PHILADELPHIA (NNS) -- More than 140 senior military officers and civilian senior executive service personnel took part in a series of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) mentoring sessions targeted at high schoolers, Feb. 19, during the BEYA (Black Engineer of the Year Awards) conference in Philadelphia.
Adm. Cecil E. Haney, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, was one of the mentors. Before the sessions officially kicked off, he gave the gathered youths a bit of advice: ask a lot of questions.
"Avoid the feeling of embarrassment of asking a question or two or three," he said. "I can't say enough about that. Sometimes it's unpopular to cause a class to be a little bit longer by raising your hand and saying 'I don't understand that.' But it's very important. That's how we grow and learn. And don't just do it today. Continue to question things. In my opinion, it makes us a lot smarter."
He challenged students, before they went into the mentoring sessions, to prepare a question to ask. He also offered them anecdotal evidence - as only an experienced mentor can do - to demonstrate how being prepared to ask a question can keep them from being caught off guard and having to answer one themselves.
Haney said in his youth he attended Eastern High School in Washington, D.C. There, he cited two instructors as having been instrumental in moving him through his education: "Mrs. White" and "Mrs. Driscoll."
"Mrs. White had that innate ability to understand if Cecil Haney was either not paying attention or didn't understand the problem — and then it would be 'get up to the board,'" Haney said. "And consequently, through that business, I learned quickly that I'd better ask Mrs. White the question first before she asked me. That's where that questioning attitude piece comes from."
Haney earned the position he holds today, as do all military officers. But for him, he said, mentoring has been part of it the entire way.
In his youth, he said, he had participated in what he called an "experiment" in Washington, D.C., "to take some of us off the street."
He had been given an opportunity to do a kind of internship at Naval Sea Systems Command at the nearby Naval Yard on the Anacostia River.
"I really got to learn a bit about computers and shipyards and manning at an early age," he said.
When asked by the Navy employees he worked alongside there about his future, Haney said, he told them he was thinking of going into the Army as an enlisted man. They offered to have him work for them, and they'd send him to college. But he said he wanted to be in the military. At the time, he said, he didn't know anything at all about the military academies.
"They recognized that deficiency, and had me talk to a Navy captain. That guy didn't look like me. But he brought me in and explained to me what ROTC is, and the U.S. Naval Academy, and other opportunities that were out there."
They suggested he work toward being an officer in the Navy, he said.
Haney said he applied to all the service academies, and the U.S. Naval Academy accepted him. There, he said, he was exposed to a whole other level of people and opportunities.
He told students there that they are in a better "tactical position" today to be successful, than he had been at their age, because they now know more than he had known at the time.
"Take advantage of this opportunity, ask questions, dive into the conversation...pay attention, and take advantage of this unique opportunity and tap into all the intellect that's in here," he said. "Take advantage of it, and put it into your tool bag of opportunities to go after."
For more information about the BEYA STEM conference, visit http://www.beya.org