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How Asheville is Planning for the Future

Mentoring program pairs college students with business experts.

By Kevin Litwin on June 26, 2020

Asheville, NC Climate-Based Think Tank
Asheville / Matt Rose

How do you write a great resume? How do you present yourself best at a face-to-face interview? What excellent career opportunities are right here in the Asheville area? These are all common questions for students preparing for the next stage of their lives, and NEXT AVL arose to provide solid answers and experiences.

NEXT AVL is a nine-month mentoring program introduced by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to pair students at local universities with successful businesspeople in the community. Each business mentor meets with their mentee monthly during the school year and helps prepare them to find an excellent job.

“Often college students are disconnected and feel that it’s really hard to find a job around Asheville, despite the fact there are thousands of unfilled good jobs in the region,†says April Brown, director of industry expansion and workforce development for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why we started NEXT AVL, to develop and find our next generation of talent.”

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NEXT AVL began as a pilot program in 2018 with 10 students and 10 mentors, and the chamber works with career offices at Western Carolina University, Warren Wilson College, Montreat College and the University of North Carolina Asheville to find qualified applicants. Students are sophomores and juniors, and Brown says it understandably takes some time for the mentor/mentee relationship to grow.

“We provide a handbook, schedule and curriculum for the mentor/mentee and prepare their first meeting to accelerate their introductions to each other,†she says. “I would love for the program to someday get to hundreds of mentors and hundreds of mentees. We need many more professionals in different fields for the mentoring part of it.”

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Leading by Strong Example

One of the mentors in the first NEXT AVL program was Mark DeVerges, senior manager for DHG Search in Asheville.

“I grew up in Asheville and saw many of my fellow college graduates leave the area to go work in larger metropolitan areas, so a big goal of NEXT AVL is to show students how many great career opportunities there are right here,†DeVerges says. “There hasn’t been a level of awareness for students to know about all the strong businesses and industries that exist here, so one of my goals is connecting rising college stars to align with top business and industry jobs.”

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DeVerges became a mentor in NEXT AVL to Kassidy Townsend, who was then a junior at Western Carolina University, majoring in hospitality and tourism and minoring in marketing.

“I helped Kassidy with information about how to get her initial job after college, how to present herself at interviews with an elevator pitch, listing facts on a resume that resonate with future employers, and even how to help her online presence,†he says. “There was even one session where all the mentors and mentees got together, and a professional photographer took each mentee’s photo to have a professional picture for their LinkedIn profiles.”

Heralding a New Era in Asheville

Making Connections

Townsend, who lives in Cullowhee about 50 miles west of Asheville, says she learned about the NEXT AVL program in 2019 and immediately wanted to be part of it.

“I like hearing from established people like Mark who are outside the academic field because they know how to apply the skills they’ve learned in college to the work world,†Townsend says. “Mark was very helpful with steps needed to get to my goal and how to professionally present myself. I also liked that he helped revamp my resume but didn’t tell me what to write. He made suggestions and let me make my final decisions.”

Asheville is Creating Opportunities

Townsend says that as a result of the NEXT AVL program, she now knows quite a few people in her chosen field of hospitality and tourism and has even made secondand third-level connections at companies where she has developed interest in potentially working.

“Mark taught me how to do an informational interview rather than just applying for a job,†she says. “I’ve already had interactions with six companies in Ashville who were very receptive to me. I’m keeping in contact with all of them until I’m ready to make my big job choice.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Asheville area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Asheville, NC

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