Mentoring makes a difference
A mentor can literally change
your life. When Thuy “Cindy” Nguyen met Alda Stephens at a scholarship
dinner at SPSU, little did she know that her life would make a
180-degree turn for the better. That year Cindy was a recipient of the
Shaw Industries Scholarship. She describes herself as a shy person then,
one who would often be quiet around others, uncertain of her accented
English, in spite of strong grades and great academic success, as
evidenced by the scholarship award.
Cindy says she owes a debt to SPSU’s Career and Counseling Services Director Phyllis Weatherly for introducing her to Alda. “Phyllis was amazing. She heard that I was an IET [Industrial Engineering Technology] major and said she had someone she wanted me to meet who was also at the dinner,” explains Cindy.
Alda Stephens is a dual-degree holder from SPSU, in IET and management, who currently works at Lockheed Martin after working many years at GE. Cindy says she has no idea how she found the courage to do so, but during their conversation at the scholarship dinner, she asked Alda to meet her for lunch, and the rest is history. Now Cindy calls Alda “Mama Alda” and recently celebrated her graduation with both her family and Alda there to watch as she finished her SPSU journey.
Alda and Cindy continued to meet every couple of weeks or so after that first lunch. Soon Cindy began to be more confident on campus. She became president of the student Society of Women Engineers and vice president of Tau Alpha Pi, the engineering honor society. She also joined the Institute of Industrial Engineers, none of which she would have done without Alda’s encouragement along the way.
As Cindy became more comfortable with Alda, knowing that they shared the experience of often being among the few women in an engineering environment, she began to ask Alda for her advice on projects and professional decisions. Alda provided support by telephone and email as Cindy completed summer internships hundreds of miles away from Atlanta in 2010 and 2011.
After spending the summer of 2010 as an intern with Rockwell Automation in Wisconsin, Cindy learned of an international competition that Rockwell was sponsoring. Cindy and two other SPSU students, with the support of Professor Greg Wiles, were among 85 student groups from over 25 different countries that submitted projects. Three finalists were chosen, with SPSU among them. The three top groups – one from Lehigh University, one from Israel and Cindy’s group – were flown to Nevada to present their projects, where SPSU took first place.
There is no doubt that Cindy’s successes in 2010 contributed to her being offered an internship in the summer of 2011 with Colgate-Palmolive in New Jersey. Finding herself hundreds of miles away from Atlanta again, Cindy continued to check in with a regular Sunday phone call to Alda. On one of those first phone calls to Alda, she described a work challenge she was facing. Since her assignment was in the project management area instead of the more familiar engineering, she was feeling especially anxious about juggling all the responsibilities she was given. Alda’s years of work experience gave her just the right advice to share with Cindy about how to manage the work and how to make sure that her supervisor would have fair expectations.
Alda’s mentoring allowed Cindy to talk with her manager to achieve great success that summer as an intern. Her hard work paid off. Cindy has accepted a full-time job with Colgate-Palmolive now that she has graduated, and she will be participating in their highly competitive leadership program.
Cindy says, “My whole life changed two years ago when I met Alda. I started to do things that I never did before, to come out of my shell. I always had good grades and did well academically, but I never got involved like I have the last few years.” She says that having the advice of an experienced female engineer has been invaluable. “I have another mentor, a male engineer, who always gives great advice about what to do, but with Alda, she listens and helps me figure out my own approach to the problem. It’s different with a female mentor.”
Cindy further explained the difference, “Alda was someone I could share work challenges with, but she was also someone who could help me with emotional challenges. She helped me decide which job to accept! When I was deciding whether to accept a job in the field of electronics or in consumer products, Alda was able to help me understand how different each environment would be. She had worked at GE and explained that as a woman, she found that she connected with the personal nature of the consumer products arena. I thought that I would like it better too, so I chose the Colgate-Palmolive opportunity.”
Hopefully, Cindy and Alda's story will inspire other women alumni and students to seek out their own mentoring experiences. This March, women students will gather on campus to meet interested alumnae in hopes of finding their own mentors. If you are an alumna and are interested in mentoring a female student, please send an email to email@example.com so we can be sure to invite you to join us.