In Washington, D.C. this week, I was fortunate to be honored with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Mentoring engineering students and broadening participation among underrepresented groups has been a pillar of my career, and it is truly gratifying for my contributions to be acknowledged. I want to thank the White House and all of the students who have enriched my life in so many ways.
Presenting the awards were John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and France A. Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation. While in D.C., we had four days of meetings and activities along with the ceremony. These included a private meeting with the President, along with meetings with program officers at the National Science Foundation and with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
I have long believed in the value of having a mentor and the benefits of being a mentor. I consider Georgia Tech President Emeritus, G. Wayne Clough, as one of my mentors who helped me define and refine the qualities of being a leader. Mentoring empowers learning in ways that manuals, the internet, and training programs can’t. Mentors are inspiring, they empathize with your pain and anxiety; they are guides, gurus and cheerleaders all rolled into one.
Research has shown that mentored individuals perform better, advance quicker, and have more career satisfaction. Mentors know what it takes to succeed professionally; mentors know what it takes to succeed spiritually. It may surprise you that some of the world’s most rich and famous had mentoring relationships to help them in their quest for excellence. Did you know that Marc Andreessen (founder of Netscape) was mentor to Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook)?
Having a mentor is akin to giving a sailor a compass. A mentor helps you navigate challenges, set a direction, chart a course. If you don’t have a mentor, find one. If at all possible, be one. It’s time to pay it forward by becoming a mentor. Those we mentor can shape the future and by mentoring, we shape theirs.