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CHIPS Articles: Donna Belcher, Program Manager, NAVAIR Mentorship Program

Donna Belcher, Program Manager, NAVAIR Mentorship Program
By CHIPS Magazine - October-December 2014
It takes one person to make a positive difference in someone else's life. Naval Air Systems Command is firmly committed to this ideal and began a mentoring program in 2007 to provide its employees the opportunity for personal growth, professional development, and the transfer of knowledge and expertise through mentoring relationships. NAVAIR has evolved its highly successful mentoring program through benchmarking, analysis and employee feedback.

NAVAIR’s Mentorship Program and iMentor online tool are often touted as models for Navy commands seeking to establish a mentorship program.

Ms. Belcher responded to questions about NAVAIR’s program in writing in October.

Q: NAVAIR has made hiring wounded warriors and veterans a priority. What kind of mentoring assistance does NAVAIR provide to them since often veterans’ skills do not match up well outside of the military?

A:We have held several group mentoring sessions specifically for wounded warriors and veterans. Group mentoring gives participants the opportunity to discuss similar issues and concerns with their peers and a senior-level person serving as a mentor. We just started offering group mentoring sessions this year to the workforce, and so far they have gone over well.

NAVAIR’s onlin e iMentor tool gives employees, including our veterans, the capability to search for prior or current military mentors and specific goals, skills, and areas of expertise. NAVAIR’s national and local mentoring events are a great place for veterans to network with others and share information.

Q: Does NAVAIR offer mentoring to mid-career employees as well as young professionals? What kinds of career roadblocks are typical at the mid-career and young professional level and how does the mentoring program help employees overcome them?

A:NAVAIR’s Mentoring Program is available to the entire workforce, including mid-career employees and young professionals. Young professionals are often not entirely sure which direction they want their career to take: Do they want to become a supervisor or upper-level manager, or do they aspire to be a Senior Executive Service member? Mentors can help mentees develop their goals and objectives by sharing their experiences, offering job shadowing, or helping them participate in a developmental assignment.

Mid-career employees usually experience different career issues. Often, they have bottomed out in their current position, grade-wise, and cannot go any further. Or, they are faced with new job requirements and need to learn a completely new skill. Sometimes, they just don’t know what they want to do with their career. Again, mentors can help these mentees by sharing their experiences, suggesting training or job shadowing, and possibly offering other developmental opportunities to learn new skills.

NAVAIR’s Mentoring Program hosts several mentoring events throughout the year, usually panel discussions with mentors or speakers discussing how mentoring can supplement career development and workforce management. These events are great opportunities for employees to network with others, hear mentoring experiences, and possibly find a new mentor.

Q: How do you determine how to match up mentors with mentees?

A: NAVAIR does not match mentors and mentees; we empower each mentee to find a suitable mentor(s). We do; however, give the workforce tools to help them find mentors. For example, mentees can use the online iMentor tool’s matching functionality to be preliminarily matched with potential mentors based on the goals, skills, and areas of expertise they chose during registration. They can also use the browsing function to get more finite search results. All the available searches are based on the mentee’s specific needs. NAVAIR also provides mentoring training for mentors and mentees, where they learn characteristics to look for in a suitable mentor/mentee.

Q: Can you explain what the iMentor tool is?

A: NAVAIR developed iMentor as a tool to help mentees find potential mentor(s). Users can register as both a mentor and mentee, list their professional work/military experience and education, and upload a resume and photo. Registrants select specific criteria — goals, skills, and areas of expertise — in which they believe they can provide advice and guidance, or for which they are looking to receive advice and guidance. The tool can then automatically match mentors and mentees based on that criteria.

There are other search options for finding both mentors and mentees, including a keyword search that searches all freeform text in the tool, and a browsing search that allows users to select various options to search (i.e., location, pay grade/rank, personality type, military branch, degree). As long as the user has a CAC, he/she can access iMentor, which allows for cross-agency mentoring outside NAVAIR.

Q: I understand that about 30 percent of NAVAIR’s workforce is enrolled in the mentoring program. Why do you think it has been so successful? How do you measure its success?

A:There are several keys to our mentoring program’s success. One is senior leader support. They have been extremely supportive, walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Second is continuing to evolve the program and providing tools based on user feedback. Third is communication. You can have the best program in the world, but if people don’t know about it, they won’t use it.

New employees learn about the program during their command indoctrination. NAVAIR Commander Vice Admiral David Dunaway has written about mentoring in his blog. We provide program briefs to each functional area, share information about upcoming events, publish post-event news articles, and discuss the program and tools during our mentoring training classes. Anywhere we can talk about the program, we do. We also collaborate with NAVAIR’s diversity affinity groups to spread the word among their members.

We have developed command mentoring goals to measure the program’s success. In 2010, the Naval Air Warfare Center Orlando (one of NAVAIR’s locations) set a goal to register a certain percent of its employees in the iMentor tool. After hosting a variety of events and training classes, 53 percent of the Orlando workforce is now registered. The initiative was so successful; we have adopted the idea at NAVAIR headquarters. Beginning in fiscal year 2013, each NAVAIR department set its own goal of increasing awareness and use of the mentoring program and iMentor by hosting mentoring events and training. We are making great progress towards meeting these goals. We also collect voice of the customer feedback via surveys and focus groups about our events and training, which we use to improve the program and ensure we meet the workforce’s needs.

CAC users can register for the NAVAIR Mentoring Community of Interest at

Donna Belcher
Donna Belcher

Mentoring panel.
Mentoring panel.

Mentoring event at NAVAIR Lakehurst.
Mentoring event at NAVAIR Lakehurst.
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