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Online MBA professor Marco Bonilla is helping to mentor his students from afar

This is the third in a series of articles commemorating National Mentoring Month. Each Friday in January, the Daniels Newsroom will share the stories of students, faculty and alumni benefitting from mentorship. Read part one, part two and part three on the Daniels Blog.

Marco Bonilla laughed when hearing he’d been described by a colleague as a “connector” for students in the online, MBA@Denver program at the Daniels College of Business. With a humble demeanor, Bonilla brushed off that praise as just part of his job as an adjunct professor.

For him, it’s simply building relationships with hungry students that need guidance in their academic and professional careers. Bonilla feels pride in providing that positive impact.

“I enjoy seeing students succeed; their success is my success, in a way,” he said.

With a background in the United States Marine Corps and more than two decades as an engineer in the semiconductor industry, the Massachusetts resident brings unique perspective to the Daniels online MBA program. He’s rooted in his STEM background, leaning heavily on the analytical side of his brain to help students chart their paths.

One thing he’s learned over the course of his career is that mentorship is vital to success, regardless of where you are in life and work.

“We all need mentors, and we need mentors that care about us and not themselves,” he said.

Bonilla lives that practice, providing a sounding board for countless Daniels students in the online MBA program.

Bonilla provided Chris Dugan (MBA 2022) with important guidance inside and outside of the online lectures in his program. Dugan said Bonilla helped him with his other classes and advised on his potential career choices, including an entrepreneurial endeavor with High Street Bar & Grill in Denver.

“Marco has provided excellent insight for me to make business and personal decisions, such as aiding in market research and providing introductions to industry contacts and entrepreneurial experts at Daniels,” Dugan said.

Bonilla also sparked a mentoring spirit in Dugan that the recent grad plans to pay forward through future opportunities at Daniels. He hopes to connect with students and provide guidance in his expertise of finance and event production.

“I am grateful for Marco’s excellent mentorship, which developed organically, and believe other students, instructors and alumni can greatly benefit from similar mentorship, whether in an organized program or through a voluntary resource association,” Dugan said. “As a business professional, developing these lasting relationships is vital to success and personal enrichment.”

For Bonilla, receiving mentorship is a gateway to becoming a great mentor for others. He’s hopeful that his students will use their positive experience to create good in the business ecosystem.

“I think if you had a great opportunity or great experience, the likelihood of becoming a mentor to somebody goes up,” he said.

And, while he doesn’t have a traditional business background, apart from his own MBA degree, Bonilla said mentors don’t have to be subject matter experts to provide value. His keys for mentorship include listening, transparency and having a genuine interest in helping.

“You don’t have to have the answers or solutions; [mentees] just need a safe place to work out their ideas,” he said.

On the flip side, Bonilla said mentees should approach mentors with the same vigor they’d have for a job interview, and should target mentors in their desired career trajectory. He advised them to do their research, come with questions and be open to feedback.

“Maybe they’re confused about the avenues, but they should be able to state the problem,” he said of mentees that need direction. “Where are they in life? Why is this a wall for you at the moment? As a mentor, I can’t guide you on something you don’t have foundation on.”

Mentorship comes back to maintaining relationships for Bonilla, who still has his own mentors, including a career coach. He wants to ensure that his mentees can trust him and are heard in a safe, nonjudgmental space. He’s also trying to build a lasting connection.

“From a mentor perspective, if someone comes to you and is open and being vulnerable, always follow up,” he said. “Whether its three days, a week, a month down the road, just touch base with a text, email, message by pigeon, smokestack, whatever it is. Just let them know that you’re still there.”