Pick, Listen and Push: The Serendipity of Mentoring

Prepared by Theresa C. Mayhew, Member Resources Membership, Leadership & Mentoring Sub-committee Chair

"Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction." - John Crosby, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice (1859-1943)

When I first started in Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Columbia County, my Family & Consumer Sciences supervisor, Bonnie Westendorf, encouraged me to get in touch with two individuals, Jeanne H. Winters in Saratoga County and Eileen Ciance in Washington County, who were doing programming similar to what I would be doing in my new post. It was one of many excellent suggestions Bonnie made during our working relationship and, in addition to her personal leadership and friendship, one that reaped many benefits for me.

As a result of spending time with those seasoned CCE educators, I observed and soaked up a lot about CCE, working with adults and youth, the land-grant system, and informal learning environments. My mentors were very generous with their time, knowledge, resources and support. In reflecting on the impact their involvement had in my early career, it brings to mind a quote by author and poet Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Those two individuals made me feel welcome and accepted in my new profession and it helped motivate me to do my best. I was very fortunate to have mentors that were the epitome of accomplished educators and caring individuals. They set the tone for the early part of my Extension career and to show my gratitude, I have tried to “pay it forward” ever since.

Angela Hairston, EFNEP Area Extension Agent in the Metro Atlanta area, and a member of the Member Resources Membership, Leadership & Mentoring Sub-committee, had a similar experience when she first started at Extension. She recalls, “In 2008 when I started with the University of Georgia Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Fulton County (Atlanta), GA, I was assigned a mentor (Lisa Jordon).  Lisa is a FACS agent and area agent for EFNEP serving seven counties based in Chatham County (Savannah).  The distance from Atlanta to Savannah is four hours one-way.  Even with the long distance, my mentoring experience was very positive.  Lisa invited me to visit her in Savannah to see her program in action. My mentor was always available to assist me with programming issues that I had whether good or bad.  Lisa shared her Program Assistant’s trainings with me, which I was able to adapt to use to train my Program Assistants.  She also told me about the various professional associations that were available to Extension faculty/staff.  Because of Lisa, I have since joined several State and National Associations to enhance my professional growth and development in my work with Cooperative Extension. Lisa and I still share information with each other since she is just a phone call or email away.”

If you ever have opportunities to mentor – as they say at Nike – just do it! It can be a very rewarding and satisfying experience – not just for the mentee but the mentor, too! As FCS educators, we are committed and dedicated to promoting lifelong learning and to doing our best. As our president Carol Chandler stated in her April eNEAFCS message – we should always strive to reach our potential. One way to do that is through helping someone else reach theirs. Mentoring is a great means to achieve that end.