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NEWS | Feb. 28, 2023

DMA mentorship program graduates third class

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Participants in the Virginia Department of Military Affairs Workforce Development Mentoring Program graduated during a ceremony Feb. 23, 2023, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The mentors and mentees began their partnership early in 2022 and successfully completed a year of mentoring and learning from each other. 

The ceremony was the culmination of the program’s third year. According to retired Brig. Gen. Walt Mercer, the DMA Chief Operations Officer, the program has helped fill a void in the organization’s workforce development for state employees.

“About four or five years ago as we looked around and took some survey data from the staff, we saw that there was kind of a gap for developing a future bench,” said Mercer. “We’ve had a lot of good success stories. It’s been a great program, we’ve had a lot of fun with it. I’ve enjoyed being a mentor three times now for five or six people. Hopefully we’ll keep this thing going for many years to come.”

During the graduation, mentors and mentees were given the opportunity to share why the program has been helpful to them. 

“This is my second year being a mentor,” said Susan Corrigan, program director for DMA’s STARBASE Academy in Winchester, Virginia. “The one thing I love about it is I don’t really see it as ‘mentor and mentee,’ but a partnership. I have learned as much from Shiela as I hope she’s learned from me.”

Corrigan’s mentee, Sheila Loftis, shared Corrigan’s sentiments about the benefits of the relationship. 

“I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the DMA mentorship program. Most of all, I’m thankful for having a mentor like Susan, She has always been there every time I’ve called her, and she has been a great help,” said Loftis. “She’s a great listener and shows that she cares and respect. She provides honest feedback when I have reached out to her.”

Over the course of the year-long program, the mentors and mentees met on a regular basis, discussing career paths and goals, listening to guest speakers and engaging in other developmental activities. While the program was designed with some basic guidelines for the partnerships, one of the program’s major assets is its flexibility. 

“One of the beauties of this program is you can individually tailor it to what you want to get out of the experience. It’s not real prescriptive,” said Mercer. “We give you some guidelines, on certain months you should be doing certain things, you should set two or three goals with your mentor and work those through the year. But, your goals and your methods for getting after that are totally up to you and your mentor.”

While the formal mentor and mentee partnership lasts for a year, the program encourages continues collaboration, or even a second year in the formal program together. 

“My mentee is Jasmin Martin at Commonwealth ChalleNGe,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tim White, the DMA instructor and trainer. “What me and Jasmin decided the other day is we’re going to continue on. We’ve got three big events her and I want to work on this year, so we’re kind of excited about that.”

The program is making a difference, according to DMA leadership. 

“A lot of hard work goes into these programs from our team to try and make things successful and keep morale built up in a positive direction for the organization,” said Michelle Claiborne, the DMA Human Resources manager. “I see the growth, I see the change in individuals, and I think the more people get to understand what roles the people perform in, it gives you a different perspective, and See the respect that’s starting to change in the organization.”

One of the mentees from the program’s very first class in 2020, Tanisha Roberts, who was mentored by Mercer, shared how much the program meant to her. 

“When I was a part of this program, it was very motivating for me. Mr. Mercer was my mentor, and I learned so much, but with me learning a lot, he also listened a lot,” said Roberts. “He didn’t just listen with his ears, but also with his heart. He truly cared about what direction I wanted to go in, and he supported me in that.”

Work is now under way for the program’s fourth class of mentors and mentees. 

“If you know somebody who would benefit from being a mentee or a mentor, or you have someone in your section or you yourself want to do that, spread the word, take advantage of the program. All you have to do is email us and we’ll get you on the list,” said Mercer. “You can tell us if you have a certain kind of person or skill set you want to work with, you can tell us that too and we’ll try to match you up with that.”

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