Whether you’ve been in the industry for decades or are fresh out of school, finding a mentor is always a relevant part of professional development. For this National Mentoring Day, we’re celebrating the good things happening through Felsburg Holt & Ullevig’s employee mentorship program.

Formalized in 2014, FHU’s program pairs employees who have been at the firm for at least one year with a participating senior employee for one year of individualized mentorship.

Chandana Balakrishna and her FHU mentor Allison Sambol meetup at the Felsburg Holt and Ullevig Omaha office

Chandana Balakrishna and her mentor Allison Sambol meet up at the Felsburg Holt and Ullevig Omaha office.

Mentee applicants can identify three potential mentor choices from outside of their own discipline team. Once they are matched with one mentor, the mentee is tasked with setting meeting times and bringing topics they’d like to discuss with their mentor.

“The idea is this needs to be a self-driven kind of program,” said Alex Pulley, FHU principal and current coordinator of the mentorship program. “The goal of the mentors is to really ask questions and help the mentees self-discover that way.”

Because mentors and mentees must be from different FHU departments, this offers mentees a chance to get outside of their own scope of work. They can develop broader career skills with the mentors as well as glean insight into how FHU functions as a whole. What ideas they focus on is largely directed by the individual mentees who affirm their commitment and goals for the program at the beginning.

For mentee Chandana Balakrishna, structural engineer in the Omaha office, that has meant learning how to improve on everything from interpersonal conversation to project management. She and her mentor Allison Sambol, senior environmental scientist in the Omaha office, have been meeting regularly throughout the 2021 program. They have talked over client relationships and FHU’s company culture to help Chandana level up her team communications.

“When I found out I was paired with Allison, I was really happy because she is so confident and a great communicator,” Chandana said. “Whenever we had staff meetings, I always thought to myself, ‘I would love to learn from her.’”

For Allison who has done the mentorship program as a mentee twice, serving as a mentor has been an opportunity to pay forward her experience to other FHUers. She even introduced Chandana to “The Fine Art of Small Talk” by Debra Fine, a book Allison’s own mentor Holly Buck shared with her.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Allison said. “Having a mentor can help you navigate through the inner workings of our company, or pass on tips for client management, or juggle time management, and more. You get out of the program what you want or need from it. No topic is really off limits. Your mentor is your confidante.”

You get out of the program what you want or need from it. No topic is really off limits. Your mentor is your confidante.” — Allison Sambol, mentor in the FHU mentorship program

In addition to one-on-one meetings between pairs, the mentorship program also brings together all participants several times during the year to approach various topics suggested by mentees. For example, in recent years, they have had an inspirational talk from FHU co-founder Bob Felsburg and run a mock interview for a proposal.

And it’s not just the mentees who benefit from the program. Alex tells mentors they can expect to get just as much out of the experience as those they mentor.

“I love learning about folks that I don’t get to work with every day and better understanding who they are and what made them into the professionals they are,” Alex said. Plus, the thoughtful discussions he’s had with his mentees have allowed him to reflect deeply on his own experiences when giving them professional advice.

Though the program usually only lasts one year, the relationship between mentor and mentee doesn’t go away, Allison said.

There are 11 mentoring pairs in the current round of the program. Applications for the next cohort will be sent out by email in the winter. Mentees can do the program multiple times, though they are asked to not apply two years in a row. This way anyone who has not previously taken advantage of the program and want to can participate.

“As more people go through the program, the more see the value of it,” Allison said.

Chandana said she highly recommends other FHU employees participate in the mentorship program.

“We can’t do everything ourselves,” she said. “With a mentor, we have someone to help us grow quickly instead of just figuring things out ourselves. They use their experience to guide us and give feedback so that we can improve.”