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Finding a Professional Mentor

Throughout my career, I have had mentors who guided me through challenging career decisions, gave me tough love when I needed it most, and coached me out of a funk.  Some of the relationships with my mentors have spanned decades, while others were one or two conversations.  Regardless of the type of relationship, I believe everyone should have people they can count on for guidance and perspective.

As a transportation nerd and executive, one question that I am often asked is “how do I find a mentor?” Here are five ways I found my mentors and how my mentees found me.

  1. Apply to a formal mentor-mentee program: Many professional organizations and large companies have a formal mentor-mentee program. The organization/company will match you with a mentor based on areas where you need guidance. These programs are a great way to meet with senior professionals in your industry. I have served as a mentor in the Women’s Transportation Seminar – DC Chapter twice and I still work with both mentees today. I have my mentee that I was matched with two years ago and my current mentee. Although my obligations of the program ended with my old mentee last year, we still try to get together at least 3-4 times a year. I’m meeting with my current mentee about every other month.
  2. Look within your company/agency: A boss or supervisor can serve as a mentor. However, I have found that it helps to have a senior person to mentor you that does not have a direct say in personnel matters (i.e. raises, promotions, etc) because it can create a conflict of interest. At every organization I worked prior to Nspiregreen, I had a mentor within my agency/company that was in a different department or office. In each case, I found that person without a formal program. There was something about them (personality, position, leadership style) that drew me towards them.  For example, when I was at the Federal Highway Administration I met my mentor during orientation. He walked in, was well-dressed, and had a presence that commanded attention without being gregarious. After learning he was in the Senior Executive Service, I decided I was going to get his contact information and he was going to help me navigate the Federal government. Our mentor-mentee relationship started with monthly 15-20 minute meetings. Twelve years later we still have check-ins by text message, email, or over a meal (when our schedules align).
  3. Reach out to a former boss: We leave jobs for different reasons such as relocation, change in career paths, or ending of an internship. If your boss is not the reason you left and you had a connection with them, they may be a good person to serve as a mentor. Depending on how long you were at the company/agency and the nature of your relationship with your boss, they may have unique insight into your strengths and areas where you can grow. Personally, I reach out to my boss from my internship between college and graduate school a few times a year.
  4. Use the internet: The internet gives us global access to all levels of professionals in any industry. You can Google leaders in your industry or use networking or social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or blogs to learn from their experiences and connect with them. People have reached out to me on LinkedIn to ask specific questions related to growing in transportation and equity. Some of those conversations ended on LinkedIn, while others led to in-person meetings.
  5. Use your resources: People you know, know other people. Whether you are looking for a new job or have questions about growing within an industry, share your progress with your friends and network. Often your contacts know people who can help you find someone that can impart knowledge. Ask people you know to facilitate an introduction or at the very least give a heads up that you are going to contact them.

There are many other ways to find a mentor. These are five methods that have worked for me or people have used to contact to me. In my next post, I will discuss how to start and cultivate the relationship with your mentor.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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Not Everything is About Work

Nspiregreen in not all about work. Since most of our work depend on team collaboration and communication, we make sure we take opportunities to build a strong team. And, what a better way to strengthen our teams that having fun together?

Once every two months we participate in a team building activity. We rotate the role of the activity organizer, so each member of our team has the opportunity to prepare one or two activities during the year. In the past year, we have enjoyed of a variety of activities such a tour to the DC Water’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and Escape the Room.

Our last team building activity was a few weeks ago, on September 9th. We learned to build terrariums in a wonderful and fun place called Lemon Bowl. After a very instructive and fun experience, we end up with a beautiful take away. Here are some pictures of us having fun and building terrariums:

 

Team Building: Terrariums 1

Team Building: Terrariums 2

Team Building: Terrariums 4

 

And the final product…..

Team Building: Terrariums 5

 

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.

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Connecting the Dots- Food Justice Part 1: Understanding Food Systems

 

In my former “life” in the Capital Region of New York, during graduate school and figuring out a career path, I was able to work in a passion of mine- food justice and access. I even wrote my graduate thesis on youth development and food justice so it was a joy to work in the field (pun very much intended). I had a few hats that I wore: urban agriculture project assistant director, garden volunteer and youth coordinator and trainer, mobile vegetable market assistant coordinator, nutrition educator, recipe developer and cook. Or in other words: growing, buying, slinging, cooking, and talking about healthy foods.

The biggest takeaways of my experience, that permeates my work with Nspiregreen, was the need for knowledgeable people that can relate to communities to connect the dots. In this case, it was connecting dots for people in terms of:

  1. Where their food came from and how it was grown OR how to grow it and
  2. Healthy food could be easy to make and could also be tasty

Many people I worked with and spoke to can think of plants growing in a field and understand the concept of farms, they can see produce for sale at a grocery store, and they can think of prepared dishes and foods they enjoy; but generally these things stay compartmentalized in their minds. Often understanding of the life cycle of that produce, or food systems, from seed to stomach is lost. I’ll be writing this in two parts, today I’ll cover the first point: understanding food systems.

The teens I worked with at the urban agriculture garden year after year were often taken aback when I would pick a cucumber off of the vine, take a bite or slice some off to share it as a snack. “Uh, don’t we need to do something to it?” one kid said. “Other than wash the dirt off, nope!”, I’d say. We’re talking about food that they helped grow with their own hands and hard work, but they didn’t immediately see it as food. To them, these were plants, and you don’t just eat random plants. Produce came from shiny cases in the grocery store and were periodically spritzed with water.

To further help them make the connection we would hold an informal cooking class every Friday, sometimes with a local chef, where we would harvest our crops, wash them, then make some lunch together. Often we would have them experiment with mixing ingredients and creating dishes. I even taught them how to can vegetables (Spicy Pickled Carrots) in one class. It took a little nudging and bartering to try new things, but most of them liked at the very least one thing we made throughout the summer.

During their time in the garden as part of their jobs, we would have activities about the current food system. This included visiting farms, grocery stores, watching documentaries, and having discussions about our experiences. On visits to farms they could learn about dairy production, raising chickens and pigs for meat and other produce operations, as well as see agriculture or related sciences as a viable career option. On very hot days, we would huddle inside a local school and watch documentaries about monocultures, large scale factory farming, and processed foods with a prize given out every time someone heard a certain buzzword to keep them from falling asleep. One activity that everyone loved was a scavenger hunt in a grocery store that included items like: list all of the countries or states where the apples are from, find your favorite breakfast cereal and write in what order number “sugar” is listed as the ingredient, find an item produced within the Capital Region, etc.

At the end of the summer, they had successfully learned:

  • To grow and harvest food using organic methods
  • To cook with produce and make healthy recipes
  • To determine where their foods were coming from
  • The impacts of food from far away and large factory farms
  • The importance to buy from local farmers or producers wherever possible
  • The importance of healthy food for the human body
  • That access to healthy food was a social justice issue

Also by the end of the summer, they were regularly taking home the food we were growing or sitting down to snack on a cucumber as well.

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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