ALMA — Alma College has started a new alumni mentoring program, Plaid Returns, with the intention of fostering meaningful relationships between mentors and undergraduate students that assists students in identifying professional goals and navigating their career paths.

More than 20 rising juniors in the Pre-Law and business programs began receiving counseling from a group of alumni earlier this year. As part of the program, each student is paired with an alumni mentor based on similar interests and meets on a monthly basis throughout the duration of the program.

“For our students, this is a great opportunity to connect and network with Alma alumni who are doing the work they see themselves doing soon,” said Damon Brown, vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer. “These are students who we expect to graduate in the next year, and it will be beneficial for them to have this experience when they leave Alma. For our alumni, we believe this is an excellent opportunity to learn, as well. Alma has changed a lot from the last time they were on campus, and we’re excited to put these pairs together so students can show alumni what they know.”

Darryl Schimeck, who graduated from Alma College in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, is one of the student mentors in the business program. Schimeck is a longtime business executive with more than 30 years of experience in industrial and environmental services. He currently serves as an executive partner at Emerald Lake Capital Management and is chairman of the Alma College Board of Trustees.

“I am proud of the accomplishments of our alumni — accomplished senior leaders in all kinds of businesses with two things in common — we all graduated from Alma College and we want to help our current students on their path to success,” Schimeck said. “What an incredible opportunity for high-performing and high-potential business students to have mentors who are or who have been at the highest levels of business, ready and willing to share their experiences and provide support as our students venture out into the cruel world of business.”

Neil Youngdahl, who graduated from Alma College with the Class of 2015, is one of the student mentors in the Pre-Law program. Youngdahl is a litigation attorney at Varnum LLP, a full-service law firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. He typically handles commercial disputes, appeals and cases in federal court. Youngdahl is also the chair of the Young Lawyers Section of the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Michigan.

“Law is a very communal profession, which is great once you’re part of the community, but can be intimidating to someone who is considering whether to join in the first place,” Youngdahl said. “I’ve found that mentoring for pre-law students, law students, and young attorneys is key in demystifying the practice of law — and law school — and giving the mentees the confidence to know that are part of the team. In my experience, the Alma connection is a great way to get those conversations and relationships started.”

For more information on the Plaid Returns program, or to find out how Alma prepares its students for life after graduation, visit