Volume X, Issue 2 | April 18, 2024

Industry Interaction

Ecommerce leader Recharge has launched a program of mentorship and support for students in SMC’s Interaction Design bachelor’s degree program.

SMC In Focus


Nothing enhances classroom learning like firsthand experience, especially under the coaching of top professionals. So as they prepare to establish their careers, seniors earning their bachelor’s degrees in Interaction Design (IxD) at Santa Monica College are being mentored by c-suite executives at Recharge, the leading subscription platform. 

During the partnership’s pilot cohort, 10 selected SMC IxD students have enjoyed one-on-one mentorships with Recharge leaders — including company co-founder and CEO Oisin O’Connor. Other students were paired with the chief financial officer, vice presidents and senior directors. 

Design, Development and Diversity 

“SMC gave me a second chance at my career development,” says Oisin, who studied studio arts at the college before transferring to UCLA for a degree in economics and political science. Noting SMC’s commitment to underserved and nontraditional students, he adds, “I also saw that it gave a lot of other people the opportunity to move up through higher education.” 

That dedication is why supporting SMC is important to Oisin as well as to his wife, Colleen O’Brien. CEO of the microfinance company Eskala, Colleen serves on the board of the Santa Monica College Foundation 

“My wife and I really believe in helping those less fortunate than us — especially people who are motivated to improve society and themselves,” Oisin says. The couple’s personal generosity to SMC includes donating more than $300,000 in scholarship support. 

The new mentorship program aligns with Recharge’s dedication to diversity and inclusiveness as ways of expanding the tech industry. “Through SMC, we knew we could enable people to enter our field from different backgrounds,” Oisin adds. 

As an alum, he also knows that the college is a source of talented students. “SMC students are driven to improve their skills,” he says. 

One such student, Anna Larionova, became Oisin’s mentee. “Meeting Oisin has opened a hundred new doors, because his experience and network takes my learning out of school and into the professional world,” she says. “I feel very lucky to have this opportunity in my last semester at IxD because it feels like a big head start.” 

Empowering Connections 

Beyond advice and feedback, Recharge awards each mentee an $2,500 honorarium. But the biggest value comes from the expertise shared by company executives and the relationships built with students, according to IxD Faculty Lead Nicole Chan. “The experience helps students feel grounded as designers and empowered to advance to the next stage of their careers,” she says. 

IxD Professor Luke Johnson agrees. “Financial gifts certainly help, but there’s nothing like putting in the time and getting to know people,” he says. “And Recharge really wanted to engage with our students.” 

Nicole sees benefits for the mentors as well as mentees. “You get to a point in your career where it gives you joy to help the next generation in their professional journey,” she says. “It’s really amazing to see somebody else grow.” 

The students’ reasons for applying reflected both the diversity of their backgrounds and the range of IxD career possibilities. User experience designer Yuka Seike was drawn to learning from Recharge’s leadership in recurring payment platforms. “Our lives are filled with countless transactions, and I would love to learn how to make these into a better experience,” she says. 

For mentee Kris Bumford, the program augmented the classroom experience and previous projects to “refine my skills and help me see how I can apply the knowledge given to me toward future creative solutions with my love for design and innovations in technology.” 

Meanwhile, the format itself appealed to mentee Kalynn Porter. “The Recharge mentorship program isn’t just about structured academic learning,” she notes. “It’s a dynamic experience that encourages creativity, adaptability and critical thinking.” 

In addition to their desire to make an impact on the IxD field, Recharge executives saw another advantage in partnering with SMC: proximity. “SMC is in our neighborhood and part of our community,” Oisin says. 

Enhanced Experience 

While mentorship slots were limited, other benefits of the partnership extend to all SMC IxD seniors. For example, Recharge holds monthly classes for students, where its executive mentors lecture, provide workshops and answer questions. The sessions kicked off with Vanessa Lopez, vice president of Business Operations, who spoke about goals and values.  

“It wasn’t just about Recharge’s mission but about how students can define their own personal goals and values as a designer,” Nicole notes. 

Subsequent classes have covered such topics as career exploration and networking, résumé building and interview preparation, and tips for starting a new job. “The classroom lectures were generated from the ground up,” Luke says. “Students told us what they wanted to know more about in the professional world, and we worked with Recharge to craft the experiences.”  

Recharge also awarded $1,000 budgets to support each IxD student’s senior thesis project. These works, presented publicly, are the culmination of their IxD studies. But not every student can raise the funds needed to make their vision come alive. “Recharge understands this and wants to help our students have access to the resources they need to develop and promote their work,” Nicole notes. 

Such a budget “allows students to imagine a little bit bigger and take their work to another level,” Luke adds. “Plus, they learn the valuable skill of managing a project budget.” 

Held each June, SMC’s IxD graduate show attracts industry representatives along with the public, so it represents a vital opportunity for students to share their skills and vision.  

Expanding Opportunity 

Oisin and his fellow Recharge executives look forward to expanding the SMC IxD collaboration in the wake of the pilot program. “We’ll probably increase the number of mentees in the next group,” Oisin says. And the company is also considering ways to increase SMC students’ real-world experience. “We may even offer some internships,” he says. 

Students in the inaugural mentee cohort are grateful for what they’ve learned and the connections they’ve made. “I know that if I do my best to make the most of this opportunity,” Anna says, “it will be the gift that keeps on giving throughout my professional career.” 

And as the Recharge/SMC partnership continues, Oisin says his “highest hope is that we will help more and more students on their way to successful careers in technology.” 

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