Expanding access to leadership, CTA launches formal mentorship program

By: Travis Estvold
18 April 2016

“There’s this great quote by Charles ‘Tremendous’ Jones that I love,” CTA senior CAD tech Josh Shiverick recently said. “It goes, ‘You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.’ It reminds people to take charge of their lives and careers through informational sources and interacting with thought leaders.”

In 2015, Boise healthcare architect Lindsay Erb launched Mentor Mondays — an interdisciplinary CTA resource orientation program — in CTA’s Boise office. After completing a year of large group meetings, architectural department head Tom Calla challenged Erb to revamp the program. A team was formed, focused on creating a mentorship program that offered additional opportunities for one-on-one interaction, and provided team members with an avenue for dialoging directly with CTA principals, associate principals, and associates. Erb, Shiverick, and project manager Brock Martinson got to brainstorming, asking how they could engage as many people as possible, and how they could remove any existing barriers to participation for both mentors and mentees.

A 12-week program was born, each session to include a leader/mentor, a facilitator, and 5-6 participating mentees. Leaders were equipped with a list of potential discussion items — such as marketing, development, project management, personal growth, work/life balance, and plotting a career path — but selection of specifics was left up to each group. So what was discussed, and at what level of detail, developed organically.

“It was a low-pressure environment, and team members said afterward the exercise felt very inclusive and genuine,” Erb said. Other participant feedback indicated an appreciation for picking the brains of leaders on a very deep and meaningful level. There was, however, a bit of negative feedback: “How is the series over already? Can we just keep going?” Not to worry, Erb and Shiverick say; the next series is just around the corner.

One mentor, CTA associate and senior electrical engineer Gary Glassing, presented on the difference between being an engineer and a manager of other engineers, additionally sharing his process for securing new projects, and how working in each of CTA’s primary markets can require unique skill sets. Potential clients in the government sector, for instance, often select design firms based on very different criteria, he said. Discussions in other sessions included how to engage local communities, and how to be recognized as a leader both personally and in one’s professional field. Every mentee also participated in a StrengthsFinder training, learning how being in touch with what they are best at can help alter career development, and how identifying strengths can aid in selection of custom-fitted project teams best suited for client needs.

The first session recently ended, and three mentees weighed in on participation in the program:

How important do you think it is to have mentors you feel comfortable with?

  • Architect-in-training Amy Probert: Being mentored by someone you are comfortable around is an important factor; for the mentoring groups however I do not feel that this is a requisite for jumping in and getting to know someone you aren’t familiar with. You may be surprised by the connections you make.
  • Mechanical engineer-in-training Tom Simenc: It is natural to be uncomfortable with someone who is more experienced, higher-up, or a company leader, but those are the individuals that often have the most to offer. By going through the mentor program and getting to spend time with individuals like that, you can build comfort and learn a lot.
  • Architect-in-training Karissa Meiers: To feel comfortable around a mentor is essential. The mentor position is all about helping others so you might as well loosen up and really reap those benefits!

Did this program help you feel that you have a better understanding of your strengths/goals?

  • AP: Finding and analyzing my top strengths helped me to see how I can focus my goals in line with my talents and personality style.
  • TS: We went through the StrengthsFinder exercise which I thought was interesting and shed some light on strengths.
  • KM: The StrengthsFinder was really interesting in that you could find out what strengths you share with others and which are unique to you. Having this information about individuals on a team will add a lot of depth to the team’s awareness and has the potential to really benefit the team as a whole.

What was your favorite part of the program?

  • AP: It was a warm and accepting environment that allowed everyone in the group to be able to share openly and authentically.
  • TS: The information that Gary put together to present at the meetings was always interesting. We went over project management, bidding, and client relationship info, along with general career path ideas.
  • KM: I really enjoyed having the chance to get to know more of my coworkers. We don’t always get a chance to discuss what our future career goals are when our present demands so much. It was refreshing to have a time where we could really focus on our career in a different way.

How would you describe the program to a colleague who was considering participating?

  • AP: It’s a small group that meets every other week with a mentor where you can ask anything related to your daily work and career and receive valuable feedback.
  • TS: It’s an opportunity to open a line of communication with someone in CTA that you may not otherwise have had before. Additionally, it is a chance to ask questions and learn about many aspects of CTA’s operations and history, as well as get personal insight from an accomplished member of the CTA team.
  • KM: It is some time where you, with the help of others, can really focus on what you are seeking.

If you were asked to be a mentor yourself today (or in the near future), what would be the first lesson you’d pass on?

  • AP: Everyone has a unique set of talents and strengths. Find out what these are and use them to shape your career.
  • TS: The general discussion of how to progress your career within CTA is one that everyone should engage in. Other than that, I don’t have the qualifications/experience to pass on most of the “lessons” that we went over.
  • KM: Find your passion and pursue it. This is where you hold the majority of your potential.

Main image: CTA team members (L to R) James Colburn, Lindsay Erb, Amy Probert, and Todd Poirier participate in a recent mentoring session.

  • Write a comment

    Recent comments

    • claire 3 years ago

      Nice work, Lindsay Erb! and Amy, Tom, and Karissa, too. Sounds like an excellent program, and a rare opportunity to have the communication-feedback-cycle go full circle.