By Justin Zaun
DCMA Garden City
Selma Burris was not always a believer in mentors. In fact, the first time she sought a mentor was to fulfill a requirement for a leadership program she joined.
“Honestly, at that time, I just wanted to cover the requirement,” she said. “Prior to that, I hadn’t given much thought to having a mentor.”
Burris, who is an administrative contracting officer with DCMA Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was mostly satisfied with her career trajectory and wasn’t seeking help.
“I thought I could do everything by myself,” she said. “I didn’t think I needed a mentor, but having a mentor opened up opportunities I didn’t realize I had.”
One of the initial benefits her mentor provided was expanding her professional network, which was especially advantageous because Burris was new to DCMA at the time. Her broadened network led to additional opportunities and more mentors.
“I went from not knowing anyone to rapidly growing my network in a very short period,” she said. “That would not have happened without a mentor. It also opened the door for other assignments, and I got to meet other mentors through my first mentor.”
Burris’ first mentor was Henry Decoteau, who was then the deputy director of AIMO Oklahoma City. Now the deputy director of DCMA Garden City in New York, Decoteau has mentored numerous colleagues throughout his DCMA career and during his military tenure. He had many of his own mentors during that span and credits them with bolstering his professional development.
“Everybody should have a mentor,” Decoteau said. “Mentors bring insight and knowledge about the way things work that you may not understand. A mentor can also help you determine your goals and ensure you stay on track. I’m not going to achieve your goals for you, but I’m going to help you get there.”
Burris and Decoteau are now both part of a Mentorship Integrated Project Team, which is a supporting element of DCMA’s Leadership Development Program. The mentorship team has been tasked with establishing a culture of mentoring throughout the agency and developing a cadre of highly qualified mentors to join the DCMA Mentorship Program. Ironically, Burris is the leader of the Mentorship IPT.
“The irony is not lost on me,” she said. “It’s funny how it worked out. Someone who was initially skeptical of mentors is now leading a team to establish a formal mentorship program.”
DCMA’s Total Force Directorate will soon release a tasking memo to solicit qualified mentors, and interested employees may submit an application via the mentorship program website, which is currently in a pilot phase.
“We are hoping to build a roster of dedicated mentors, which will allow mentees to choose from an amazing network of professionals,” Burris said.
Ericka Jordan, the Programs Team supervisor for DCMA Santa Ana and DCMA San Diego, California, as well as a member of the Mentorship IPT, encourages both mentors and mentees to take part in the new program. Jordan, who collaborated with the same mentor throughout her 20-year military career, cites that partnership for boosting her confidence and helping her develop skills in communication, networking and decision making.
“A mentorship program is vital to the success of our workforce,” she said. “It’s a free education. A mentor can offer advice, provide another perspective, help improve your skills and be a sounding board. Having a mentor is something everyone should experience at every level of their professional growth.”
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Adam Rising, DCMA’s senior enlisted advisor and a member of the Mentorship IPT, stressed the importance of establishing a thriving mentorship program to strengthen the agency’s workforce.
“DCMA has more opportunities to succeed than most people are aware of,” he said. “Mentors can reveal those opportunities and offer career guidance. They provide insight and perspectives to help you see things differently.”
Rising believes an ideal mentor-mentee relationship should be based on honesty and that both parties should benefit from the arrangement. Though some of his mentors have been better than others, he has learned from them all.
“Mentorship is a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “If only one part of the team is growing, then the arrangement should be re-evaluated. I’ve had good mentors and not-so-good mentors. Both types have added value to my growth by showing me blind spots and challenging me to exceed the standards I set for myself. I would not be in the position I am in if not for the lessons I learned— good and bad — from my mentors.”
Jason Theriault, a contract administrator at DCMA AIMO Crestview, Florida, and a member of the Mentorship IPT, underscored the advantages of having a mentor. He regularly consults his mentor on a variety of topics, and the pair have worked specifically on career coaching, such as sharpening his job interviewing skills.
“Mentoring has been a huge benefit for me,” Theriault said. “My current mentor has pushed me to think in new ways and helped me achieve goals I never even visualized when I joined DCMA.”
Decoteau, who has relied on mentors throughout his career for advice, project guidance, constructive feedback and networking, considers a successful mentoring partnership to be based on trust, commitment and mutual respect.
“It has to be a trusting relationship,” Decoteau said. “A mentee has to trust that the advice you’re giving them is solid and sage, and you have to be willing to commit the time they need. You both need to respect each other.”
Once the program is unveiled later this year, employees interested in acquiring a mentor will be able to visit the DCMA Mentorship Program website to review the roster of mentor profiles. If an employee already has a particular mentor in mind, they can choose them from the list. However, the website will feature a matching option that can provide mentees with a customized list of mentors.
“The goal of the program is to have thousands of employees sign up, both mentors and mentees,” Decoteau said. “We want to facilitate valued-added mentor-mentee relationships as part of an overall program that improves the entire agency. We want to keep our people in DCMA and help them grow.”
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