QAD: Terry Onica reflects on Ilitch Business mentorship program involvement

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared on QAD

When I look back at my very first mentor, I think of my dad. My dad passed away in June, and as with the loss of anyone that you love, you reflect on all they meant to you. I soon realized how much of a role my dad played in mentoring me, starting as early as elementary school. He consistently had words of advice to share and lived a life of the advice that he taught me. Here were his words of wisdom for me:

  1. “Always be the first in line when someone asks for your help.”
  2. “Give an honest day’s pay.”
  3. “If you look for something, you will always find it.”
  4. “You are going to go to college.”

Needless to say, I grew up to be just like my dad. Even when I was young, my dad wanted me to get a college education and have a successful career. I was blessed to have my dad root for the best for his daughter, even in an era where women rising to the top was not so common. My dad always believed in me. Throughout my entire life, he would be the first person I would call whenever I achieved something.  

Mentourship is about paying it forward 

Fast forward to today. After having a wonderful mentor in my life, I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to be that person who helped others do things they may not have thought they could. I wanted to be someone else’s cheerleader. After receiving an opportunity from Wayne State University to be a mentor in their supply chain program, I soon realized it was a role that I had always hoped for.

Through their mentorship program, I had the opportunity to mentor first-generation college students. I get to supplement the role of mom and dad, whom have not experienced the stress of studying and test-taking, maintaining good grades, finding an internship, graduating from college and finding a full-time job.

What have I learned? Well, I have learned a lot! Here are my tips for successful mentorships.

Invest time to connect with your mentee personally

For me and my mentees, scheduled meetups include meeting for a cup of bubble tea, working on aerial silk skills, rock climbing, or discovering fun new places in downtown Detroit. My mentee, Amina Ahmed, trusts my advice because I take the time to get to know her as a friend first. This is important when mentoring young students, especially when you are new in their lives. It is important to build a relationship quickly. Amina I connected well, and she was good at pushing me out of my comfort zone.

Be available and check-in with your mentee regularly

Many of us have a really busy schedule, but to be a good mentor, you have to be willing to be approachable day and night. Life can sometimes deal you unexpected things, and so it is important to be willing to be approachable when unexpected things occur. My mentees never hesitate to contact me through text or email when they need my help or advice. 

Spend time setting goals

For college students, setting goals is mostly about obtaining an internship and preparing for the first job. The supply chain field is so vast of what you can do, it is important that they understand all the possibilities and sometimes the stress of various fields. It is always exciting for me to share the opportunities that are waiting for them. Many young people enjoy travel and this is why the field of supply chain can be so exciting to them. The opportunities for movement and global travel are almost certain to happen when you are in the supply chain profession.

Prepare for their next moves in employment 

It is always critical to help your mentees with the first resume. Typically, this is for their first internship. I find this is where they need the most support. As an example, my current mentee, Elizabeth Cociuba, wasn’t sure she had enough experience in the field to secure her current internship. However, with a new perspective on her work experience from me, she was able to see that in fact, her current work experience as a shift manager at a local coffee shop wasn’t just teaching her how to serve coffee. She was already a proven leader in the supply chain business by understanding how critical the process is to take an order, gather the needed materials, make a product and delight the customer by delivering it to them in a reasonable amount of time.

Teaching by letting them shadow you

Whether it is a meeting I am leading, a presentation I am giving, or an industry event I am attending, I like to invite my mentees along to observe. It is important to get them out there so they have a real feel for what a day in the life of a supply chain professional might look like.  I find they will learn so much from observation and it is fun to hear their perceptions and what they learned after.

Stay connected

A true mentor never goes away. They are always there, just like my dad ready to cheer on every new accomplishment with great pride. The time spent may become less as they move on, but the enjoyment you get in return when they call you with a new achievement is something that is always guaranteed to bring you a smile. Take time to enjoy the journey with your mentees.

Paying it forward

Paying it forward to the next generation is more rewarding than you can imagine. In the lyrics from one of my favorite songs from Tim McGraw, be sure to remember:

“When you get where you are going, turn around and help the next one in line. Always be humble and kind.”

I encourage everyone to be a mentor in the workplace, with your children, or by volunteering at a local school or college. Be sure to let your mentees know that manufacturing and supply chain can be a pretty cool profession too!