If there is any advice I can offer a student or young adult who is attending college it would be to “find yourself a mentor” and take the advice/wisdom of that mentor and use it to help you as you finish school and build a job/career path.  Look around your community and ask someone you admire if they would be willing to be your ‘mentor’ — don’t be shy, most people would be touched to be asked to be your mentor!!

Mentors come in all sizes and shapes and sometimes they happen upon us by chance but if you do not seize the opportunity to develop a mentor for yourself you can miss a wonderful opportunity to enrich your life.  I know my life has been enriched by my mentor(s).  I’ve had several in my lifetime but perhaps my longest term ‘mentor’ continues to mentor me after 35 years.  The mentoring I continue to receive from her comes in the form of watching how well she has navigated her retirement and created yet another career path for herself, as an independent insurance agent helping seniors find medi-gap insurance policies that are affordable and work best for them.  My mentor lives in Las Cruces; she grew up in Las Cruces, she is bilingual, speaking Spanish fluently, as such she is able to help senior clients who have limited English speaking skills navigate the maze of medi-gap insurance policies and their ‘fine print’.  She often tells me that she feels useful in that she is able to help vulnerable seniors thru the health care maze.

I met my mentor in my early 20s and at the time she was in her mid-30s raising five young children as a single parent — my mentor tells me that she saw a light in me which is why she took me under her wing; I didn’t realize the long term positive impact she would have on my career and life.  She probably also saw how naïve I was and wanted to help me grow.  I didn’t know any better when I was young about finding a mentor – but the universe gave her to me and I will forever be grateful.  She was my boss in my second ‘professional job’; at the time she was the State Director of Vocational Home Economics and I had been hired to manage and implement a grant she had written.  I had seen a job announcement while working for a few years in my first professional job after obtaining my bachelor’s degree in Home Economics from New Mexico State; applied for the job and she was my hiring official.  This job required that I move to Albuquerque (from northern New Mexico, my birth home) to manage a five-year federal grant that operated out of Albuquerque TVI – what is now known as Central New Mexico community college (CNM).

The grant I was charged with implementing had a great deal of funding and was only about 5 pages long, not too much detail, not too much direction and its goal was “to develop programs that strengthened families in Albuquerque area”.  Sometimes being young and naïve is actually a blessing because we can’t see all the challenges up ahead.  But I was fortunate because I knew I had my mentor’s support, I knew I could always go to her when I needed advice and direction.

I came to learn that CNM was not a friendly environment for this grant program I have been hired to implement and manage.  My very first morning at work, the President of TVI called me into his office to ask me “How is this grant program funded?”….he had accepted managing this grant so I presumed that he knew the funding source.  Looking back it was clearly a ‘test’ he put me thru, keep in my I was all of 25 and it was my first morning of work, I was pretty scared!!  Luckily, I knew how it was funded (federal Carl Perkins Career Technical Vocational funds).  When I responded to his question, he then said to me “these federal programs they come and they go here at TVI and we don’t really care that much about them”!!  Whoa, that conversation made me realize I would not find a mentor in him.  I often remember that conversation when we greet and hire new staff funded by grant programs at NMSU Grants and I always tell them that they are our innovation funding and I welcome them and their help.  No one should be greeted their first morning at work with that type of comment.

But the Universe is wise and kind — I was able to look to my new mentor for guidance and support and I have been blessed to have had her support that evolved into a dear friendship for the past 35 years!!  How lucky am I!!  Along the years, our paths would not cross because of her or my life/career changes but somehow we have always managed to stay in touch.  Now that I travel at least monthly to Las Cruces for meetings on our NMSU mother campus, I often see her and enjoy having dinner with her and catching up on our respective lives.  I have seen her five children grow up to manage their lives well and I often feel they are part of my own extended family.

These days, her mentorship to me continues, but in a different form.  I have watched her as she kept busy in retirement, gracefully entering a new staff of her own life.  She re-married and I have enjoyed watching her adapt to a new marriage.  I have been able to learn so many lessons from her as she has gone ahead of me in life; she knows my life/career opportunities as well as all the bumps in my road, I like to say, she knows “my stories”!!  And what I most remember about her is her grace and sense of hope in life and individuals.

In my early works years she took me under her wing.  She was and still is, so polished and wise.  Watching her, I learned about appropriate professional dress and behaviors, since my parents were farmers they really didn’t know the world I worked in so they weren’t always able to model what she modeled to me.  She was also very bright and verbal and not afraid to speak in public.  I’ll never forget the simplest piece of advice that she offered me many, many years ago; she’d invite me to meetings with her that I didn’t necessarily need to attend.  I would tag along and after one meeting on our way home, I remember saying to her “How do you know so much?” as I was in awe of her eloquence and knowledge at these public meetings – and here’s her simple bit of advice to me:  “Felicia, just listen and watch and in time you too will learn”….such simple wisdom but it is really true.  What I know now, for sure, is that once a person is involved in a job/career in time you become very familiar with the issues and you become knowledgeable because of the experience you build.

Finally, to our NMSU Grants students — I offer up for your consideration my simple advice, “FIND YOURSELF A MENTOR” – you will know who that is because it will be someone you admire and that you believe to be doing good things – and ask them to mentor you or just stick to them like glue!! Trust me, they will be touched and in most cases willing to do so.  As a New Year 2013 approaches – I wish you success and blessings!!

My warmest regards,

Felicia Casados, President
NMSU Grants