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Learning from the pros: NMSU College of Business students gain guidance from mentors

Life after college can be tough. There's finding a job. There's learning the ropes. Sometimes, it just helps to hear from someone who has been there before. That's why New Mexico State University's College of Business has created a mentorship program - to give students insight as to what to expect from the "real world."

A photo of NMSU alumna Christine Aguilera speaking to students and faculty members.
Christine Aguilera, president of SkyMall and NMSU alumna, speaks to NMSU students and staff during a recent visit. (photo by Mustafa Al Omran).

"Meeting with the students has just been fabulous," said Christine Aguilera, president of the in-flight magazine SkyMall and graduate of the NMSU College of Business. "There are so many bright, talented students and I know a lot of them are just looking for that first break to get out into the business world."

Aguilera visited campus earlier this year, where she gave a presentation to a business law class and later met with students, letting them know what it is like to run a large company. Aguilera grew up in a small town in southwestern New Mexico and told students they could succeed, if they worked hard in school and after graduating from college.

"I've always felt that I have to pay it forward," she said. "I was really fortunate when I was at New Mexico State to have some great mentors. Dr. Nina Compton was fantastic. I feel an obligation to reach out to students and do what I can to help them."

Aguilera originally worked as a certified public accountant after graduating from NMSU, then as an attorney. She joined SkyMall in 1997, working her way up through management and general oversight positions. She's been the company's president since 2003.

"Some messages I give to students are the job search and the first step in your career are really an odds game," Aguilera said. "Don't worry about the rejection. Don't worry about the economic climate today. Just get out there and take action. Build your resume. Get some experience if you can. If you do all those things, you can get that first job. Then, hopefully that first job will lead to a successful career."

Aguilera isn't the only College of Business alum to pay it forward over the past year. In fact, more than 20 business leaders, most of whom graduated from the college, have visited since last fall to meet with students.

Bobby Lutz, a serial investor, shared insights on what to expect after college, what prospective employers are looking for in job candidates, and the role of one's first job. Lutz also met one-on-one with aspiring entrepreneurs at NMSU's Arrowhead Center, which focuses on economic development in the state.

Another successful alumnus, business leader and entrepreneur Bradley Gordon, also recently visited with students. Gordon has more than 25 years of experience starting and acquiring new companies, primarily in the biotech field, where he held executive positions in both venture capital and corporate management.

Other College of Business alumni who served as mentors include Carl Everett, a corporate adviser and venture capital consultant; Perry Elders, executive vice president and chief financial officer of J. Ray McDermott S.A.; Julie Dill, president and chief executive officer at Spectra Energy Partners Group; Jack Domme, CEO at Hitachi Data Systems; John Cordova, director of sports transaction management at Coca-Cola; James Lyons, chief underwriting officer at Mountain States Insurance Group; and Adolpho Telles, a retired partner at KPMG.

Other mentors include NMSU graduates Michael Nunez, chief financial officer of University Medical Center El Paso; Stephen Wolslager, president of the Wolslager Foundation; Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, chief financial officer of the city of El Paso; Lee Ellen Banks, controller at Varay Systems; Margaret Hardin, CEO of Ergobaby; and Travis Melham, senior director of finance at St. Joseph's Medical Group.

Business leaders who graduated from other universities have also taken part in the program. These include Jon Forrest, president and CEO of OneEighty; Ken Bouyer, Ernst & Young's Americas director of inclusiveness recruiting; Tom Shockley, CEO of El Paso Electric; Berna Holzman, southwest district manager, Greater New Mexico Community Banking, Wells Fargo; Mary Kipp, senior vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of El Paso Electric; and JoLou Ottino, corporate branding specialist at HALO Branded Solutions.

"I personally think it's very important to pay it forward," Aguilera said. "That's part of what makes America so great. We have a culture of people starting from nothing and building up successful businesses, but they've always had help along the way. Reaching out to others and helping when you've been helped is very important."