Mentoring Matters: A Response from Our Readers

January 31, 2014

Mentoring can change your life. At least that’s the word from our readers, who shared with us their thoughts and experiences with mentoring as part of National Mentoring Month.

Here are some of our favorite responses on mentoring from the best advice and lessons learned to the importance and impact of mentoring. Want to inspire and encourage other women? Share your thoughts on mentoring in the comments.

The Obi-Wans of Mentoring

While I didn’t have any formal mentors when I was a younger professional, I later recognized those who contributed so much to my professional growth. I was not just challenged to grow but also given the support to be successful. I was given an opportunity and pretty much told that I had to figure it out. I had such confidence placed in me that I didn’t want to let that person down. I tried to pass it on.

—     AAUW Vice President of Fellows, Grants, and Global Programs Gloria Blackwell (Washington, DC)

As an adult and as a woman in business, my mentors came through various avenues: books, business partners, and community leaders. I had to seek out mentors that could hold me accountable and be tough on me. Sometimes you just need a little extra push!

—     Rose Lewis (Naugatuck, Connecticut)

The advice given to me by someone who “has been there and done that” has helped me in my own walk. That being said, the important factor is not that I was being told “how to” or “how not to” go about my path but that I was given other choices to base my decisions on.

—     Christina March (Kennedy, New York)

As a child my father would tell me, “Work smart, not hard!” It was not until I encountered my mentor that I understood the meaning. Prior to meeting my mentor, I believed you could achieve career endeavors on merit alone. Then I met my mentor and her lessons learned became my roadmap.

—     Kenyatta Nickens (Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

Mentoring Cheerleaders

Mentoring, whether professional or in volunteer organizations, has always allowed me to feel confident in pursuing leadership roles in either arena. Mentoring is the most critical element for personal success as it opens doors one might not think to open or go through.

— Krys Wulff (Napa, California)

Mentoring was the foremost cornerstone to both my personal and professional choices, from the outstanding men and women in my family, who constantly reinforced my leadership decisions and the notion that nothing is unachievable, to the support networks I found in any organization I was a part of, particularly when I first began exploring government environments.

—     AAUW Student Advisory Council member Maria-Luiza Popescu (Dallas, Texas)

Mentoring is a critical part in women’s success, especially in male-dominated fields. I was a fisheries biologist in natural resource agencies and was the mentee of two wonderful male mentors. They provided me with the credibility, moxie, and knowledge of how to become a valued member of the “good old boys’ club.” To increase the diversity of my profession and make a woman’s voice more acceptable, I hired a diverse staff, provided mentorship, and I have seen my staff grow and thrive.

—     Pam Thiel (La Crosse, Wisconsin)

Mentoring is my vision. It’s my inspiration to achieve my dreams and confirmation that I am on the right path. It’s my empowerment. It’s a source of confidence when I don’t believe in myself. It’s my source of support when I need an understanding and sympathetic ear but also my cheerleader when I’ve reached hard-fought milestones. Mentoring is a true testament to our love and care for each other, and I think everyone deserves a mentor!

— Keshia Ashe (Newington, Connecticut)

Saved by the Bell

As a first-generation student at a large state university I was encouraged to pursue graduate work by my academic adviser. Her generosity with her time and guidance provided me with a model which I, in turn, have emulated. My doctoral adviser, the lone woman on a graduate faculty of 18, not only demonstrated how to thrive with grit and grace but also became a friend. Mentors are essential to women’s success.

—     Anne Mattina (North Easton, Massachusetts)

We started a global mentoring program to help women grow their jobs and business — most of our mentors are young professional women or university students who want to build their own leadership skills through mentoring. What we hear from almost all of our mentors is that they have learned leadership skills and the ability to grow their personal brand. They also have become part of a global network of mentors and mentees.

—     Gail Romero (Seattle, Washington)

This semester I have been able to meet up with some of the newer women in my program to talk about their progress, research, and experience in our department. I helped several with their applications for jobs and fellowships this year and met regularly with one of the first year students adjusting to our program. I really enjoy these kinds of interactions — they remind me of all of the reasons why I want to be a professor.

—     AAUW American Fellow Claudia Rueda (Austin, Texas)

Girls’ teen years are a tumultuous time of self-discovery and learning. As a college freshman looking back, I wish I had a mentor during high school who could have answered my questions about college and careers. Now, I am able to mentor other girls younger than me and advise them in their lives.

—     Angela Zhou (Anaheim, California)

My Mentor, Myself

My mentor has been the guiding force in my life. A lifelong family friend, Margaret Mead was a present force in my upbringing for as long as I can remember. My first job as a teenager was cataloging her films of primitive societies; she was the one who advised me and gave me permission to go to college early. She was always interested and encouraged me to follow my own path. Most of all, she showed me that caring about others is the essence of life—an example she lived!

—     AAUW Chief Operating Officer Jill Birdwhistell (Arlington, Virginia)

I have seen my mother work her hardest to get where she is. Her persistence, determination, courage, and loving persona — this has helped me take my mind off negatives and focus more on where I want to be and how I will get there.

—     Christina Burke (Washington, DC)

My first mentoring relationship started with [New York State] Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. I was nervous when we first met, a little uneasy because I didn’t know how to behave around such a prominent woman leader. Nily was so helpful to me, giving me a list of people to reach out to, activities to get involved in, and goals to aspire to. She gave me the courage to pursue my dreams. Most important, she gave me the steps necessary to make those dreams into reality.

—     AAUW Student Advisory Council member Donya Nasser (Orlando, Florida)

For my senior internship just before graduating high school, I interned at a law firm with Marla, who I had known from the Board of Directors at Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. She taught me how it’s possible to succeed in law, while still contributing to social good. Seeing her in the orphan’s court defending foster kids convinced me to follow in her footsteps.

—     AAUW Student Advisory Council member Eva Shang (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Wonder Women Unite

Women helping women is how we continue to make strong women. My mentors have been more than guides to me; they have been proud in my successes, consoled me in my failures, and given me faith in myself. I now pass that on to my mentee. I am forever thankful to the ones who have come before me and have brought me to where I am today.

—     Caitlin Graves (New Wilmington, Pennsylvania)

Today as a 56-year-old woman, I find myself one course away from snatching my long deferred bachelor’s degree. My success belongs not just to me; it is a shared achievement with the many women who carried my dreams and goals in the depth of their pockets until I was ready to begin again with renewed confidence.

—     Lucienne Nicholson (Pittsford, New York)

Women at all ages and stages of life seek out other women (formally and informally) for advice and guidance with both personal and professional issues. This was brought home rather succinctly as I recently read Gail Collins’ book, American Women, which summarizes 400 years of women’s history. We’ve always been there for each other in some capacity during all the ups and downs of women’s history — past, present, and, hopefully, for our future.

—     Geraldine L. Oberman (Chicago, Illinois)

What’s AAUW Got to Do with It?

Jackie was my AAUW mentor, although I didn’t know it at the time. She invited me to help her with the AAUW Chicago area council. She was president, and I assisted her as vice president. At one large banquet meeting, she turned to me and said that it was my turn to be president. I protested that I was not ready and could not do the things she did; I was in awe of her. She insisted, and one just couldn’t say no to Jackie.

—     Diane Balin (Riverside, Illinois)

When I first joined AAUW at age 24, several members encouraged me to take all the leadership training that AAUW of Oregon offered. State officers first appointed me to minor offices and then pushed me into higher offices. I learned about dealing with groups, leading people, and mentoring others. As I became comfortable with public speaking and leading, I was able to branch out into community and state commitments outside of AAUW. I give my AAUW training credit for everything I’ve done!

—     Claudia Gray (Portland, Oregon)

When I was member vice president of our AAUW branch, we assigned a mentor to each new member to tell the new members about the branch and organization and to invite them to events. This was very helpful to the new members and established a relationship between the mentor and mentee. I know I made several friends that way.

—     Jennifer Ingram (Columbia, Maryland)

I met wonderful women at the annual AAUW meetings, who became great mentors. Those women helped me to find myself and gave me creative ideas and ways to be heard. They gave me confidence to stand out and opened a world of new opportunities for expanding my future. They gave me courage.

—     Augustine Pounds (Glenn Dale, Maryland)

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