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U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s mentoring program develops leaders while fostering friendships

Published May 15, 2020
Lacey Duckworth and Jason King of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Information Technology Laboratory chat at the kickoff for the 2019 Directorate of Human Capital Mentoring Program. The program, which began in 2016, focuses on talent development of ERDC employees.

Lacey Duckworth and Jason King of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Information Technology Laboratory chat at the kickoff for the 2019 Directorate of Human Capital Mentoring Program. The program, which began in 2016, focuses on talent development of ERDC employees.

VICKSBURG, Miss. (March 4, 2020) – For nearly five years, leadership from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Directorate of Human Capital has focused on talent development with the ERDC mentoring program.

For Pam Simpson, the ERDC training program coordinator, the key to being successful in the workplace is a strong foundation; and she credits hers to a good mentor who saw her potential more than three decades ago.  So, when the ERDC Directorate of Human Capital announced their plans for a mentoring program, Simpson was one of the first to volunteer. 

“I really believe that having a good mentor is the foundation of your personal and professional life,” Simpson said. “You can have friends and family members who mentor and inspire you, but it’s just not the same as having a mentor in the workplace.”

The ERDC mentoring program began with a pilot program that had 22 mentor/mentee pairs in 2016. The second year, the program grew to 44, then 66, and 72 pairs the year after that. The program is open to all full-time federal employees, with the stipulation that mentors work at ERDC for at least five years before volunteering to help others. 

Another person involved with the mentoring program since its inception is Quincy Alexander, chief of the Sensor Integration Branch at the Information Technology Laboratory. After four years as a mentee, he became a mentor this year.

“I have really benefited from building relationships with good people that I may not have met otherwise,” Alexander said, adding that his first mentor was a researcher in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory. “My mentor was encouraging and supportive, and we worked to achieve the goals that were set at the beginning of the program, but developed a friendship that extended beyond the program.”

Dr. Kate Brodie is a research oceanographer at the Costal and Hydraulics Laboratory’s Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina, and though she’s been an ERDC employee for 10 years, she joined the program as a mentee this year.

“I've been pretty successful so far in my career at ERDC, but that success also came with a lot of stress and the development of poor work-life-balance habits,” Brodie said, noting that she had just reached one of her major career milestone goals. “I was interested in finding a mentor who could help me shape and set proper goals for the next 10 years of my career, help me identify when to take on new roles, and work with me on developing a better work-life balance.”

At the beginning of the program, the mentors and mentees come up with a plan for the year — goals and objectives that they want to achieve. From there, the pairs collaborate to problem solve and navigate their way through the ups and downs of life, together.

“It’s been nice to have an official outlet to discuss a range of topics whenever needed,” Brodie said. “Mentors are needed at all stages of your career. The opportunity to have a direct sounding board with someone at a different stage in their career,, within the organization, and outside of your immediate lab, is invaluable.”

With goals of higher employee retention and satisfaction, as well as productivity and promotability, the mentoring program is centered on talent development.

“It is an additional way to gain knowledge and skills that one can use to further their career,” said Steven Snow, a Human Capital program specialist who has participated as both a mentor and a mentee. “You have to want to put forth time and effort to be successful in anything you do in life.”

Though there is no concrete schedule set for the participants, Simpson and her mentees typically meet for a one-hour session, either every two weeks or once a month.

“I just check in and see how they’re doing,” she said. “It’s an informal thing, I listen to them and provide advice and guidance. I’m a sounding board for them.”

Though the program requires a one-year commitment, many pairs find themselves still meeting long after their time is “up.”

“I always say at the end of the year that I’m only a phone call, email or webinar away. They know that I’m there whenever they need me,” Simpson said. “They aren’t only ERDC employees, they’re my friends — and I truly want to be there for them.” 

At the end of the day, the mentors know that their biggest task is simply being there.

“You’ve got to care about people,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to care and listen to them. You can provide the advice and guidance, but in the end, they’re the ones that have to take the action.” 

For more information about how to get involved with ERDC mentoring program, visit https://www.insideerdc.dren.mil/mentoring, or contact Dr. Andrea Scott at Andrea.M.Scott@usace.army.mil or x2729.


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