You are hereThe Journey from Protégé to Mentor
The Journey from Protégé to Mentor
"I sometimes wonder if I would have been successful had I not been a part of MentorNet."
– Katrina L. Alexander, a member of MentorNet since 2000, now a project engineer for DuPont Advanced Fibers Systems.
Seeking Multiple, Diverse Mentor Connections
Katrina L. Alexander discovered MentorNet as a student working toward her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at Kansas State University. "I'm glad I signed up year after year. At my school, there were only a few women engineering professors. I joined because I wanted to get connected with people already doing what I wanted to do."
As a student, she struggled with whether to choose an engineering career in industry or government. So she sought mentors in both fields. "My corporate mentors worked at Ford and the global strategy and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. My government mentors worked at NASA and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory."
She also sought a mix of male and female mentors, both single and married, as well as mentors with and without children. "I wanted to learn as much as I could from the largest cross-section of engineers."
Learning From from Mentor Successes
Her first mentor, Michelle Ware, a certified energy manager at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory was one of her favorites. "She taught me that engineering is more than managing technology – it's about managing people. She pointed out that she often works with non-engineers and contractors and gave me tips on how to communicate with them effectively."
One of Ware's best tips, Alexander recalls, was about email etiquette. "She taught me not to send out anything in email that could come back to haunt me. She also said to put enough information in the email so that you don't have to attend an hour-long meeting sometime later to provide more details."
Since graduating, Alexander worked as a start-up utilities engineer for Eli Lilly and Company. Ultimately, she knew she wanted to play more of a leadership role in the engineering field but was turned down for at least one leadership position because she lacked mentoring experience.
While that was what prompted Alexander to rejoin MentorNet as a mentor, she also hoped to give back to the organization that helped launch her career.
"Sharing real-life experiences teaches us more than anything we could learn reading a book or taking a class. That's why MentorNet is so invaluable."
Having multiple mentors allowed Alexander to "enjoy some of their same successes and avoid some of their failures."
Recent Graduates Make Good Mentors
She encourages protégés to consider becoming mentors as soon as possible after they've started their careers. "Your recent experience getting your first job is incredibly valuable to students still trying to find their way. It also enhances your resume and shows that you have leadership skills."
Alexander says she spends less than an hour a week mentoring her three protégés. "It's mostly answering questions in email. Anything I can't answer I can refer to someone I know who can."
As a project engineer for DuPont, Alexander's job involves making sure the employees and contractors on her team live up to their commitments to ensure each project's success. That's pretty much how she sees her role as a mentor, as well.
"I keep my protégés honest. If they set goals but don't follow through, I'll ask them why not. If they have a problem, chances are I can help them solve it – or at least direct them to someone who can. That's what drew me to the field of engineering in the first place – I like to solve problems."