— By Theresa Duque
As a researcher at Idaho National Laboratory, Reva Nickelson garnered 11 patents for subsurface barriers used in environmental remediation and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Inventorship.
Her success was rewarding, but Nickelson — who is now Berkeley Lab’s Facilities Division Director — wanted more. “As a researcher, I really enjoyed using science and engineering to solve problems that affect our everyday lives,” she said. “But I also love to mentor and develop people. It’s inspiring to watch people grow.”
The need for a mentoring program became apparent to Nickelson when she met with many Facilities staff members shortly after her arrival two years ago. Some staff felt that career advancement was beyond their reach, and others had considered leaving the Lab to search for better opportunities, she learned.
Nickelson soon teamed up with Chris Watchmaker, senior HR partner for Facilities, to create a pilot mentoring program for the division. Together, they worked on a series of sessions centered around a development plan, which mentees use to identify their strengths and weaknesses, interests, and job positions they’d like to be competitive for in the future.
“There’s a ton of really good people here, and everyone deserves a chance to untap their potential for excellence. Everyone needs a mentor to help them with their career, and to pinpoint how they can become more competitive in the workplace,” Nickelson said.
Program participants are as diverse as Facilities itself, ranging from administrators and plumbers, to project managers and engineers. All 11 mentors, which include Nickelson and Watchmaker, are part of Facilities’ management team, and all 11 mentees volunteered to participate in the pilot. None of the mentors are in a mentee’s management line. “This gives mentees a broad network to tap into that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Nickelson added.
The program’s emphasis on communication through weekly one-on-one meetings and monthly skills-building seminars stems from Nickelson’s philosophy on coaching and leadership.
“My mentor at Idaho National Laboratory taught me that everyone, even managers, struggle with having the hard conversation,” she said. “People often want to hear about what they do well, but to help someone grow, it’s also important to tell someone, ‘Here is where I think you could improve.’”
Launched early this year, the program is still in its developing stage, but some mentees are already carving new career paths in work planning, for example.
Sam Phillips, who was a plumber before finding another position in Work Planning & Control, credits the program for inspiring him to pursue an Associate for Arts degree in Construction Management at Diablo Valley College. “The program has been life-altering for me and my family,” he said. “So many of my colleagues shared their experiences and gave me advice and moral support along the way. I am honored that I was given the opportunity to participate.”
John Kim, who was mentored by Nickelson, attributes his improved management skills to the program’s use of leadership and communication exercises. “In one month, we spent entire meetings practicing how to effectively manage difficult situations involving a co-worker, a manager, or even one of my sons at home. Reva’s mentoring has definitely allowed me to be more effective in how I manage people,” Kim said.
Lauren Kaufman, an administrative assistant in Facilities, had begun to feel stagnant in her career when she heard about the mentoring pilot. She’s glad that she participated, and grateful that her mentor had faith in her ability to achieve. “While I’ve done my best at every job I’ve had, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Working with my mentor, a woman who has been undeniably successful in her career, has inspired me to take the next step and apply to graduate programs in public health,” Kaufman said.
And the mentors? They benefit too. “As a mentor, the program gave me an opportunity that I wouldn’t have otherwise — to share my experiences and help someone grow, and to learn from my mentee in return,” Watchmaker said.
For Nickelson, the extra time she invests in mentoring people is worth it. “It’s inspiring to watch people grow. When you mentor someone, it gives you more energy and makes you want to grow too,” she said.
Facilities’ pilot mentoring program will continue next fiscal year and will include Protective Services and the Environment/Health/Safety Division. Contact Chris Watchmaker of Human Resources or Reva Nickelson for more information about the program.