WHAT MENTORING CAN DO FOR YOU
Updated: May 8
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word ‘mentor’ as “an experienced and trusted person who gives another person advice and help, esp. related to work or school, over a period of time.” In Greek mythology, Mentor was a loyal friend and adviser to Odysseus, king of Ithaca. Mentor helped raise Odysseus' son, Telemachus, while Odysseus was away fighting the Trojan War. Mentor became Telemachus' teacher, coach, counselor and protector, building a relationship based on affection and trust.
I have been a mentor for many years, and one of the reasons I spend so much of my own time helping others is because I didn’t have any mentors early in life. When I was in high school, I was already passionate about aviation and earned my pilot’s license during my senior year. But because I never saw any women working in aviation jobs, it never occurred to me that I could be a professional pilot, aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller, or airport manager. As Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut in space, said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” If young girls don’t see women working in a given career field, especially a male-dominated one, they may never know what’s possible. My teachers and guidance counselor were not much help regarding career advice, despite me graduating near the top of my class and receiving a full scholarship to college. And since I didn’t have any mentors outside of school, I had no one to guide me or give advice on what my future could hold.
I became a mentor to provide others the type of support I never had in my youth. I have mentored people in the corporate workplace in my roles as an Aerospace Engineer, Program Manager and Business Leader. I have been a Women in Aviation International (WAI) Chapter President three times since 2012, which has afforded me an even greater opportunity to mentor girls and young women.
As President of the WAI San Diego Chapter, I met many members who were either unsure of how to get into the aviation career field, or women who were already in the industry but needing help moving forward. In 2015, I helped an enlisted member of the Navy get into Officer Candidate School (OCS) and earn a flight training spot, and she is now flying MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and assigned to the USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier! I helped another incredible young woman get into the Navy also as a naval aviator, and she is flying the EA-18 Growler, an electronic warfare aircraft that is a variant of the F-18 fighter jet! There is nothing more rewarding to me than when these ladies text me photos and videos of them flying these high-performance military aircraft!
The official definition of mentoring says that it happens over a period of time, but I don’t believe it needs to be long term to be successful. I have had occasions where my participation at one event has made a difference in someone’s life. I was asked to be the guest speaker at a summer graduation ceremony for a Science Olympiad program for elementary school students. I talked to the students about getting my pilot’s license as a teenager and about some of the really cool airplanes I worked on as an Aerospace Engineer. I wasn’t sure how much impact I might have on kids this age, but the response was really positive! Then, when I was walking towards my car to leave, two little girls came running after me to take a selfie, telling me how “awesome” I was and how much they loved hearing that girls could work on airplanes! Another time I gave a presentation called “Aerospace Engineering as a Career” to a squadron of Civil Air Patrol cadets. At the end of the presentation, one of the cadets stood up at attention and announced that he thought everything I had done in my career was so fascinating that he was going to change his major to Aerospace Engineering the next day!
I have also helped mentees apply for scholarships, and have written letters of recommendation for many others, and was very proud when a woman I was mentoring received the first Aerospace Engineering scholarship from WAI! I wrote the recommendation letter for her and was thrilled to be there in person when she was handed a check for $10,000 towards her PhD studies.
As you may learn through these stories, mentoring can be quite beneficial to the person being mentored. So, if you don’t have a mentor, think about finding someone to help navigate your future! For the rest of you, I believe the rewards of being a mentor are even greater. I have experienced more joy and personal fulfillment than I can express from mentoring people like you’ve been reading about in this article. The day you get that phone call, text message or email, hearing someone you’ve helped shouting from the rooftops with their big news, is a day you never forget. And remember that you can be a mentor to someone regardless of your age. Get out there and be like Mentor from Greek mythology, building relationships with others based on affection and trust. You never know how many lives you can change.
I became a mentor to provide others the type of support I never had in my youth.