DAHLGREN, Va. – Just after Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Commanding Officer Capt. Casey Plew spoke at the Veteran Speed Mentoring Event about the importance of mentorship, he learned of seats that still needed to be filled – mentor and mentee.
He chose mentee.
His mentor was retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Karl Steinsberger, Jr., a computer scientist in the NSWCDD Combat Systems Cyber Engineering Branch. This was one of nine mentor and mentee matches at morning and afternoon sessions of the event held at University of Mary Washington, Dahlgren campus, Jan. 29.
Hosted by the NSWCDD Workforce Development and Veteran Integration Program, veterans from joint services participated in short, focused conversations discussing topics ranging from ways to translate military strengths into successful civilian skills to how to achieve success. They shared personal stories as they found commonality as veterans, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and employees of NSWCDD.
Whether they were mentors or mentees, the veterans were wholeheartedly committed to the 10-minute one-one-one sessions. Several of them would linger after 10 minutes passed in hopes of continuing the conversation.
One session that could have lasted beyond 10 minutes was Plew and Steinsberger’s conversation.
The two discussed work and life balance and the difference between a boss and a leader. Plew — fascinated by Steinsberger’s career and experiences – pulled out a notecard to capture his insights.
The two emulated mentorship – in a quick burst. Both taught and learned from each other.
Steinsberger, a 20-year active duty Army veteran, credits two mentors with positively impacting his life and career. One was his uncle who served under the leadership of Army Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. The other was his seventh and eighth grade teacher, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Steinsberger also highlighted the impact of his mother and aunts in his life.
“I have been blessed through my life,” he said.
After expressing gratitude for his blessings, he didn’t hesitate with an answer to one question.
“What led me to where I am?” he asked rhetorically. “God did.”
Steinsberger proceeded to sketch out his Army career – and how it changed along the way.
“It was my goal to be an officer. It was His [God’s] goal to make me a leader,” said Steinsberger, who walked the enlisted career path.
In addition to leading Soldiers he thought of and cared about as if they were his own children, he served in the White House administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for a total of seven years.
If Steinsberger had to choose one message he hoped to leave with those he mentored it would be: “You are a very important asset to the United States Navy or whatever service you support.”
After moving from one seat to the next, Serita Seright, an engineer in the NSWCDD Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department, sat across from Steinsberger.
Seright served for four years in the U.S. Air Force, arriving at Dahlgren in 2013. She came to the event in hopes of finding a mentor at NSWCDD.
“I want see how they became mentors and follow in that path,” she said.
While the engineer plans to get more involved in the mentorship program at NSWCDD, she is actively engaged in the community.
Seright serves as a mentor for the LEGO League Robot Engineers team sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. She looks forward to judging a regional competition in Hampton and smiles when she talks about the science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities students have enjoyed.
“I just like helping people and giving back to the community,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of these programs growing up. It’s nice to be able to give back and help them have a better life and a better future.”
Seright, like Plew and Steinsberger, emulated both the role of a mentor and mentee.
When Plew chose to sit in as a mentee, Natasha Holloway, NSWCDD Employee Engagement Program manager, sat in as a mentor with a mentee who posed thoughtful questions.
“It was clear that he had reflected on his career goals and challenges and had put a lot of effort into preparing for the session,” she said. “His questions also inspired me to think about my career and goals in a new and different way.”
In the afternoon, NSWCDD Chief of Staff Chuck Campbell attended as a mentee.
“Seeing the support for this program and for our veterans at the command level really means quite a lot,” she said.
Holloway has received positive feedback from the participants while linking mentors with mentees. Mentors have shared career advice and referred mentees to others within their own networks.
Whether it’s filling the role of a mentor or mentee, it all comes down to one goal for Holloway.
“It is about connection,” she said. “I want to provide another way for veterans to connect with each other and to enable a deeper connection with the NSWCDD community.”