Leadership Pipeline Spotlight – Mary Sommers (Mentor) and LeAnn Hoffman (Mentee)
In our very first blog post about the Leadership Pipeline, highlighting past and present mentors and mentees, I had the opportunity to speak with Mary Sommers (mentor) (Director – University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, NE) and LeAnn Hoffman (mentee) (former Assistant Director of Wayne State College in Wayne, NE now Director at Western Iowa Tech Community College, Sioux City, IA). Mary and LeAnn were part of 2010-2011 cohort of Leadership Pipeline participants.
- What was the best part of the mentee/mentor relationship?
(LeAnn) The best part of the pipeline is the relationship between Mary Sommers and I. Mary is absolutely the best!! Being a part of the Leadership Pipeline opened many doors for me but I would have to say that the “main door” was having a person like Mary to go to for advice or just to talk about processes.
(Mary) The best part of the mentee/mentor relationship was first and foremost just getting to know LeAnn better as a professional and learning more about her aspirations. It was fun for me to see her enthusiasm for our work. But I also felt the opportunity to be a mentor made me a bit more reflective about my years in financial aid and how I have changed and learned new things. We don’t often take the time to be reflective in this day and age and participating in this program made me do this. That was a blessing.
- What was one of the most helpful things that you learned from your mentor/mentee?
(LeAnn)The most helpful thing I learned from Mary is that patience is a virtue. I am a very impatient person by nature, and she taught me that my career path would happen but it would take time. Most of all, she taught leadership by being the best role model anyone could ask for. I hope to one day follow her lead by taking leadership positions at the NASFAA level as well as in my new state (IASFAA) and regional (MASFAA) organization.
(Mary) When I was working with LeAnn I was also preparing to chair the Leadership Pipeline Committee. So one of the things I learned from LeAnn and that entire class of participants was that one of the significant strengths of the program was the relationship that developed among the mentees with one another. They developed close personal/professional relationships with one another. We worked after that to do everything we could to encourage those relationships. LeAnn also taught me a lot about persistence during that year. I have often thought about that when I found myself in a situation where persistence was required. LeAnn was my inspiration in that regard.
- How did participating in the leadership pipeline affect/direct your professional development?
(LeAnn) While participating in the program, Mary helped me increase my confidence level. The program was great at boosting my confidence by showing me that I need to believe in myself before anyone else would believe I have the ability to lead. This alone help immensely in my career development because I knew I had what it takes to lead a staff and becoming a director.
(Mary) Professional development occurs at many levels and in many ways. But participating in the Leadership Pipeline program as a mentor has simply convinced me that something structured like this program can work. Sometimes we as financial aid professionals won’t take the time necessary to actually think about and read about ways to improve our approach to our work. We are too busy just trying to keep up with technical changes in statute and regulations, systems, etc. I became convinced as a result of this experience that a structured program can provide the opportunity to reflect and think more about our approach to our work that is essential for success.
- If you could give any piece of advice to upcoming FA professionals what would it be?
(LeAnn) Believe in yourself! The negative is easier to believe but as a leader you need to have the ability to push the negative aside and focus on the positive. Having this ability will not only help you become a better leader but will also help your staff because attitude will flow from you to those you lead.
(Mary) The first piece of advice would be to make connections with financial aid professionals outside of your institution. Those of us who are ancient say this over and over again, but the network is the strength of this profession more than just about any other I have witnessed in higher education. The second piece of advice I would give to young professionals is don’t be afraid to make changes. For example if you have always worked at a private college, pursue an opportunity at a community college. If you have always worked on scholarships, don’t be afraid to pursue an opportunity that is focused on the student loan programs. Having a breadth of experience makes you a better financial aid administrator.
–Becca Dobry, Association News Committee Co-Chair, Nebraska