Jim Largent is eager to help.

Now semiretired from a successful 30-year career at Allergan, Largent is looking forward to sharing his career knowledge with a physical sciences student as part of the school’s 2008-09 mentor program, which started Nov. 12.

Largent, who received his bachelor’s in chemistry from UCI in 1972, helped create the School of Physical Sciences Mentor Program in 2002 as a way for students to connect with science professionals.

Largent discusses the mentor program and shares his personal story about how good mentoring helped him go from UCI graduate to leader of Allergan’s $200 million-a-year ophthalmic surgical products division and head of corporate strategic planning and business development.

Q: How did the Physical Sciences Mentor Program get its start?

A: I had a conversation with former dean Ron Stern about opportunities to add value for students in the School of Physical Sciences, and his first area of focus was a mentoring program. I had participated in The Paul Merage School of Business mentoring program since I’m also a business school alumnus. I was impressed with their program that Shaheen Husain (now business school corporate relations executive director) had put in place, so I facilitated a meeting among the three of us. Sarah Shogren, in the development office at the time, worked closely with physical sciences staff to adapt it and create the physical sciences program. Together, we recruited more than 65 alumni mentors by 2005.

Q: Why should alumni volunteer as mentors?

A: There is an old saying that the problem with learning from experience is that you get the test before you get the lesson. Physical science students often are anxious about what options they might have after graduation. Alumni who have been through that process are in great positions to help these young people understand their many options and connect them to people who can help them make good decisions. We benefit from getting to know some very talented, bright students and making meaningful contributions to their future. It is also a great way to reconnect with UCI and get to know other alumni who care about seeing physical sciences continue its success as one of the top schools in the country.

Q: How do the student participants benefit?

A: What students get out of the mentoring program depends greatly on how much effort they put into the process. Students who spend time working with their mentors may discover career paths they had not considered or feel they are in a better position to make decisions about what to do after graduation. Some have been fortunate enough to make contacts through their mentors that helped them as they applied for graduate programs or looked for jobs.

Q: Why did you decide to become a mentor, and what was your experience like?

A: In my career, I have always enjoyed working with young people who wanted to grow. However, the desire to participate as a mentor goes back to my personal experience as an undergraduate when I struggled with the anxiety of not knowing what I could do with my chemistry degree. I knew that I wouldn’t be a very good chemist and that graduate school didn’t make sense for me, but I had no idea what else I might be able to do. So I understand what some of these students are going through, and if they can benefit from my experience I’m making an important contribution.

Q: As a student, did you have a mentor, and how did that person influence your career path?

A: As an undergraduate, I had professors who would have been happy to help me, but I never felt comfortable using my professors as advisors. After graduation, I was fortunate to get a job at Allergan, a local company that was growing 25 percent a year and whose culture valued developing people. The company had many people who invested in my career by allowing me to do a variety of jobs and by helping pay for my master’s degree while I worked. I found people from whom I could learn and a culture that allowed me to create mentoring relationships with them. The physical sciences mentoring program meets a very real need – one that I certainly would have valued when I was a student.