the whole Sanford world. It was nice to hear about those classes and professors, to refresh those memories,” she said.

Patterson does draw on things she learned at Sanford. In addition to the skill of writing a policy memo, “the presentation skills I learned were very good.”

“I’ve sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations where it was clear they were never taught how to do this,” she said.

To future students considering the mentoring program, Matsumoto recommends, “being upfront and honest about what you need, what you are interested in learning, but also expect there to be some reciprocity.” 

Luna Iñiquez would “love to be a mentor in the future, especially to help other international students navigate their way.” He advises students who are considering being matched with a mentor “to think about where they would like to land, to figure out what they want to do.” Having an alumni mentor can be a great step toward getting there. Being an alumni mentor is a great way to stay involved with Sanford.

Interested in being mentor? MPP alumni serving as mentors meet with their mentees at least once per month from the middle of their first year through the middle of their second year. Registration for interested MPP alumni opens in January. For more information, please contact

Alumni: if you are interested in recruiting for the MPP program, please contact us. Encourage those you know to achieve their ambitions with a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree from Duke University. Please encourage your contacts to apply to the Duke MPP Program by Jan. 5. Sign up to learn more about the program today.