Steve Smith, ’81 and MAE ’88, has been on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.
In both his professional life and through his volunteer work as a member of Rotary Club of Tacoma, he encourages others to give their time and offer their wisdom.
Smith is the executive director of the Black Education Strategy Roundtable in Federal Way. The organization’s mission is to make systemic change to help improve the outcomes for Black students across the state, starting with early education. The Roundtable wants students to not only receive a diploma, but to be prepared for post-secondary education or whatever life paths they choose.
As a Rotary member, Smith recruits business professionals to be matched with elementary school kids who need a reading buddy. Relationships can span a school year — and sometimes three.
Smith has learned a lot through his experiences. Here are some mentoring tips he shared during a recent conversation with ResoLute:
Mentors Do Not Have to Have All the Answers
Smith once was a mentor to a kid who was struggling in college with “barely a nickel to his name.” Later, the student started software companies and suddenly was making a lot of money. Smith didn’t really understand that business, but the mentorship continued as they discussed big-picture life issues, like friendship, business ethics, and more.
Be Patient and Present
Sure, the reading program helps kids get caught up to their age-appropriate reading level. But, perhaps more important, it gives students adults who are committed to their success and invested in it. Smith knows top-level executives who block out 30 minutes of reading buddy time on their packed calendars. Their time commitment is ironclad.
Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree
Smith has conducted healthy arguments with his mentees because he doesn’t just tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes he tells them what he thinks they need to hear. He never tells them what to do. But he might introduce pathways that a mentee may have overlooked.
The More Mentors, The Better
He tells those just starting out in the career world to connect with people they look up to — or are where they’d like to see themselves some day.
What if a mentorship isn't working?
Sometimes mentorships run their course. Sometimes they just never really click. If this is the case it is good to identify the issue and help create a different match.