“Be All That You Are As Soon As Possible” and Other Advice from Mentors

Three alumnae of Running Start’s Fall Mentorship Program reflect on their transformative experience. Though they all had different goals, they found that the supportive community of the program — made up of peer mentorship “mastermind” sessions and question-and-answer sessions with high-level women leaders — helped them grow both professionally and personally, with astonishing results.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

What drew you to apply for the Fall Mentorship Program?

Lubna: Susannah emailed me, telling me that she thought I should apply, and I was grateful for the potential growth opportunity. I applied because I wanted to learn how women leaders are able to hold meaningful leadership positions while caregiving for their growing families.

Lauren: Running Start has afforded me more opportunities than I could have imagined these last 5 years. Since my time as an intern in 2016, I have been involved with various initiatives and programs and am deeply fortunate to be an alumna of this organization. I believe mentorship to be much more than just a buzz-word for women looking to enter a male-dominated field. For me, it has meant candid conversations, reassurance of my competence and a boost of confidence. I see it as an important and necessary sharing of wisdom and vulnerability between professionals at different stages of their careers.

I was especially compelled to apply for the Fall Mentorship Program because I was entering my first post-graduate opportunity and moving to another country amidst a global pandemic, a case more fortunate than that of many others, and I sought a feeling of strength in unity; I think we all need a reminder of resilience sometimes. I applied because mentors have a dynamic ability to advise and support through personal and professional challenges while offering their own experiences as lessons learned. This type of exchange is one of my most cherished among colleagues and connections. It eliminates any self-destructive doubt and applies the best kind of pressure.

Fiona: I am a molecular and cellular biology PhD student and believe that it is critical that we have scientists — particularly scientists who identify as women — in political leadership, but very few interdisciplinary training opportunities exist for young scientists interested in policy and civic leadership. My interest in health equity and science policy has been reinforced this year through direct involvement in COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and I hope to be a liaison between the scientific and political communities as both a researcher and political leader. I applied for Running Start’s Fall Mentorship Program because I believe that guidance from women in both science and politics will be essential to navigating my multidisciplinary and collaborative career. The program offered the political training necessary to prepare me for my projected career path and provided an opportunity to join a group of women working at the nexus of their respective fields and politics.

Pictured: Lubna, Lauren, Fiona and their Mentorship Group during a session with their mentors, Nishita Henry and Dr. Michelle Harrison.

What were you hoping to get out of the program, and do you feel that you achieved it?

Lubna: After my second son was born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), I left my job to take care of my children full time. Through the program, I wanted to learn about work/life balance for women leaders. Nishita Henry, our mentor, said, “As long as you are happy, your children will also be happy.”

Her words made me realize that I wanted to continue pursuing my passions: I have now been accepted into multiple public health programs, and I will need to make the tough decision of choosing one before I start in the summer/fall of 2021. My goal is to develop evidenced-based interventions that improve the health outcomes of vulnerable populations while reducing health disparities, all through a multidisciplinary approach that leads to effective policy changes.

Lauren: The Mentorship Program was one of the first major virtual events I attended of its kind during the pandemic, and I can say with honesty that it was one of the most engaging and well-organized to-date. I wanted to learn from some of the best and brightest across sectors about self-advocacy, professional planning and elevating others along the way. Most notably, I came for the energy, the kind you can only find when a group of female-identifying and nonbinary folks come together to network, educate and empower each other. That kind of energy is so contagious it can pull you out of the darkest places and it can fuel you for months at a time, restoring your purpose and passion for what you do. I feel with full certainty that I logged-off each virtual meeting having obtained all that I sought out. It was really something special.

Fiona: I was looking for a community of women with similar goals, but varying backgrounds and perspectives. I hoped to develop new skills through the sum of our experiences as an ideologically, professionally, demographically, and geographically diverse cohort and to foster partnerships lasting beyond the duration of the program.

I feel that I was welcomed into a dynamic community and have achieved far beyond what I expected at the outset of the program. I formed close friendships with my group members that I hope will last for years, and I look forward to many of the collaborations that would not have been possible without the introductions that Running Start facilitated.

What did you learn about leadership, personal development, etc. from the program? What was a memorable lesson or take-away from the experience?

Lubna: Dr. Harrison said, “Follow your deepest passions … It is a journey of resilience and it is hard work.” She continued to say that she always feels fresh and never gets bored in her line of work. She said that it is important to play up the strengths of your professional versatility, and that the path to positions of leadership are not climbing a ladder, but more like navigating through a jungle gym. Dr. Harrison was honest about her journey and gave both practical and helpful feedback to our questions. She is an incredible example for us all.

Lauren: As someone who aspires to lead, one key take-away from the Mentorship Program was the sentiment that purposeful leadership lies at the intersection of passion and resilience. Ultimately, we must pursue our interests but be prepared to fail if aiming for positions of power. It seems simple, but the catch is that we must first characterize ourselves by the way that we rebuild to one day be regarded as leaders. Dr. Michelle Harrison shared the notion of centering interests professionally, bracing for impact and remaining ever-accountable, and I am eternally grateful for her wisdom.

A second take-away that really resonated was the reality that communication is a lost art. My most endorsed skill on LinkedIn is Public Speaking, and whether that is my peers poking fun at the fact that I give speeches about anything or that I never turn down an opportunity to present, there is certainly power in speaking to people, not at them. It’s difficult to bring simplicity and relevance to something complex, yet still preserve the integrity of the message. To have that very message then connect with one’s audience through near flawless delivery, all while being concise enough to captivate one’s attention is, in fact, nothing less than an art form. I’ve been challenging myself to improve my own speaking and writing skills, thanks to the inspiration of Ms. Tasha Cole.

Fiona: On a practical level, I feel that I learned a lot about the importance of balance and a well-rounded life to be able to be a maximally effective community member. More broadly, I appreciated our mentors’ commitments to investing their time into guiding us as we navigate the early stages of our careers, especially because many of us are working in interdisciplinary spaces that are rapidly evolving or are just beginning to be cultivated. Prioritizing the development of young members of your field is critical to our collective long-term success and I hope to do the same for those after me.

Pictured: Lubna, Lauren, Fiona and their Mentorship Group during a session with their mentor Dr. Michelle Harrison.

What was the most valuable moment, experience or connection you had during the Program?

Lubna: The cohort of women that were in my mentorship group were phenomenal. They were understanding, supportive and encouraging. I was vulnerable when I opened up about my experiences as a mother, and they responded with compassion and empathy. It was also during the time of COVID-19 when many of us were unable to visit with friends and family because of quarantine regulations, so being able to network and make meaningful relationships virtually was indispensable. We continue to meet on a monthly basis. It is exciting to hear about everyones’ goals and celebrate their successes collectively.

Lauren: While there were many, the most valuable moment was a sentiment shared during the wrap-up discussion, a time when all mentor/mentee groups returned together and debriefed topics, challenges and revelations from our sessions. The advice was to “be all that you are as soon as possible.” When I tell you that our entire Zoom meeting’s jaws dropped and snaps went up! I think many of those in attendance needed to hear this, including myself. A time in which we are all rightly restricted to go about things ‘normally’ allows for all the more time to work on ourselves and determine who is it that we are and why is it that we have not yet set them free. There is something awe-inspiring about authenticity — I reckon this is why we all strive for it.

Fiona: I appreciated hearing from my group and our mentors, Dr. Michelle Harrison and Nishita Henry, about their flexibility and willingness to reinvent their roles to meet observed gaps and honor their values. We determine our impact and how we show up for our communities consistently across our endeavors. Equity and social justice are at the core of all of my work — from lab-based science to political advocacy — and I hope to apply the knowledge gained through our conversations to be a more effective advocate, team member, and resource.

Would you recommend the Mentorship Program? Why or why not?

Lubna: I would highly recommend the Mentorship Program without any hesitation. Running Start truly cares about your success, and they do everything they can to encourage you to pursue your passions and believe in yourself. I now have a strong pride of women leaders by my side. They are change makers and role models. They inspire me, and I inspire them. This type of heartfelt connection is invaluable, and it could not have been possible without Running Start’s unique organizational ability and capacity to bring women from diverse backgrounds across a multitude of cultures together.

Lauren: Absolutely. I would recommend the Running Start Mentorship Program because there is so much joy and hope to be found after asking those in your network for help. To see weight collectively lifted off of people’s shoulders when a question was answered truthfully or a story was shared candidly was more rewarding than I can put into words. If it is genuine guidance and motivation from mentors that you seek, this is where it lives.

Fiona: Yes. The program was an excellent experience. The training, friendships, networking, and sense of common purpose are invaluable.

Pictured, left-right: Lubna Saleh, Lauren Covetta and Fiona McEnany

Lubna Saleh: Lubna has a background in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University, IL. She has pursued her passion for service, fighting poverty, and addressing health disparities through her various roles in the government and nonprofit sector. Lubna served as a Development Specialist for the European region at Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF) where she managed a volunteer fundraising operation raising US $5 million annually. Prior to working at LCIF, Lubna managed the Corner Store Intervention Project at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), which worked to address health disparities by increasing access to healthier food options in Chicago’s under-resourced inner city corner stores while also providing nutrition education to the local community residents. She is an AmeriCorps (Greater Chicago Food Depository Placement) and Global Youth Connect (Rwanda Placement) alum. Lubna was born in Jordan and is a nature lover and explorer. Her favorite fruits are figs.

Lauren Covetta: Lauren Covetta is a Women, Peace and Security Intern at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, Belgium. A recent graduate, Lauren received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Bachelor of Science in International Business Administration in May 2020 from the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Lauren applied a gender lens to her studies and research, which included identity, security and governance. Her advocacy and work surrounding women’s empowerment began in 2016 when she arrived in D.C as a Running Start Intern to support the training of women to run for public office. In 2018, Lauren participated in the Run with Running Start program and was selected as a Young Woman to Watch Finalist alongside 6 other national campaigners. She was a Running Start and U.S Delegate at the first inaugural Women Leaders Global Forum in Iceland later that year, joining 400+ women from over 100 countries. Dedicated to the intersectional advancement of women at home and abroad, Lauren was a lead consultant from 2018–2019 with women’s economic centers, Aatmiya and Seven Women, in Nepal to support sustainable business practices and stable employment opportunities. At Ohio State, she served as the VP of Corporate Relations and Senior Vice President for the Undergraduate Business Women’s Association throughout her undergraduate career. Lauren is also a proud member of the #NatSecGirlSquad.

Fiona McEnany: Fiona is a molecular and cellular biology PhD student at Dartmouth College concentrating on infectious disease-related research. She graduated in 2019 with a Master of Public Health and in 2018 with a B.S. in biology and a B.A. in political science. She aims to apply her background in health equity to inform her research foci and to use her dual training to work at the intersection of scientific research, advocacy, and policy. Fiona has taught in the political science department at Plymouth State University, is the New Leaders Council-NH Alumni Chair, has interned at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in global health policy, and was one of 60 undergraduate students selected nationally to present scientific research to Congress in 2018.

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