Honoring Our MentorsPosted on
Live your legacy: “…Others paved the path for us; we must do it for others.”
In the spirit of this core value, our team wants to express gratitude for the mentors, coaches, and teachers in our lives who have made it possible for us to succeed and thrive. We aspire to provide the same guidance, encouragement, and advocacy to our Fellows, other young people, and those in our networks.
My first manager, Dr. Anthony (Tony) Recasner, taught me so much by example. Given his own personal background, he understood our students, their families, and their community in a profoundly powerful way. Dr. Recasner, who was a psychologist by background, encouraged me to listen with “the third ear”: not only to what is being said but more importantly to what is not being said. He coached me to slow down my listening to ensure I had a strong chance of understanding what someone was saying. To this day, I still try to incorporate his advice into my conversations, “listen [pause], listen again [long pause], and listen again [very long pause]” before responding.
When I was a freshman in college a sorority sister one year my elder tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was a leader. Though I didn’t immediately believe her, she continued to challenge and empower me and some of my most formative life experiences resulted from her encouragement. Now she’s one of my best friends and a constant reminder of what you can do when you believe in yourself and put your talents to use.
As I transitioned from college into my first professional job, the tech leader on my team, Allen, took me under his wing and made sure that I had all the support and guidance needed to succeed. He genuinely cared about me as a person first and without his help in those early, formative years of my career I would not be where I am today. I learned so much from him about what makes a great, productive, and fun team, and I still draw upon his leadership to this day to be as effective as possible in my work and life.
My first-ever mentor was my Principal Investigator during a summer research internship. Igor immediately challenged and trusted me with high-stakes projects that stretched my skills, built my confidence, and encouraged me to think critically and creatively. The lab operated as a network of support, and I felt empowered as a leader for the first time.
My older sister, Leticia, was my first mentor. When I was a child, she exposed me to things, like computer programming, by taking me to her job and allowing me to shadow her. Leticia stayed up with me late at night, helping me create volcanoes for my science projects and solve complex math problems. In my youth, even though she lived a state away, she helped me explore different colleges and research careers across industries. Most importantly, she showed me what hard work, taking risks, and success could look like for someone from my culture, which continues to motivate me.
In high school I had a painting teacher, Shir Shvadron, who gave me new ways of looking at the world and new tools to communicate what I see. For example he taught me how “taking over” the canvas with some big, bold strokes before I dive into the details makes it much easier to keep things in proportion. He also showed me how trying new tools and taking risks with technique can result in innovative and attractive results. Though I seldom paint nowadays, I use what I learned from Shir on a daily basis in my work.
As a first-generation American, my older sister Elena helped pave the way for me and continues to serve as my personal leadership coach. When it came time to apply for my first job post-college, she coached me to pursue a path that connected my passions to my career. She taught me the importance of networking and creating connections for others. And we both owe it to our parents for instilling the practice of continuously paying it forward.
A few years ago, local leaders across New Mexico partnered with me to host a leadership development experience for an organization. This partnership opened doors that led me into the Native American experience in ways that have shaped how I think and advocate for social justice. In particular, Kara, Duta, Ian, Chuck, Leroy, Albert, Nate, and Juliana left an indelible print on my own leadership and empowered me to embrace my values and identity in how I lead. They invited us into their community and their endless generosity of spirit, humility, value of relationship, and approach to team and partnership still guide how I aspire to lead today.
In college, I worked in the geochemistry lab of one of my professors, a leader in his field who had won the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Even though I was still an undergrad and intimidated by his reputation, Dan eventually gave me a research project to run by myself, and this forced me to stretch myself to reach his high expectations. Even though I never ended up pursuing a career in the sciences, hearing him tell me that my work was “at the level of a post-doctorate fellow” gave me an enormous boost of confidence and belief in myself that has stuck with me ever since.
One of my first mentors was Evelyn Alsultany, my Mixed Race in America professor. It was the first semester of my junior year, and I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college. I was majoring in information sciences, but it didn’t inspire me. I remember talking with her about my indecisiveness during office hours and her words still stick with me, “Jordan, don’t create a life built on other people’s expectations. Choose a life that challenges you, one that truly inspires you. I promise you won’t regret it.” I haven’t looked back since.
One of my first mentors was my tenth grade math teacher, Ms. Braden. In a very competitive class with a small female population, she made sure that the girls in the class felt comfortable, confident, and like they belonged there. She had an influence on me in a number of different ways: both by serving as a role model of a strong female figure in a quantitative field, and because her belief in my abilities as a math student gave me the confidence to pursue quantitative coursework in the future. Having Ms. Braden as a mentor showed me how motivating it can be to have mentors that believe in you and push you to succeed.
As a recent transfer student and the first in my family to go to college, I didn’t know left from right when I stepped onto campus, but I had the incredible good fortune of being placed into Tim McCarthy’s history and literature tutorial, which became the foundation for the rest of my college career. His belief in me and the guidance he provided gave me the confidence to finally feel like I belonged and could meet any expectations. Most importantly, he turned a love of books and learning into a commitment to social justice.
I had secured my first internship at a community arts organization and was excited yet nervous. My manager Vanessa immediately gave me autonomy. She supported me but didn’t hold my hand. She challenged me to take risks and encouraged me even when things didn’t go as planned. Most importantly, she taught me how to trust myself–my intuition, ideas, and competence. The skills I gained working for her are ones I use to this day to make an impact.