Mentorships play a powerful role in shaping the professionals we become and the budding professionals we inspire. Our passion for the field, our dedication to the essential service of parks and recreation and our conduct as professionals is influenced by those who serve as our guides, friends and mentors. As young professionals, we are in a unique position to absorb the wisdom of distinguished professionals as well as make a lasting impact on those who have recently entered or are preparing to enter the field. Caring, lasting and impactful mentorships have undoubtedly shaped who I am as a young professional, and every opportunity I have to serve as a mentor for a fellow young professional or student continues the succession and betterment of our field of practice.
My exposure to professional mentorship began as a student at Indiana State University. On the first day of my academic journey, I instantly connected with a professor whose mentorship of my career continues to this day. Throughout my studies, professors have served as more than instructors. They were my first mentors. Diverse mentorship relationships began to form as I started my career. Some occurred naturally from among those who served as my direct supervisors and those who were peers within my state. Then, I began to seek more formal, professional mentorships. Through NRPA’s Young Professional Fellowship and the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration’s Young Professional Externship, I was paired with incredible mentors. Many of these mentorships have developed and thrived throughout my career.
Another outstanding program designed to create mentorships between young professionals and distinguished professionals, as well as young professionals and students, was created through a partnership between the NRPA Young Professional and Administrators Networks (click here to learn more about NRPA’s networking groups). The program reflects the ideal that mentorship is valuable at any stage in your career and that at any stage in your career, you have something to offer — especially as a young professional.
Personally, I have found a consistent pathway to mentorship of students through my role as an adjunct professor at Indiana State University. One of my greatest moments came last year when I was recognized by the Indiana Park and Recreation Association for my role in education. While accepting this award, I looked into the crowd and saw there many of my former students who are now my peers. This moment quite literally brought me to tears. I was immeasurably proud of each of them.
After six years in higher education, I am profoundly aware of the influence afforded to me as their instructor; however, I believe the proximity of our careers directly contributed to the formation and sustainability of mentorships. It is through this unique prism that all young professionals can excel at mentorship. Students are facing the immediate challenge of transitioning from academic studies to the field of practice. Your experience as a young professional is fresh and relevant, which is highly valued by students. All young professionals have experiences, advice and knowledge to share through mentorship. Your students are waiting for you!
Mentorships are delicate; not every mentor relationship is anticipated to remain with you for the length of your career, and that is ok! Great mentorships are reciprocal, considerate and, in the best scenario, fun! I value the mentor/mentee relationships I am part of because they are unique to me and that individual. Other mentors have what I have, but it is uniquely theirs. Mentorships persist because both parties connected at some point and are along for the ride together.
What I have learned is that a great mentor sees the value in what you contribute to the field. A great mentor never feels threatened by your achievements. A great mentor openly welcomes candor or even panic during your struggles. And finally, a great mentor will always celebrate your successes. My mentors have been my greatest cheerleaders, my inspirations and my ideals of professionalism. To those that might call me their mentor, I cannot wait to see the impact each of you has on my beloved profession!
Kara Kish, MPA, CPRE, CPSI, currently serves as the Superintendent of the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department (Indiana) and as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana State University.