Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Men In My Life

Earlier this year I received news that one of my high school teachers was diagnosed with ALS.  To say this was a kick in the gut is an understatement.  That teacher was the one who pushed me on the path to becoming an engineer.  He mentored my high school robotics team, was my adviser, and was also the first person whom I would consider a mentor.   Looking back I realize there have been a few very strong mentors in my life. These would be the men in my life.

I remember many long days in the robotics lab spent learning about tools, how to build things, and why things work the way they do.  Loh taught me how to figure things out and why prototyping is so important.   He was happy to explain why a concept worked the way it did by building.  Torque was taught through gears and a robotics arm. This was my first introduction to hands on learning. Loh also helped teach me calculus and physics by showing me their applications.   I still remember Loh being my constant source of support during college applications and even to this day. When I got into MIT, I walked into his office with the admissions letter, said nothing, and handed to him. He nearly cried while reading it.  When I finally chose to go to Olin he said he was proud I chose somewhere that was a better fit for me.   When I got my current job launching rockets he asked to be kept informed of all the launches I worked and wants to hear all about what happens.  He was the first person who really encouraged me that I could be an engineer and go out and do great things.

In college I met Oscar.   He helped get me over my fears of not understanding things since I was suddenly thrust into a world of guys with egos who always said they knew everything.  Oscar took time to help me work through things so I fully understood them, then could apply them. He convinced me that I actually did know what I was doing and pushed me to reach beyond what I thought I could do.  Without Oscar I am fairly convinced I wouldn't have survived college. He also taught me one of the most important lessons, that I not only can I be an engineer, I am an engineer.

In college I also met Ben. He was a manager at a major defense contractor, I was, well, me about 4 years ago. Confused as to what I wanted to do post college, looking for guidance, and well, in he walked to my life. He was the person who gave me the courage to know that I could pursue a career in aerospace, and on top of that he helped me get one and is now helping me through it.  He recently retired but he is still apart of my life.

A little over a year ago I ran into a guy at work who works out at the launch site.  We some how fell into a mentor/mentee relationship after a few months and from him I have learned a lot about not only the industry I work in, but how to survive the working world.  Ron has been the one who told me I could do something when I doubted myself and helped make things happen when I started trying to improve things and someone yelled at me to get out of their sandbox. He has helped me learn to deflect harsh critics, and stand on my own feet. When things go well he has been the one ready with a pat on the back, but he has also been the one there when I have screwed up and needed help figuring out how to repair things.  Ron has always been there for a moment of levity when the going gets rough, and there even when my triumphs could impact him negatively. That to me is the true meaning of a selfless person. If I am able to learn even a few things from him I will be very lucky.

All of these men have shaped my life in dramatic ways, some more than others. Without them I would not be an engineer, not be in aerospace, not be a lot of things.  I am grateful for everyone of them.  Half of them have actually acknowledged they are a mentor, and the other half have not, but that makes no difference. What you learn from a person and take with you does not depend on a label.  I know what I have learned from these people is greater than they will know. Loh taught me about the quest for knowledge, Oscar showed me the confidence within myself, Ben pushed me to reach for my dreams, and Ron is helping me achieve them while keeping a sense of humor. 

"A great mentor guides without giving the answers, teaches through discovery, demonstrates without lecturing, provides support from backstage, observes without hovering, and leads by example."