From the Desk of
By Janet Johnson
It was in high school that for the first time I was a member of a professional organization—Business Professionals of America. Among other activities, members could participate in business competitions. A highlight for my younger self was advancing to state in two categories. One category was public speaking. I don’t remember the topic, but I remember I had to write, memorize and deliver the speech without notes. After a full Saturday of competition, I was so pleased the next day to see my name in the paper along with some of my classmates. Competing was a team effort—our teacher coached, we students strategized, practiced and rehearsed.
With that teacher I experienced “mentoring moments.” I gained insight into the world of work organically through lessons I completed during business lab and from first-hand experiences of challenges, growth and successes she so generously shared. I think that’s how it is for most people. Most of us aren’t connected through formal mentoring programs, we observe those around us and emulate those we admire. Soon after graduation, I started a job in the finance department of a bank. Onward and upward, I worked in an optometrist office, then for a local daily newspaper and lastly for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. I gained knowledge and skills about different jobs in various industries. While those jobs didn’t directly provide me with the purpose I was seeking, they did provide me with real world work experience and many “mentoring moments” with seasoned professionals. I took one college night class. I got married and had a family.
Fast forward to one spring evening in the mid-90s when my brother stopped by after work. He proceeded to tell me about a college program he had heard about at work. The program was designed to meet the needs of adults already in the workforce.
I enrolled and started my first class that summer. The class of ’98 was a cohort of 25 students going through the program, sharing successes, challenges and becoming friends. Mostly I studied at night after my kids were in bed. That was the easiest way for me to stay involved with my kids and be committed to earning a degree and getting the most out of the educational experience. I enjoyed the varied coursework, lectures, class discussions and getting to know my classmates, some of whom I stay in touch with today. To be successful, I focused on one assignment at a time and, class by class, I earned my degree.
None of us get to where we’re going by ourselves. Our networks benefit us in ways too numerous to count—linking us to people who provide insight and firsthand knowledge, job leads, encouragement and advice. For me, a component lacking in my academic program was access to an organized network of people who were willing to serve as mentors. Even though I had work experience, it was from 15 years earlier. I would have benefited from individuals willing to share insights into the current work world.
After earning my bachelor’s degree, I came to work at USI and am currently the Director of Alumni Relations and Volunteer USI. I recognize the tremendous difference mentors have made in my life and career, that’s why I’m so passionate about facilitating such relationships between our students and alumni through our Screagles Mentoring Program that allows students and mentors alike to gain from the relationship.
It’s a rewarding experience to connect alumni with students and each other for the purpose of mentoring. There is a personal sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in that act.