Mentoring has been a topic of much discussion around the Emory Alumni Association (EAA) lately. Our yearlong Alumni Mentor Program has concluded for 2009–10, and we are immensely grateful to our alumni who served in this important role to our students, sharing expertise on careers, lessons about life in an office, and life experiences.
We also held a Coach Chat on April 30, 2010, featuring an alumna of School of Law and the Rollins School of Public Health and her two mentors at the CDC. Our conversation highlighted in bold relief the selection, care, and feeding of mentor relationships, and the profound impact a mentor can have on your career and professional progression.
When I think about the mentors I’ve been lucky enough to have in my professional life, a few come especially to mind. Nancy Van Sant 75L, was a chain-smoking, iced-tea-drinking trial attorney when I joined the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a staff attorney in the mid-1980s. She worked like a fiend, was passionate about her work and the agency, and carved a path in litigation at a time when women were still dissuaded from becoming trial lawyers.
Nancy tapped into something in me that wanted to be dedicated heart and soul to a cause—in this case the protection of the public from unscrupulous people and practices—as well as my love for the law, and I burned the midnight oil on my own cases and, sometimes on the weekends, on her cases, researching and editing.
I learned about the agency, about the internal politics between regional offices and headquarters in Washington, and especially about what it meant to give much more than was asked of you. When I applied for a promotion to branch chief, she quizzed and counseled me, helping prepare me not only for the interview but also for new responsibilities. She was my mentor and my advocate, and she became a friend, as well, as we shared many a late hour in the office telling stories of families and life.
Ron Crawford also became my mentor at the SEC. He, too, had many years of experience with the agency, and played a critical role in further refining my professional development and in teaching me how to manage others—a very different skill than practicing law—when I became a branch chief. I learned the importance of advocating for and, when necessary, protecting my team, and that a manager of others has to set even higher standards for herself to lead by example. I learned that nothing meant more to me than the professional success of the members of my team. Ron’s mentorship and friendship continue to this day, even though I left the agency many years ago.
When I arrived at Emory, my predecessor in managing the career services office at the law school, Martha Fagan, became my mentor and sounding board. She taught me the ropes of a successful law school career services program, introduced me to professional colleagues nationwide, and helped me negotiate the unfamiliar world of academia. She served as a role model for leadership in campus service, and has helped me navigate a professional path that has been richer due to her encouragement and sound advice.
After many years I continue to learn from these and other mentors, and know that at all places along the career path, even after many years of professional life, there is great fortune in having mentors who can provide perspective and guidance, and who can help us achieve more with the benefit of their advice than we might otherwise achieve without them.
So, a few tips on creating strong mentoring relationships:
If you have a great mentor story to share or want to volunteer to mentor a student, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carolyn Bregman 82L is the EAA's director of Alumni Career Services. A former lawyer, her past roles at Emory include assistant dean for career services and for development and alumni relations at the School of Law. She has more than 15 years of experience in alumni advising.