Reviving the mentor mentality

Terry Brennan came into the Solar 101 classroom at Utica, N.Y-based Mohawk Valley Community College, in 1980, sat on the teacher’s desk, pulled off his sweater, looked around the room, noticed each of us, and said, “I’m going to teach you from the Book of Solar.” Thus began a typical teacher/student relationship that eventually became a mentor/mentee relationship, which...

02/01/2008


Terry Brennan came into the Solar 101 classroom at Utica, N.Y-based Mohawk Valley Community College, in 1980, sat on the teacher’s desk, pulled off his sweater, looked around the room, noticed each of us, and said, “I’m going to teach you from the Book of Solar.” Thus began a typical teacher/student relationship that eventually became a mentor/mentee relationship, which evolved into a lifelong friendship that today is as strong as ever.

Terry’s career is remarkable. He went from working as a home builder to home designer, and then from a solar energy and energy-efficiency expert to a radon mitigation pioneer. In his current manifestation, he is an IAQ and sustainability guru.

I followed along, learning and contributing as I could, as a computer scientist and then as a building scientist. At one time, I worked for him, sitting at a desk in a basement office that featured a home-built wind tunnel (for testing the performance of stack caps), a laboratory for testing assemblies and calibrating sensors and instruments, and an incredible library. With these resources and Terry’s guidance, I learned building science and how to perform building diagnostics, using everything from a blower door and tracer gas set-up to a smoke puffer and an ostrich feather.

I moved up from his basement, knowledgeable and confident enough to earn a graduate degree in engineering (with a solar emphasis) and work as a research assistant and scientist with three different national laboratories. The first of these jobs was at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Terry provided what was undoubtedly the key reference (I got the job).

From Terry, I also learned how to conduct business with a service mentality. People whom he never met and probably never would called Terry to ask advice. He’d freely give more time than I knew he had. And there were times when I'd hear him give his ideas and methodologies away to “competitors.” I asked him about that once, and he said, “There’s enough work for everyone, and it’s important to get the good ideas into practice. I can’t do everything that’s in my head.”

This kind of mentoring in the engineering profession used to be very strong, or so I’ve heard from the old-timers bemoaning the loss of mentoring. To help cultivate more mentoring in the engineering profession, Consulting-Specifying Engineer is publishing a series of mentoring articles—beginning with two this month—on mentoring. A myth-busting article on mentoring models and motivations for all engineering fields begins the series on page 26. The series eventually will cover electrical, fire, HVAC, green buildings, and lighting. We are compiling this series into a book at the end of the year.

Please read these articles, and feel free to send us letters describing your mentors, your search for one, or your experiences as a mentor. We’d like to run these as letters to the editor or add these to the book, with your permission.

Send your questions and comments to: Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com





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