How Ya Doin’ on Those New Year’s Resolutions?

Mar 16, 2017   |   Shelley Stern Grach

February and March. Normally a time when we are totally through with winter. Bemoaning our waistlines and booking Caribbean cruises to get away.

Also a time when we look back at our New Year’s resolutions and regret paying that annual subscription at the gym we haven’t used, or staring at the organic cleanse bottles on the shelf, or regretting we haven’t stopped driving and texting.

Well, NOT ME!!!!! My 2017 New Year’s resolution was much more practical, fun and frankly, easy to stick with.

You might remember the story behind my New Year’s Resolution

When the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation reporter Kate MacArthur wanted to get New Year’s resolutions from local innovators, she reached out to me (!!) and I was more than happy to oblige, highlighting my desire to expand opportunity for youth through digital skills learning and to personally engage with youth who want to go deeper in STEM training:

My professional resolution for 2017 is to increase my focus on mentoring: This year we — and me personally — will be focusing on more personal leadership with the students as far as one-on-one mentoring, because that has huge impact, and expanding opportunity for all youth to have a chance to learn and succeed with digital skills.

I want to personally engage with those youth who are inspired and want to go deeper. And for those who have the desire, I’d like for them to be inspired to focus on personal innovation and economic development in their neighborhood. That could be through entrepreneurship, developing an app, leading and teaching coding. 

So how’s it going? Here’s what I found out: Seek and Ye Shall Find. Once I let it be known that I wanted to invest more of my time in mentoring, the calls started coming in. Here are three examples  of fabulous young ladies I’ve started mentoring in 2017. Each situation is a bit different. I hope that by sharing a bit of their stories, you will see how easy—and rewarding—it is to be a mentor.

Let’s start with Brittany. I met Brittany through the Chicago Innovation Awards, a terrific program established to make Chicago a recognized hub of innovation by igniting a new narrative for our region, strengthening its economic future and building the spirit of innovation throughout the community. The Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op was created in 2016 when the Chicago Innovation Award’s team realized a need to recognize and provide resources to Chicago’s women in innovation year-round. The purpose of this program is to connect successful Chicago innovators with women who have a demonstrated interest in innovation, and want to grow their businesses and careers in the Chicago region through the support of a mentor. Since the program’s launch last year, the number of mentees accepted has more than doubled.

I was honored to be selected as a Mentor for the Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op for 2017. Brittany and I were paired together based on her technical skills and her current role as a Senior Consultant with Clarity Partners LLC. Brittany also volunteers with Girls Who Code Club as a facilitator. What I was really impressed with is Brittany’s focus on social impact in Chicago:

“I want to give my largely middle-to-low class community on the Southwest Side of Chicago access to technology and help those with tech-startup ideas turn them into reality. To do this, I want to start a technology incubator on the Southwest Side.”

We had our first meeting in February and we discussed a wide range of areas to focus on, including connections for Brittany into nonprofit programs on the SW side of Chicago which will help her reach her personal vision, and the pluses and minuses of tech startups, resources for startups and who to talk to in that field.

My second Mentee is Michele. I was paired with Michele through my role on the Executive Committee of ADA25 Advancing Leadership program, which I have written about previously. The Advancing Leadership program is especially focused on making connections between People with Disabilities and the business community through the Civic Connections Project. The Civic Connections Project is designed to increase the number of leaders with disabilities serving on advisory committees, commissions, boards and other appointed positions in the Chicago region. Connecting ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellows to Chicago leaders as mentors directly supports Fellows’ leadership and Civic Connections plans.

Since mentoring is  a relatively new program at ADA25,  I am sharing with you some of the guidelines for Mentors, because I truly value the thoughtfulness and clarity of the process. I also really like that the responsibility is with the Mentee to organize the meetings and set the direction of the relationship.

Guidelines for Mentors

  • A minimum of three meetings are expected:
    • Introduction
    • Three- month check in
    • Twelve month follow up
  • Mentee will be asked to identify priorities for mentoring relationship – some may be professional, others related to civic engagement or content expertise, or both
  • Mentor and mentee should mutually agree on format, frequency and purpose of meetings
  • Mentee is responsible for initiating contact

Michele and I had met before briefly, so our first session was delightful and we quickly starting focusing on some key issues that are of importance to her. Most of our discussion was about how to think through her leadership role on ADA25 Advancing Leadership, and in the broader community. We discussed how to help other People with Disabilities articulate their experiences and concerns, as well as their desires in careers and their personal life. Our next session will likely focus on planning a roundtable event as part of the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table program in May.

My third mentoring experience this year was with Bianca. Bianca is a senior at DePaul and I was connected to her by her professor, who is a former Microsoft executive (and who recruited me to my current role for which I am eternally grateful). Although she is still finishing her education, Bianca wants to launch her career as entrepreneur in Chicago. She is passionate about empowering girls and young women. She is a natural leader and gifted student. She intends to change the world and will probably do it. Having a 25-year-old daughter who is also passionate about living in Chicago and wants to change the world as well, this was like being “home”. When Bianca and I met, it was mostly focused on building a life in Chicago (the challenges, the opportunities and that things “mom” suggested she think about); and how to sort through her decision process of either working for someone or starting her own business. I gave Bianca several organizations and people to research (a homework assignment) and we will be connecting again soon to drill down a bit deeper on her next steps.

So, instead of a gym club membership or unrealistic weight loss programs, how about focusing your time this year on mentoring our next generation? It’s easy, rewarding and a terrific investment in the future of Chicago. Here are some suggestions if you want to find your own Brittany, Michele, or Bianca… or just tweet me @shelleystern and we’ll suggest some great organizations to connect you with:

  • ADA25 ADVANCING LEADERSHIP:
  • CHICAGO INNOVATION AWARDS:
  • ISTI Mentor Matching Engine (for online mentoring with Illinois high school students):

The Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op was created in 2016 when the Chicago Innovation Award’s team realized a need to recognize and provide resources to Chicago’s women in innovation year-round. The purpose of this program is to connect successful Chicago innovators with women who have a demonstrated interest in innovation, and want to grow their businesses and careers in the Chicago region through the support of a mentor. Since the program’s launch last year, the number of mentees accepted has more than doubled.

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Shelley Stern Grach
Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it’s work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life’s goals.