George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Mason grad benefitted from real-world lessons

July 25, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Jacky Spalding, right, said her student-mentor relationship with Mike Sylvester, a Mason alumnus and senior manager for co-brand partnerships at Hilton, helped her transition into the business world. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Jacky Spalding and Mike Sylvester didn’t get together very often during the past year, perhaps once a month for an hour or two over lunch.

But for Spalding, who graduated in May from George Mason University with a double major in finance and marketing, her conversations with Sylvester, a Mason alumnus and senior manager for co-brand partnerships at Hilton, were invaluable.

“He was just there for me when I was figuring out what to do, if I wanted to go straight into grad school, if I wanted a job,” Spalding said. “It was just nice to have someone to bounce things off of, someone who was really invested in me.”

The student-mentor relationship was one Sylvester pursued. Sylvester, who graduated with a management degree is 1996, was looking to give back to the university and called Mason’s Honors College to see what opportunities were available.

Andy Hoefer, assistant dean of the Honors College, matched him with Spalding.

“I saw multiple benefits,” Hoefer said. “First, Jacky would have the opportunity to gain some critical mentoring from an experienced professional. It was a first big step in the development of her professional network, and that’s priceless.”

Sylvester said Hilton Worldwide is always looking for qualified candidates, so having connections with Mason is key.

“For me personally, though, it’s nice to give back to Mason and the Honors College because they’ve done so much for me,” he added.

Sylvester turned into a valuable resource. He set up interviews for Spalding with colleagues to help her with a big project. He also allowed Spalding to shadow him for a day at the office.

When Spalding, who in June began a full-time job with a financial consulting firm, began taking notes during interviews and meetings instead of just listening, Sylvester was impressed. Spalding said she was adding to her education.

“It was definitely hard sometimes, especially in my marketing classes, to see the connection between, ‘Okay, here’s what I’m doing in the classroom and here’s what they do in a real-world, real-job experience,’ ” she said. “It definitely made the transition a lot clearer to me.”

“She’s going to be a success at whatever she puts her mind to,” Sylvester said. “Whatever ‘it’ is, she’s got it.”