Mentorship program offers opportunities for exploring new challenges

Published Oct. 25, 2017
Mentorship program offers opportunities for exploring new challenges

Dr. Gary Anderton, director of Human Capital at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, addresses participants in the 2017 ERDC Mentorship Program.

VICKSBURG, Miss. (Oct. 19, 2017) - Two ways to keep work stimulating are to undertake new challenges and to form new professional relationships. Volunteering for new projects, especially those that require functioning outside one’s comfort zone, and working towards a common goal with new people who provide different perspectives are two efforts that provide an enormous sense of accomplishment once the aims have been achieved. 

One channel for encountering challenges and new professional relationships is the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s mentorship program, which began its third year with a kick-off presentation Oct. 11. The program is managed through the Directorate of Human Capital, and pairs each mentee with a person who will provide guidance, the mentor.

I participated in the program throughout 2017, and I requested Dr. Gary Anderton, director of Human Capital, as my mentor. I selected Dr. Anderton since I wanted someone seasoned and from management. I was also looking for someone from Mississippi to help me navigate the cultural sandtraps a native New Englander can fall into in the ERDC workplace. Most importantly, Dr. Anderton impressed me as someone with a lot of positive energy. 

During the year, we developed action plans with our mentors. The action plans served as excellent roadmaps of the objectives mentees needed to accomplish towards achieving our larger goals. 

My mentor took the step of asking my supervisor, Denise Kitchens, if there was some skill I needed to work on, and she readily answered, “Public speaking and presentation skills.” And she was right.

As a writer-editor assigned to the Environmental Laboratory, I spend most of my days quietly writing and editing in my office. While I could support in theory that writer-editors should be able to deliver seminars on various topics pertaining to writing and editing, I was rendered queasy with fear at even the thought of having to conduct them. With my mentor, that’s exactly what I targeted as a skill to develop. 

For me, one key part of the plan was to involve others. In addition to Dr. Anderton, I recruited several volunteers from my Information Technology Laboratory branch to listen to trial-run seminars, Kitchens, Jim Dolan, Tony Tullos, Kathleen Miles and Natalie Meyers. After each seminar, they carefully provided constructive criticism, instinctively knowing how to balance the helpful suggestions with compliments about my performance so I would build confidence. 

EL also provided support, allowing me to practice my skills by offering seminars to the laboratory.  EL Acting Director Dr. Jack Davis provided me with the concept and a quantity of material to use as a jumping off point for a seminar on writing award nominations and other justifications; he also worked with me to fine-tune which material to include for the EL presentation. The class was so well received by EL that both Dr. Davis and Dr. Anderton encouraged me to deliver it to all the ERDC laboratories in Vicksburg. 

Working towards a common goal with the help of my mentor was another avenue towards creating a satisfying employment experience with ERDC. I now know that with enough effort and practice, I can successfully deliver seminars on topics related to my field.  The ERDC mentorship program helped me add another skill to my toolbox, to grow as a person — and the final result has likely benefitted ERDC as well.