Leadership Pipeline Spotlight

Leadership Pipeline Spotlight – Don Buehrer (Mentor) and Julie Watson (Mentee)

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In our second blog post about the Leadership Pipeline, highlighting past and present mentors and mentees, I had the opportunity to speak with Don Buehrer (mentor) (Former Director of Financial Aid at Mount Marty College {SD} and Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions, retired) and Julie Watson (mentee) (Former Customer Service Manager and currently Assistant Director at Montana State University at Bozeman).  Don and Julie were part of 2013-2014 cohort of Leadership Pipeline participants.

Don Julie

What led you to become a mentor/mentee

  • Don: “From the very start of my financial aid career I was impressed with how people in the profession were willing help me when I had questions or needed help. The Student Financial Aid profession is unique in that people are so willing to help each other.  Leadership Pipeline was my opportunity to give back.  I wanted to encourage new people to get involved and help them realize their leadership potential.”
  • Julie: “I had gone to a (MASFAA) state conference, and then to the RMASFAA annual conference and was motivated by what I had learned there to get more involved. There was a push for Montana applicants for Leadership pipeline, and so with the support of my supervisors I decided this was my opportunity to gain leadership skills and learn more about my profession.”

If you were going to tell one story about the experience, what would it be?

  • Don: “Julie accepted a position with greater responsibility within her office mid-way through the yearlong Leadership Pipeline process, and we decided we needed to incorporate some role playing and practice to help her with her new position. This motivated me to think outside of the box and to tap into my creative side designing exercises to help her with her new position.”
  • Julie: “It was daunting to accept the challenge of a new position, and I was grateful to have a mentor already in place to help me develop the tools I needed to accomplish my job. The interactions and feedback Don gave me helped tremendously, and I learned a lot.  Leadership Pipeline is a great asset.”

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

  • Don: “I entered into the mentor/mentee relationship not knowing Julie’s level of motivation, confidence or experience, and I wasn’t sure how she would react to constructive comments. I wanted to mentor in a positive way without becoming over-bearing.  I discovered that Julie had a great interest in moving forward, and that we were on the same wavelength, which made it easy for me to be her mentor.”
  • Julie: “I wasn’t sure if I was up to the challenges of the coursework, especially considering the logistical problems involving distance, and the time demands on my already busy schedule. But I was able to sail through it and I cherish the mentor/mentee relationship I developed with Don.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?

  • Don: “I’ve always had a philosophy that preparation inspires confidence. We had an exercise from the book ‘You’re the Director” which required each participant to make a presentation to the group.  I sensed that Julie was not confident of her public presentation skills, but I knew she had done a great job researching and preparing for the session. I encouraged her to use her own words and to have confidence in her preparation.  She was the first one to speak and it was obvious that she was thoroughly prepared.  She answered the follow-up questions perfectly.  Later, at the end of the year, Julie was also required to present at the RMASFAA Annual Conference and she did well. The change in her confidence levels from beginning to end was amazing.”
  • Julie: “Growing and gaining confidence, and having Don’s experience and feedback were invaluable. The relationships I built with the other members of the group were great.  Now when I go to conferences I have this group of people I am always excited to see.  I also know that we are there for each other.  It was great to connect with the bigger picture within Financial Aid.  The whole experience was amazing, and I encourage everyone to go for it.”

How did participating in the Leadership Institute affect or direct your professional development.

  • Don: “I learned as much as a mentor as Julie learned as a mentee. Anyone who knows me will tell you that patience, open mindedness and listening are not amongst my greatest virtues.  My goal as a mentor was to hone those skills, and by the end I had become a more patient and open minded listener.”
  • Julie: “The skills and relationships I gained going through Leadership Pipeline have made me stronger. They helped me persevere through a difficult year filled with change and challenges and capped off by a bad automobile accident.   What was most important was that Leadership Pipeline gave me a foundation of relationships; Don’s, my fellow Pipeline teammates’ and the wonderful people at RMASFAA that sustained me.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to an individual entering into a mentor/mentee experience?

  • Don: “All parties should realize that it’s a learning experience, that there will be learning involved. The best way to maximize that experience is to take the extra time needed to get to know your partner and your team members.  I felt Julie and I had a successful mentor/mentee relationship because we took the time to understand Julie’s goals for the experience.”
  • Julie: “I second what Don said. This is an amazing opportunity to learn, but you need to be open and receptive and give yourself over to the experience.  The more you put into the program the more you’ll get out of it.  I’d like to encourage more people to get involved as mentors and mentees in Leadership Pipeline.”

Roger Matthew, Association News Committee Member, Montana

Roger Matthew

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