School of Engineering staff mentorship program offers support, professional development

by Lucas Johnson

A new staff mentorship program is helping foster more connections, expand professional development opportunities and a greater sense of belonging and inclusion at the School of Engineering.

Staffers participate in escape game activity.

The program, launched fall of 2023, is available for all full-time staff members at the School of Engineering. Participants have the choice of being a mentor, a mentee, or both, and are paired with someone for a year. They meet monthly and all employees in the program gather each month to participate in community building events.

Lana Hefner, a senior academic and educational support program coordinator in the Office of Student Success, spearheaded the program and says it is an opportunity to create more interaction between the different departments.

“We tend to be in our silos in our departments,” Hefner says. “I want people to get to know each other a little better, learn from one another, and feel supported and encouraged. Studies show having a workplace mentorship is good for people’s career development, and their feeling of belonging in the workplace.”

When discussing Vanderbilt’s approach to engineering education, Adam McKeever-Burgett, assistant dean for academic services and a staff mentor, says he often tells prospective students and their families that faculty members take teaching seriously because it invigorates their research and allows the work they do in their labs to come to life in a different way through the eyes of their students.

“Mentoring is much the same,” says McKeever-Burgett, who is currently serving as president of the University Staff Advisory Council (USAC). “I get to step back and think about what has been beneficial to me in my career so I can pass that information along, but also so it can inform my own practices and mindset moving forward.”

Carter Connolley, the undergraduate administrative coordinator for the computer science program, is McKeever-Burgett’s mentee. He says he’s enjoyed learning from his mentor, and the program in general.

“This is my first year in this position, and the program has provided me with a sense of comfort and inclusiveness that is hard to find early on in one’s career,” Connolley says. “It feels like a family within the School of Engineering.”

Maya Nashabi, former president of the School of Engineering’s Staff Council, which is a partner with the staff mentorship program, agrees that such programs promote a positive culture and help provide extra support and guidance to individuals who want to grow.

“A great mentor can help their mentee grow personally and professionally, gain experience and new skills, and boost confidence,” says Nashabi, who was president when the program started. “Mentoring improves communication and helps retain and attract new talent.”

Maddie Humbert, assistant director of the Office of Academic Services, and Carrie Owen, student experience coordinator in the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s innovation center, are program participants. Humbert says after seven years in the School of Engineering she felt comfortable enough to become a mentor. Now she is working with Owen to help in her career journey. But Humbert says she’s also benefited from getting to know Owen, and other participants.

“Carrie’s trajectory working in higher education had similarities to my own, so it’s been great to discuss our passions and what led us here,” Humbert says. “The other benefit has been connecting with the larger VUSE staff mentor group. Getting to do things with other pairs has allowed us to make connections and get more out of the program.”

When things may not be going as planned, Owen says a mentor can serve as both a confidante and source of advice.

“I love getting to know someone who I can trust to vent to, who I can ask scary questions and get realistic answers based on experience,” Owen says.

Mentor Dave Caudel, associate director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt, says he would not be where he is today had it not been for the help and encouragement he received from mentors.

“I find it a joy to pay that forward,” Caudel says. “In my opinion, it’s an essential part of building and maintaining the professional community we all need in order to thrive in the workplace.”

To learn more about the staff mentorship program, contact Lana Hefner: