Blogs | 1.24.2023
Influencing the Future Through Mentorship
The ability to snap a photo of yourself in a fun or exotic place using your phone and instantaneously share that image with loved ones on the other side of the world is magical. It’s made possible through a succession of brilliant human inventions (optical cameras, digital chips, cellular towers, satellites, touch screens, etc.) and collaborative efforts, combining technologies and building upon previous knowledge. This “magic” was formed out of decades of research and development by different people through various fields of study. Ultimately, it allows us to see the world anew and serve all of humanity.
This proves our ability to build upon the wisdom and experiences of the past, building stronger foundations through sharing, collaborating, and mentoring. The wealth of experience and knowledge that people hold is staggering. When we harness it and pass it along, we ensure a stronger, more resilient future.
But to continue strengthening our future, we must first spark an interest in STEM with today’s youth. As National Mentoring Month comes to an end, I’ve thought about mentorship as a key component for growth and I’ve reflected on the impact being a mentor and mentee has had on my career.
The Beauty of Mentorship
Early on in my career, I knew I wanted to help others. As a nascent engineer at NASA (fresh out of college at just 21), I volunteered for the NASA Speakers Bureau, a community outreach program composed of engineers, scientists, and other professionals. We gave presentations about space exploration, aeronautic research, and NASA to different community groups. My favorite memory was engaging with kindergarten students who shared my enthusiasm and creativity for space exploration.
But one of my happiest career memories is being one of the Space Generation Advisory Council founders in 1999. When we created the organization over 20 years ago, it was built on the foundation of mentorship and relationship-building—aimed at connecting university students and young professionals to industry professionals, giving them a voice, and representing them within the United Nations, space agencies, space industry, and academia.
Beginning as a group of approximately 100, the network has now grown to more than 21,000 members across 160 countries, with permanent observer member status on the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. These are brilliant folks working together for global impacts. They have collectively pushed forward the boundaries of our knowledge, crafted new companies that are having profound impacts, and positively influence humanity.
As a current Board Member, I still happily find myself mentoring the next generation; but really, I look to these individuals as my mentors as well. They have a collective wealth of knowledge that not one of us could accumulate in a lifetime alone . . . not to mention they have great stories!
Evolving at Challenger Center
And then there’s my work at Challenger Center. When I accepted the roles of President and CEO more than 10 years ago, education and STEM were part of my vernacular, and I had a wealth of experience with leading organizations . . . but managing a nonprofit at an international scale was a new and exciting challenge. I was excited to learn. I reached out to CEOs and Executive Directors of nonprofits, sometimes even cold calling them, and was delighted when they agreed to sit down, share lunch, and share any words of wisdom with me about guiding a non-profit organization. Their advice, time, and friendships have been invaluable to me as we’ve expanded Challenger Center’s impact over the years. My deep thanks to those who helped me. A few have even told me that they learned from me as well, which is gratifying to know that I’m reciprocating their support.
But it goes beyond my own experience at Challenger Center. I’ve also been lucky to witness daily acts of kindness, hours of guidance, and dedication to young learners from our people who work at Challenger Learning Centers across the country. They are our nation’s unsung heroes, working daily with students, teachers, and communities; igniting a passion for STEM in students that will lay the groundwork for the workforce of tomorrow.
Impacts You May Not Even Notice
Mentorship is a key component for growth—professionally, personally, and historically.
Throughout all my experiences, I’ve realized I learn every bit as much as a mentor as I do a mentee. Being a mentor requires a level of analysis and deep personal introspection to provide meaningful guidance, and I find that my mentees often have fresh, new perspectives to share that help me grow too. For that, I’m forever grateful to every one of my mentors and mentees.
If you have the opportunity to connect with young people in your community, join a professional development organization, or have a cup of coffee with a colleague in a similar role, I encourage you to take it. You never know where it will lead—lifetime friendships, colleagues, some laughs, or deep enrichment. The wisdom you pass on to the next generation may even change history.