When the pandemic hit the U.S., Helena Economides, '20SPS, Nonprofit Management, went in search of ways to continue socializing with people and to give back to her graduate school community. It led her to Columbia SPS’s very first e-Mentor program, a 3-month series of virtual career advice sessions connecting high-performing alumni with students seeking to gain more professional experience in their chosen fields.
As an Ambassador and Co-Founder of the Young Patrons Program at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece, Helena is serving as an e-Mentor, sharing her advice about working in development. More importantly, Helena is listening to and collaborating with her e-Mentee about setting out on her unique career path. We recently spoke with Helena about the e-Mentor program, how her M.S. in Nonprofit Management degree from Columbia is enhancing her own career and career advice she would like to share with current students.
What compelled you to sign up as an e-Mentor?
While at Columbia, I always knew I would want to stay close to the SPS community and my fellow students after graduating, but I did not know yet how I would do so. When COVID-19 changed all our lives, I realized that physical distance can contribute to feelings of isolation, so I sought to find ways to give back and foster the human connection. The e-Mentor program is a great opportunity to engage with the school and its community, specifically by helping current students to achieve their goals. When I was informed by Elana Sable, Assistant Director of Alumni and Board Relations, about the e-Mentor program, I quickly signed up. Having the opportunity to meet, mentor and learn from inspiring and motivated students while helping them to achieve their goals is extremely fulfilling and a great way to remain close to the Columbia community.
I finish each session feeling inspired, optimistic and energized by our conversations and the important work the mentee is doing inside and outside the classroom.”
This collaborative relationship offers a great opportunity for growth, connection and exchange of ideas. It is extremely rewarding to be able to accompany an SPS student through his/her journey. I greatly enjoy sharing my story and experience in the hope that it resonates. I finish each session feeling inspired, optimistic and energized by our conversations and the important work the mentee is doing inside and outside the classroom. This experience has also made me more passionate about both my work and personal life and given me new perspectives on how I can grow and have a greater impact in the nonprofit world.
(Pictured, above) Nonprofit Management student Malvika Khitha (large screen) meets with e-Mentor and 2020 graduate of the M.S. in Nonprofit Management program, Helena Economides.
What advice would you give to Nonprofit Management master's students seeking to break into or advance in development?
I suggest they attend as many school events as they can. Columbia offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with speakers who are leaders in their respective fields and also with the leaders of tomorrow – SPS students. I also encourage all students to network as much as possible and use Columbia’s world-class resources to the fullest while they can.
For me, the classroom was a powerful forum in which I developed my confidence and learned how to express my opinions clearly and effectively. Columbia professors create a unique and safe environment for sharing that is highly conducive to personal growth. I would urge all students to seize the moment and take risks in the pursuit of knowledge. It worked for me – I am now far more confident at work and am, therefore, a more productive and happier professional.
The opportunity to meet and interact with experienced professors and critically think about all that I was learning was quite enriching and helped me to look at my career with an even more holistic, intentional perspective.”
How has earning an M.S. in Nonprofit Management from Columbia enhanced your career?
My early administrative work in nonprofits showed me that if I wanted to fulfill my long-term goal of leading an institution like a museum or an NGO, I needed to develop new skills in fundraising, strategic planning, community organizing and international communication. Columbia gave me all of those skills and more; I also developed as a person. By taking a break from work and pursuing a full-time degree, I had the time to focus on my development and absorb every minute of my time at Columbia. The opportunity to meet and interact with experienced professors and critically think about all that I was learning was quite enriching and helped me to look at my career with an even more holistic, intentional perspective. My time at Columbia instilled in me an unwavering belief that even when the path forward for nonprofit organizations looks murky – like now during a global pandemic and recession – there is always a path forward for people looking to make a difference in the nonprofit realm.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Columbia SPS community, especially at this time?
It means that I am a part of a family – a family whose members enjoy abundant opportunities, have strong values and make positive contributions to society. Graduating from Columbia is one of the greatest achievements of my life. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of its community.