A Gift of Oneself

This is the rush time of year around giving – finding or ordering the right presents, buying the gift bags and bows, and putting it all together just in time for delivery. Whew! It’s also time to make sure the year-end charitable donations get paid. Exhausting and expensive though it may be, we do these things because they matter. But one way I give that doesn’t cost a dime, yet makes a huge difference in the lives of others, is by being a mentor.

As an environmental consultant, I’m one of the few women in the business who conduct site assessments and get down and dirty in the subsurface. When I was a geology student 25 years ago, I was an even rarer find.  I was typically the only woman in class, and both of my mentors were super-supportive men.

But I was not so lucky with the male boss at my first job as a staff hydrogeologist. That negative experience is one of the reasons I’m a mentor today: so young women and men can realize that they don’t have to live in, tolerate, or feel stuck in a culture of fear in the workplace.

Two Ways to Contribute

I found two avenues to support the up-and-comers – one face-to-face and one remotely via phone. Locally I’m a Future Leaders Committee Member at Commercial Real Estate Women Portland(CREW). Our goal with Future Leaders is to help young professionals aged 25 to 30 (and those with less than five years of experience) advance their careers and get fresh perspective when they need it.

I’m also a mentor through my alma mater, Temple University in Philadelphia, as part of their Owl to Owl program. I mentor Keri Klinges, a geology student in the College of Science and Technology. Unlike my college experience, Keri has several female professors. She says that while women are historically very underrepresented in geology in particular, she’s excited to see a lot more women pursing environmental science.

Keri’s trying to decide if she wants to go to graduate school right away or take a few years to work in the profession first, so we discuss the pros and cons of each path. Her current goal is to be involved in water resource management at the government level, and possibly remediate contaminated waste sites.

Kari, one of my mentees, examines some anthracite in the abandoned tunnels at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA. A passion for geology is just one of the things we have in common.

I decided to find out what mentoring means to Keri. “It’s so important to me that we talk about what I need to do now to make sure I get where I want to be in my professional career. Because you’re in environmental consulting right now, you understand the nuances of the profession,” she said. “And you were really one of the first people to validate my accomplishments. That means a lot to me because I often struggle with the feeling that I haven’t accomplished enough. Also, you’re like, really awesome.”  (Gee, thanks, Keri!)

One of the things I get out of mentoring is the chance to learn new things. Keri said this was one of her favorite things about our relationship too. “Mentorship is a symbiotic relationship where I can gain experience and knowledge and, at the same time, I can give back: whether that’s supporting research or offering a fresh perspective. It’s a two-way street,” she said.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

If you already mentor someone, rock on!  If not, take a moment to recognize how valuable the gift of your expertise and perspective can be, and consider mentoring a young person in the New Year. You’ll both gain from the experience!

Happy holidays!

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