June 27, 2022

Art & Lifestyle:

Unexpected Mentors

You never know where you might meet your next mentor.

A bartender at the restaurant where he worked encouraged Walter Augustin, then 16, to attend college. After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology and serving in the Marine Corps, Augustin, a “lifelong learner,” is now the technical director for the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) in Orlando, Fla., and a champion of the Women’s Advisory Group (WAG).

“That one conversation as a 16-year-old changed my life forever,” he said. “I believe that mentors can change your life forever  it certainly did for me.”

Jesse McCurdy also found his first mentor in an unexpected place  across the street.

McCurdy’s neighbor, Mr. Hunter, helped him balance the pros and cons of working for the federal government. With his guidance, McCurdy accepted a job offer at NAVAIR and now serves as deputy assistant commander for research and engineering. He cited these informal mentoring sessions with Hunter, 15 years his senior, as being a relaxing environment where he could express himself.

The two stayed in touch over the years. “He would just quietly smile as I told him about my progress, because he knew he had advised me in the right way,” McCurdy said.

Augustin and McCurdy spoke to more than 500 NAVAIR employees at the “Who Mentored You? Pass it on”¦” panel discussion in Patuxent River, Md., and via video teleconference at all eight NAVAIR sites Jan. 31. The event, hosted by the WAG and Career Development Office, helped commemorate National Mentoring Month in January.

The seven panelists, both mentors and proteges, encouraged employees to seek out and become mentors and listed the benefits of mentoring, among them an enhanced perspective, new ideas, the excitement of being challenged, and the ability to give back to others. According to a 2002 study published in Academy of Management Journal, proteges also experience higher positive job attitudes and career satisfaction, commitment and mobility.

“It can be an asset to everyone to have a mentor,” said Valisa Harris, WAG mentoring lead and the event facilitator. “It doesn’t take very much to meet someone and interact, and you can give and you’re receiving, all at the same time.”

Rear Adm. (sel) CJ Jaynes, NAVAIR’s first female flag officer and a champion of the WAG, said her mentors “pushed me in a direction I really hadn’t thought of going before.”

Cam Donohue agreed. As a young engineer working at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Donohue’s program manager mentored her on her technical and communication skills and how to work with others.

“He opened up the doors for me and taught me how important experience is and getting out of your comfort zone,” she said. She later took those lessons to heart when she served as a college recruiter to advise other young engineers.

Gender and age should not play a factor in choosing a mentor, panelists said. Establishing a rapport with a mentor is more important.

“The best mentor is someone you didn’t think was your mentor initially,” Donohue said. Such mentors are empathetic, patient, caring, good listeners and take the time to help, Augustin added.

They also offer important life lessons. Systems Engineer Joel Palathinkal said a mentor during one of his summer internships told him, “Sometimes you have to give up a glamorous job for a good opportunity.” While working at a different, “non-glamorous” internship (but a good opportunity nevertheless), Palathinkal said he learned valuable lessons there that have helped him in his current career.

Mentoring can begin at any stage in your personal or professional life. NAVAIR Assistant Commander Gary Kurtz, Corporate Operations and Total Force, advises employees to begin the mentoring process with self-searching and self-discovery to determine where they want to be. Then, start at the level they are most comfortable.

Common obstacles include a reluctance to ask for help or a fear or insecurity of candid feedback, but “sometimes, starting slow is better than not starting at all,” Kurtz said.

NAVAIR offers formal and informal mentoring programs, as well as training and an online tool to help match mentors and proteges.

“We all know things we can share, lessons learned,” said Selina Vik, head of the Training and Career Development Division of the Total Force Strategy and Management Department at NAWCTSD. “Do it [mentoring] for your well-being and the well-being of the organization.”

WAG Lead and Director, Flight Test Engineering, Leslie Taylor agreed. “I believe mentoring can change this command,” she said.

Throughout the month of January, sites across NAVAIR hosted speed and group mentoring sessions, panel discussions and lunch-and-learn events. The Mentoring Externally Directed Team will partner with the Career Development Office to host a second mentoring event, “Navigating NAVAIR and Beyond,” on April 4, featuring NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. David Architzel.

Source: NAVAIR Headquarters

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