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National Mentoring Month: Real Advice from Some of UMGC’s Alumni Mentors

It’s National Mentor Month. What better time to hear about how the power of mentoring can help you take your career to new levels.

“We know that mentors can have a life-changing impact on someone’s career, whether they’re just starting out or are at the top of their field,” notes UMGC Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Nikki Sandoval. “We’re proud to be able to offer our students and alumni mentors of their own so they can have a helping hand on the way to achieving their professional goals.”

UMGC spoke with three alumni mentors to learn about their unique challenges and tap into their best advice. Here’s what they had to say.

OSHA specialist Terry Goodwin ‘14, ‘16 weighs in on narrowing down your options

Safety and Occupational Health Specialist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) National Office, Washington, D.C. 

Q: What is the biggest career challenge you have faced during your career?
A: The biggest career challenge I faced is understanding the many specialty careers that exist within environment, health, and safety (EHS). I began my career working for a local government wastewater utility. I was hired to develop and implement a stormwater management program for a county with a growing population. 

The environmental field was one piece of the puzzle. And within that piece there are multiple possibilities (water, soil, air, conservation, restoration, law enforcement, etc.). If I chose to stay in the environmental field, many of the jobs require certifications. So, I chose to move into the safety and health side of EHS. At that point, different certifications are required or highly recommended. There are also many avenues I could have chosen (industrial hygiene, construction, biological, radiation, etc.). 

Q: How did you narrow down your many options?
A: After a few years in the health and safety field, I decided to pursue certifications that would make me more competitive when searching for new opportunities. I've come a long way since beginning this career journey and I am grateful for the experiences. If I could go back to the beginning, I would look at job postings I was interested in and see what requirements beyond a degree exist so I would be better prepared from the start.

Q: Many of your mentees have struggled to fit into their workplace culture. What advice do you give them?
A: I've been mostly lucky to have great coworkers and supervisors. I've learned a lot and grown into a confident and ambitious employee. Part of that growth happened when moving on from jobs that I did not fit well in and also declining job offers that did not seem to be right for me. 

Jobs aren't going to be perfect in every way, but you should feel like you are a valuable part of the team, and it is worth being where you are. Good jobs do exist, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and really find what you are looking for. You don't have to settle for a job that doesn't give you some level of joy or peace in your daily life.

Therapist Emily Souder, MEd, LPCC-S, NCC ‘09 talks about the rewards of the mental health field—despite the salary challenges

Therapist, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor and owner of a private practice 

Q: What challenges did you face breaking into private practice as a therapist, and how did you overcome them?
A: The entire process of graduating with a master's [degree], taking the licensure exam, practicing under a supervisor, taking another licensure exam, and learning how to supervise new counselors was a long and difficult process. 

I found myself struggling at many points along the way. I reminded myself that this process helps to ensure the field is professional, ethical and the most helpful to consumers. I would often find myself thinking about how the struggles would help me to improve my craft and result in me being a better therapist, overall.

Q: Mental health providers are in high demand. What is the biggest challenge facing those who want to pursue this profession? 
A: The average starting salary for mental health professionals is quite low across the country. Taking into account the amount of education, training, energy required and level of responsibility mental health professionals hold for others' well-being, the salary is not likely to be viewed as commensurate for those considering the field.

Q: What advice do you give to those who are considering entering the mental health field, despite the salary challenges?
A: Joining this field does not usually result in high wealth in terms of money. However, those who are passionate about their work in this field are rich in other ways. Helping others in this way is a very rewarding career. 

With all of this being said, I would offer mentees the advice that there are jobs within the field that pay a higher salary, especially when independently licensed. It is my opinion that those in the field need to continue to advocate for the profession in general, but also for salary to be more commensurate with the job.

NASA employee Cliff Timpson ‘18, ‘20, ‘23 shares his advice for STEM professionals navigating a dynamic industry
Information Systems Security Officer for the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA  

Q: What is the biggest career challenge you have faced as you tried to progress in your career, and how did you overcome it?
A: My biggest challenge was learning to navigate the unwritten rules. I had to observe the different cultures, norms, subtleties and complexities of each environment to be successful at my job.   

Q: You’re an information systems professional at NASA. What is the biggest challenge you see up-and-coming professionals in STEM face?
A: In my opinion, the uncertainty is the biggest challenge. The priorities and initiatives of the industry are constantly changing, from job requirements, personnel changes, laws and regulations, budgets, and so on. We all are affected by uncertainty, but often up-and-coming professionals may not understand the impact of these changes and get lost in the fray.  

Q: A mentor can help shed light on these uncertainties and how to prepare for them. What is the most satisfying part of doing this for professionals on the rise?
A: The most satisfying part of being a mentor is helping my mentees realize what they have, rather than what they don’t. It’s more than accomplishing goals, it’s witnessing the growth of their character and the meaningful relationship that’s developed because of the time and effort invested.   

 Log into CareerQuest to learn how you can tap into UMGC’s career mentor program Community Connect to elevate your career. Looking to give your time and talent back to UMGC students? Then consider becoming a mentor today.