UMGC Mentors Share Their Career-Shaping Wisdom to Help Students

A mentor has the power to make a life-changing difference in someone else’s career. In honor of National Mentoring Month this January, we’re sharing insights from some UMGC alumni mentors who are using their time and talent to help students reach their professional goals.

“Mentoring has the potential to make a huge impact on up-and-coming professionals, which is why UMGC offers our career mentor program, Community Connect,” says Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Nikki Sandoval. “We’re so grateful to our talented and generous alumni who give so selflessly to help other professionals get ahead.” 

Here’s some key advice from some of UMGC’s alumni career mentors:  

Dr. Catherine Pearson ‘11 
Business and Management PAS, MBA 

Why do you mentor?  
When I contribute to the development of mentees to become more innovative thinkers, they can reframe their own experiences. They can consciously make informed decisions about their careers. When mentees accomplish their goals, I feel honored to celebrate with them. 

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals?  
When choosing a career path, don’t be afraid to step out into an uncomfortable environment and experiment. Use LinkedIn or other social media platforms to leverage your research. Seek out professionals who currently hold the job title within the industry you want to pursue. Learning directly from professionals in your field will impact the direction of your career. Request a 15-minute phone call followed by a visit to the organization or a virtual orientation.  

Ask questions about the day-to-day demands of the job. Find out if your skills fit into the job or industry. Build on your skills and strengthen other areas. Be open to exploring opportunities that contribute to your desires of where you want to be in your career. Getting there may require change. Have a mindset of flexibility and implement the needed changes to get you there.  

Find a mentor with the experience and accomplishments that will most support you during your journey. Be sure the mentor’s values align with your values—filter on the importance of integrity. Engage and invest your time in getting to know your mentor. Demonstrate your potential by action. Follow up and share your progress, clarify what you want, and determine if they are a good fit to help you move from where you are to where you want to be. Cultivate the relationship  before  you ask them to be your mentor.   

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out?  
As mentors, we have to be careful not to assume that students have the same desires as we do, even though they may pursue the same career. Challenge students to maximize their potential in discovering their passion and where they fit into the world. Help them explore opportunities by providing resources and introducing them to partnering networks. Be that champion for them. Celebrate their successes to let them know they have support.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring?  
As a mentor, I connect with mentees and build trust. They have a safe space to share their concerns, worries and personal life decisions that may affect their careers. Creating a safe space fosters a culture of growth and leadership for mentees. Mentoring helps stretch me, further develop as a leader and gain new insights into generational differences. 

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Challenges create growth and development opportunities. The bigger the challenge is, the stronger we become if we remain steadfast as we work through those challenging opportunities. 

Aisha Summers ’16 and ‘19 
Bachelor of Science in Laboratory Management, Master of Science in Biotech-Regulatory Affairs 

Why do you mentor? 

Mentoring is one of the ways I give back. Personally, I didn’t have much luck with mentorship when I began my professional career. I had to seek out most of the information I yearned for by reading career-advice blogs and then make sense of it all on my own. My hope is to be a source of information and support system to someone else that needs it.  

Most importantly, representation matters. I mentor so that someone else sees the reflection of a woman of color, mother, wife and person with dyslexia navigate a successful career.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
Invest in yourself by keeping your resume up to date. You never know when you’ll need it to justify a promotion or entertain a new position.  

Avoid becoming complacent. Take on new challenges by volunteering for a task or project at work. This is how we grow as professionals and gain expertise in our industry or profession.  

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
Students just starting out have a lot of questions and many times are overwhelmed or feel uncertain about what is next for them. The biggest help a mentor can provide a student who is just starting out is to be supportive and encouraging,  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentoring is a pathway to new professional relationships. A mentee can become a professional colleague. I love seeing a text or email from a mentee who wants to share a new achievement or success.  

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Eventually I learned to reduce stress and burnout. I bought a planner specifically for work. It helped me take notes in meetings, prioritize my tasks and better communicate my workload with my leadership. 

I have also learned that any position I hold needs to be mutually beneficial to the organization I work for and to myself. My advice is do not stay in any position that is not providing you an opportunity to grow personally and/or professionally. 

David Austin ’17 and ’20  
Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy, MBA  

Why do you mentor?  
I mentor with the hope I can inspire other people that they are capable of doing anything they really see in their hearts and minds.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals?  
Have an open mind and be flexible. Most importantly, be prepared. There is no easy road in terms of paying your dues. The younger that you are, the more opportunities that come your way. Really be prepared to make sacrifices.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
The biggest benefit to mentees is that they start getting different ideas. I mention different ideas and different paths they may never have thought of before. I think that’s what’s helpful. 

What key lesson have you learned during your career?  
The one thing I learned from a security information perspective is that in in other businesses, we are taught to take the initiative and not ask permission to do things. That’s fine, but in cybersecurity, I learned that you have to ask permission. You have to work as a team.  

Esther Ndungu ‘15 
Bachelor of Science in Gerontology & Aging and Psychology 

Why do you mentor? 
As a military spouse and mother of two boys, attending school was an endeavor I did to better myself and to expand my knowledge on different subjects. I had a great learning experience while attending school at UMGC, so mentorship is my way of giving back to the school and a way to guide the current students to achieve their academic goals.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
I would advise an upcoming professional to choose a career that is in line with their hobbies. They will be motivated and excited whenever they engage in work that they enjoy. 

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
I did not have a mentor when I started college, and because of this, I made so many mistakes along the way by trying out everything. It became overwhelming, and at some point, I did not have the motivation to continue pursuing my educational endeavors. Guiding students who are just starting out to create practical schedules is essential in ensuring that they have enough time allocated to attend to personal matters, as well as staying active in school.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentorship is like having VIP access to specialized information that would help one advance faster. The mentee gets to avoid some pitfalls because they can leverage both good and bad experiences from others, enabling them to implement aggressive strategies to their goals. 

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 

Over the cause of my career, I have come to learn the value of properly picking out electives in school and the importance of strategic partnering, or networking. In general, these present unique opportunities to expand an individual’s scope and enhance necessary skills for future growth and success. 

Keith Gruenberg ‘94 
Management Studies PAS 

Why do you mentor? 
I enjoy encouraging others and providing guidance and alignment to help them navigate an ever-changing world. I remember transitioning out of the military and all the unknowns and trying to work through all the challenges on my own. I’m hoping my mentoring helps reduce challenges and anxiety and results in each person taking a giant step forward in his or her career.     

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
Know what you are looking for or at least what gets you excited and network, network, network. There are many options out there, but you can speed up the process by knowing what you are looking for and what are your must-haves for a company. Building a broad network will hopefully get you introduced deeper into a great company with a great fit.   

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
When a student is just starting out is the perfect time to connect with a mentor. A mentor can provide assistance on navigating college courses and aligning that to a potential career aspiration. Connecting with a mentor from the start allows you to build a relationship and grow with the student as they work through key education and employment decisions.   

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentoring keeps me connected to the new workforce and keeps me connected with current trends in business. I want to be as prepared as possible to provide great support and guidance based on the current business situation. It also helps me to understand the concerns and focus for students getting ready to join the workforce. I feel like I’m making a difference and giving back.   

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Nothing comes easy in the real world. You have to want it and work for it to make it happen. If you don’t get it, pick yourself up, determine where you need to improve and try again. Persistence and tenacity are your friends.   

Interested in mentoring through UMGC’s Career Connect program? 
If you’re looking for a mentor or would like to sign up to become a mentor, visit  careerquest.umgc.edu to learn more about UMGC Career Services and to register to participate in the Community Connect program. To speak with someone directly about the program, contact communityconnect@umgc.edu.