Mentoring program aims to boost professional skills, networks, careers

Illustration: Two people holding a conversation. They are seated at a table, with laptops in front of them.

October 16, 2023 – When Eileen Chao first started working at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Because she was not able to come to campus, she did not have many opportunities to interact with colleagues.

“The experience of working remotely could be isolating at times,” said Chao, communications coordinator in the Harvard Chan-NIEHS Center for Environmental Health. “I was looking for some deeper connections and mentorship.”

When she learned about the Longwood Campus Mentoring Program, she jumped at the opportunity to participate, becoming one of the 30 mentees when the program launched in 2022. “I was lucky enough to have a mentor who gave me not only advice on how to manage day-to-day operations, but also encouragement to chase after the opportunities that I wanted. My mentor became my biggest cheerleader. As a wide-eyed young professional still navigating their way through the Harvard system at the time, that was exactly what I needed,” Chao said about her mentor Thomas Naughton, senior quality assurance engineer at Harvard Catalyst.

Designed for early- and mid-career staff, the mentoring program is run by the Office of Employee Development and Wellness at Harvard Medical School (HMS), Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard Chan School, in partnership with the Black Staff Caucus. Running from January to June each year, the program offers one-on-one mentorship and group workshops with the goal of improving professional skills, expanding networks, and advancing careers.

“We are providing professional development in a worthwhile manner and in a different manner—it doesn’t always have to be in a training classroom,” said Luanne Westerling, talent and development program manager in the Office of Employee Development and Wellness. “It’s this organic way that people can meet different people.”

The program pairs mentees and mentors based on common fields and interests. Mentees can choose from a wide range of topics for their one-on-one discussions, including developing leadership skills, learning about potential career paths, and managing work-life balance. Additionally, monthly professional development workshops for mentees cover subjects such as setting goals and building a personal brand.

Vladimir Vepryev, finance and grants associate in the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, participated as a mentee in 2023. The program allowed him to home in on his interest in financial operations, but also provided a wider perspective. “The program presented both the big professional picture for Harvard University overall, and for Harvard Longwood in particular,” he said.

Vepryev’s mentor was Derek Barton, director of finance and administration in the HMS Department of Systems Biology. Barton decided to become a mentor because, in a previous role in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he was a mentee himself and benefited from networking and other career growth opportunities. “That experience, along with the desire to give back and share both my experiences and resources to others, were the key reasons I joined the program as a mentor,” he said.

The program is not only beneficial for mentees, but for mentors as well. “Mentoring is not a one-way street where the mentor imparts knowledge; it’s a two-way journey of learning and growth,” said Alison Richardson, director of administration in the Harvard Chan School Department of Epidemiology, who served as a mentor in 2023. “While I share my experiences and insights, I am constantly reminded of the importance of adaptability and continuous learning as I gain fresh perspectives from the mentee. Their questions and challenges often push me to think differently and stay current in my work.”

Mentee and mentor applications for the program are due on November 1. The program will hold an information session for mentees on October 17 from 12–12:45 pm, and one for mentors on October 20 from 12–12:45 pm.

Jay Lau

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