Summer lessons learned: Mentoring 101
Lauren Lamers, MPH
Menominee Tribal Clinic
Over the years, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had
several mentors who truly helped me grow professionally and personally. I would not be where I am now without the
guidance of such phenomenal role models.
|Apple orchard at Keshena Primary School, Keshena, WI,|
planted as part of local childhood obesity prevention efforts.
Photo by Simone Tucker
For her STEP-UP project, Simone worked with me to assess childhood
obesity prevalence in Menominee
County. Over the last several years, the Menominee
Community Engagement Workgroup, a coalition of local community members and leaders, has been planning and implementing
initiatives to prevent childhood obesity, but they have so far been unable to
monitor childhood obesity prevalence or evaluate their efforts. Simone was able to analyze screening data collected through local school physical education programs to estimate the local prevalence of childhood obesity. She also conducted an environmental scan to better
catalogue current childhood obesity prevention efforts and facilitate planning
for future prevention initiatives. Her work has played a key role in helping the community set the stage to evaluate their work in the future.
Throughout the summer, the project enabled Simone to build
research and public health skills including data collection and
analysis; writing a scientific abstract; preparing oral and poster
presentations; and communicating her work to various audiences including her
peers, healthcare professionals, scientific researchers, and community
members. Additionally, the STEP-UP internship
was a unique opportunity for her to learn about research and public health more broadly and to
observe firsthand some of the efforts to improve health within her own
community. It was also very rewarding
for her to see that her work would play an important role in moving those
efforts forward in the future.
|Simone presenting her poster during the STEP-UP annual symposium |
at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.
(From left: Dr. Carolee Dodge-Francis [University of Nevada - Las Vegas*],
Simone Tucker, Lauren Lamers)
What I think was the most valuable outcome of the STEP-UP
program, however, was that Simone truly developed a stronger confidence in her
own abilities. One of the most rewarding
parts of the summer was seeing her transform from being nervous and uncertain
at the beginning of the project to seeing her confidently present her work
during the STEP-UP symposium at NIH. It
was really a special opportunity for both of us to step back and take in how
much she had learned and accomplished over the short space of eight weeks.
While I knew at the beginning of the summer that there would
be a lot to each over the course of the STEP-UP internship, I didn’t quite
anticipate how much I would gain from
being a mentor. Although I still have
plenty to learn about what it takes to be a good mentor, there are a few key
points that I will take away from my experience:
1. Mentoring takes time, planning, and
investment. I realized pretty early
on that mentoring wouldn’t be just about teaching the nuts and bolts of
research or public health. Being an
effective mentor really involved strategically planning not only what I would need to teach, but also
exploring how (admittedly, usually by
trial and error) to teach the concepts and skills my student would need in a
way that was practical and engaging.
Most importantly, though, it involved taking the time to really learn
about her interests, strengths, and weaknesses and actively provide
opportunities to help her grow.
2. Remember what it
was like when you were first starting out.
In many ways, mentoring helped me realize how far I’ve come even over
the past year of my Fellowship. From
time to time, though, I also needed to step back and remember how overwhelming
it can be to learn so many completely new concepts in a short amount of time. Keeping
this perspective helped me remember to reinforce that learning is a process
that takes time and involves plenty of mistakes, but that these mistakes are
often what help us grow the most.
3. Provide clear guidance, but encourage
independence. If there is one thing
I learned about myself this summer, it’s that I’m often guilty of
micromanaging. One of my biggest
challenges was finding balance between providing enough guidance and direction
and knowing when to step back so Simone could have the freedom and flexibility
to take ownership of her own work and learning.
In many ways, it was difficult for me to let go of wanting to oversee
all of the little details of the project, but once I did I think Simone was
really able to test her capabilities and grow from the experience.
4. Mentoring is an incredibly rewarding
experience. Although mentoring
presented unique challenges, it was also a lot of fun. It really allowed me to reflect on why I love
working in public health and share that with a student whose career is just
beginning. It was fantastic to go from
teaching Simone about the basics of research and public health to being able to
have in-depth conversations about topics ranging from the recent Ebola
outbreaks to public policy aspects of obesity prevention. I also think one of my proudest moments of my
Fellowship to date was watching Simone’s presentation at the NIH a few weeks
ago - it was truly a testament to all of her hard work and dedication. Helping her grow not only in her knowledge
and skills but also in her confidence has undoubtedly been the best part of my
So overall, it has been a summer full of learning, growth, and
hard work, but also a lot of fun. I am
so grateful for this opportunity to be a mentor, and I have an even deeper
appreciation for all of the mentors I have been privileged to work with over
the years. I look forward to seeing what
the future holds for Simone and to any new mentoring opportunities that may come my
*The University of Nevada - Las Vegas (UNLV) American Indian Research & Education Center (AIREC) is one of four NIH STEP-UP high
school coordinating centers. AIREC coordinates the American Indian/Alaska Native
STEP-UP students nationwide. For more information about the program contact
DeeJay Chino at 702-895-4003, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org