Thank Your Mentor

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A mentor and his mentee next to the National Mentoring Month seal and the URL, dol.govThank Your Mentor
By the Office of Disability Employment Policy Team

Editor’s Note: The following blog is reposted with permission from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Wherever you are in your career, think for a moment about someone who helped you along the way—perhaps a teacher, family friend or supervisor in an early job.   

During National Mentoring Month each January, we honor mentors who positively influence the lives of young people as they navigate their transition into adulthood and their workplaces.  

The research has shown that mentoring is beneficial to all youth. However, its impact can be especially significant for youth with disabilities and others from historically underserved communities that face educational and workplace inequality. For this reason, mentoring is a key component in our Office of Disability Employment Policy’s youth policy framework, the Guideposts for Success. 

An annual highlight of Mentoring Month is Thank a Mentor Day, which this year is Jan. 25. In honor, a few ODEP staff members reflected on mentors who have made a difference in their lives and careers. Here’s what they had to say: 

Felix Wu – Research Analyst 

Many mentors have helped me get to where I am today, but one I would especially like to thank is Dr. Fred Oswald, my doctoral advisor at Rice University. As my advisor, Dr. Oswald taught me about conducting statistical analyses, writing clearly and accurately, and designing impactful research. His doors were always open when I needed guidance and support. Beyond that, he was and remains an ally for students with disabilities. He advocated for campus accessibility, ensured disability-related issues were considered on committees, and helped me develop research ideas in the context of my lived experiences. As just one example, before I was even his graduate student, he noticed that students sometimes placed their bikes against the automatic door button, leaving me unable to get inside the building. He took action to fix that. This type of support was and remains critical to me as I navigate my studies and career, and I’m incredibly grateful.  

Rose Warner – Senior Policy Advisor 

Growing up, I learned Braille and had orientation and mobility classes. However, I never really felt comfortable with my blindness. For instance, I wouldn’t ever consider using a cane! This all changed after my first meaningful conversation with Patti Chang Esq., who taught me that one can be blind and successful. Although I had met Patti a few years earlier, it wasn’t until the summer before my senior year at Northwestern University that we really got to know each other. I was a National Federation of the Blind (NFB) national scholarship recipient; she chaired the selection committee. Because we were both from Illinois, we sat by each other over several days at a conference and bonded over shared life experiences. Later, she recommended me for a government affairs position at NFB, my first full-time job. I would likely not have had that opportunity if it wasn’t for Patti’s good word. Although we don’t talk as often as we’d like, I know she is always there for me, and that I’m lucky to be one of many people to have benefitted from her mentorship. 

Taryn Williams – Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy 

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom of many amazing people over the years, but this Mentoring Month, one in particular is top of mind—the late Judy Heumann, who passed away in March of last year. Anyone who works in disability policy knows that Judy’s impact was profound and widespread; she was part of essentially every advancement for people with disabilities in America, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. But it is important for people to know that she also left a legacy on a more individual, intimate level through her mentoring. She was a constant source of advice and support to so many people, and especially younger disabled women. I’m honored to have been one of them, and today I’m committed to paying it forward for the next generation. That’s the power of mentoring; it has an enduring effect. 

About the Author

This post was authored by staff from the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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