The creation of the HST Mentor Program

Laura McDermott, the founding lead of the HST Mentor Program, describes how an idea that surged while studying the Master in Customer Experience and Innovation became a program that now helps students grow through mentorship. 

In September 2017, I moved to Madrid to begin the Master in Customer Experience and Innovation (MCXI) at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology (HST). Our academic director, Andrew McCarthy, would constantly repeat his mantra “trust the process”. This presented a challenge for most of us, since the actual content we were studying—innovation, creativity, design and emerging technologies—has an inherently high-level of uncertainty and change!

From ideation to realization

In the second term of the MCXI we did a project-based course on Social Impact. It was one of my favorite courses of the master and in fact, it led me to begin working in Social Innovation at IE!

For our final Social Impact project, my team developed a ‘buddy’ or ‘mentor’ scheme for marginalized teens in the outer suburbs of Madrid. The project leveraged behavioural design and positive peer influence to help these teens aspire and strive towards higher goals, while providing support from role models who had gone through similar experiences.

When I graduated from the MCXI, I reflected on the incoming cohort of students and the rollercoaster ride they would face during the master. Having just completed the Social Impact project and appreciating the incredible value of the master, I thought that connecting incoming students with previous generations—who had been through a similar experience—could be very powerful. And so the idea was born…

From pilot to meaningful mentorships

From 2018 to 2019 we started testing the concept through a pilot program with a few alumni who graduated from my class. These mentors connected on a monthly basis with groups of students and got feedback on how their experience was going. Over time, we shifted this model so that the focus is not so much about feedback, but more about the mentors empathising and anticipating the needs of the students, before designing value-added activities for their monthly sessions. We also hold social gatherings for mentors and students, and many of the students feel so supported that they build strong relationships with the mentors, who help them with career advice and presentation skills, even outside the official sessions. 

Since the beginning we have tracked the satisfaction levels of the students with the mentor program, and we have extraordinarily positive feedback. It’s reading words like this that helps us see the value and meaning that we’re bringing to the students.

When we asked students from MCXI 2019-20 About what stood out to them about the HST Mentor Program, they answered:

The ease with which you could reach the mentors. All of them were always reachable, kind, always willing to help. It was great having them as they had the experience of being in our shoes. [MCXI Student, 2020]

The organization and structure of the sessions and the fact that the mentor really took the time to know what we wanted to explore during the mentorship program. [MCXI Student, 2020]

What’s more, in 2019 and 2020 we piloted the program in two more HST programs: the Bachelor for Behavioral & Social Science and the Master in Visual & Digital Media. We’re quickly building a strong group of mentors, who we select and train with care to ensure they feel both comfortable and confident delivering valuable sessions to their mentees. 

Just the beginning

Designing and managing the HST Mentor Program has been incredibly rewarding and I’ve learned so much in the process (Andrew McCarthy’s “trust the process” mantra rings true). What is perhaps most rewarding is seeing the strong sense of community flourishing, as a result of the knowledge exchange and relationship-building between mentors, students, academic directors and deans from across the different programs.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible without the support of HST and specifically the Faculty Student Experience team, which innovates in not only the student experience, but also that of the HST faculty. I’m sure this is just beginning for the MCXI mentor program, and as it scales to other programs over the years, its value for students and mentors will continue to blossom!


Laura McDermott is an Irish design and innovation consultant, based in Madrid. She is the Design Lead in the Center for Social Innovation at IE Business School, Project & Design Lead for the Faculty and Student Experience at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology, and Adjunct Professor and Mentor in the MSc. Customer Experience and Innovation at IE.  Laura consults on innovation projects, specifically from a behavioural lens. She has published articles in The Beam and Global Voices, as well as receiving two IE Awards for the Humanities for her writings on ethics, democracy, behavioral design and sustainability.