CORONA, Calif. –
Electronics Engineer Michael Tesch of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division was recently named a Naval Sea Systems Command excellence award winner for the 2021 Mentor of the Year category.
Tesch, a 47-year Team Corona veteran assigned to the Ballistic Missile Defense branch of the Performance Assessment Department, said the award came as a surprise.
“I knew the command and my management had submitted my nomination because they know mentoring is my passion,” said Tesch. “That recognition really meant a lot to me. I credit that accomplishment to the mentors I had in the past who encouraged me to develop and mentor others, as well.”
Tesch began his career with Corona in the mid-1970s as a missile flight analyst in what he called a mentor-rich environment.
“When I came to work for NSWC Corona, I had the benefit of being mentored by some of the founding fathers of Performance Assessment,” he said. “Former Scientist Dennis Casebier*, for example, was an exceptional role model, an exemplary analyst and engineer, and someone we could all aspire to be. He was one of the best managers that I saw, with a combination of good analysis and mentoring.”
Tesch said he feels it is important to pay forward the guidance he has received, especially the tough lessons learned from over the years.
“Our junior professionals don’t have to repeat our mistakes,” Tesch said. “I hope to empower them to build upon the legacies that we and our teammates have forged through our work here.”
Tesch first came to work for the command when it was known as the Fleet Missile Systems Analysis and Evaluation Group, after working in the private sector with General Dynamics for a decade. He credits that combination of experience for the unique perspective he shares with his mentees.
“It’s important for us to remember as we go about our work that those of us who are more senior can serve as role models for our teams,” Tesch said. “They see what we are doing in action and under stress, so keeping a cool head and sorting things out methodically to get to the answers helps foster a more disciplined and collaborative approach to teamwork.”
His heart for mentorship goes back to the earliest days of his career with the Navy. Even as a junior employee, he helped train newer analysts as they came on board. He said he recognized the importance of seating junior analysts with someone more experienced to help them navigate their new positions.
“As Dennis Casebier said, ‘they don't teach what we do here in college,’” said Tesch. “We learn a lot of what we do through on-the-job training because it’s so specialized. It’s important to pass that on for our mission to continue.”
Teschs’ mentoring has not been confined to within Corona Division’s Norco, California fence line. He has mentored Engineer Mayra Padro-Cortes Aviles of NSWC Port Hueneme Division for years by phone.
“He really makes a difference in my life,” Aviles said. “I have learned so much, but I understand that I have to continue learning a lot more. His teaching gives me a better understanding of the big picture of what it is we do here and why.”
In the process of mentoring someone, you become better at your own job because you must dig a layer or two deeper than what you are teaching to have the right foundation to answer questions, Tesch said. In that way, mentoring builds the knowledge and abilities of both the mentor and the mentee. Sharing knowledge with both junior professionals and senior analysts helps to round out the myopic experience any individual employee may have, he added.
Cathleen Pena, a data scientist in the data analytics group of NSWC Corona’s Acquisition and Readiness Assessment Department, started her mentor/mentee relationship with Tesch in early 2022 when she expressed an interest in the different systems fielded on U.S. Navy ships.
“I let the mentees decide what they are interested in learning,” Tesch said. “I have a big library that I have built up over the years to cover whatever they may be interested in. Everyone is different and it’s all important.”
“He is very knowledgeable about the business and what we do in general,” Pena said. “He is always prepared and very in-depth. He explains things very well and demonstrates a real dedication to helping others learn more.”
While mentoring is still very new to Pena, she said she loves helping others by teaching data science and machine learning concepts. She added she hopes to be a good mentor in the future, just like Tesch, but feels she still has a lot to learn.
“He is friendly and makes me feel very comfortable in getting to know him, not just as a teacher, but as someone who I can go to with questions anytime,” Pena said. “I’ve talked to some of my teammates about his mentorship and they are very impressed with his mentoring style. He gets all this material together and we meet regularly to go over it.”
Tesch said part of his mentoring philosophy is to always ask his mentees questions, especially during subsequent meetings, to review what they went over at a previous meeting.
“When they explain something they learned from me – in their own words –
I know the understanding is there,” he said. “If they can relay a concept back to me satisfactorily, I know they really get it.”
Tesch said he gets a lot of satisfaction from mentoring and recently taught three days’ worth of guided missile fundamentals to about 40 employees in the command’s Joint Warfare Assessment Laboratory Theater.
“I'm always pleased to hear questions from the attendees during my presentations and on breaks, because it means I have piqued their interests,” he said. “That tells me I'm hitting a chord with them and teaching something they are interested in learning. It gives me satisfaction and uplifts the participants.”
Tesch plans to retire at the end of 2022. While a treasure trove of personal experience and professional knowledge will go with him, his tireless passion for mentoring others guarantees that many years of hard lessons learned are passed onto others in the spirit of transparency and teamwork. Tesch’s mentorship and investment in others, by sowing the seeds of mentorship in them, will ensure that his legacy endures as Corona Division continues to provide objective assessment to its Navy’s and nations’ warfighters.
“I encourage people to move around, to learn new things and, within our limitations, reward people to do it,” Tesch said. “I want to inspire those in our field who have the aptitude and desire to mentor to do so. It's part of our purpose here, not only to boost your own career, but to help your teammates and keep the Navy mission going strong.”
Tesch will be sorely missed by the Division and those he mentored over the last 47 years and it is certain that some of those will continue to bring forward his knowledge and expertise for years to come.
NSWC Corona Division has provided analysis and assessment for the Navy since 1964. With expertise in gauging the Navy’s warfighting capability, NSWC Corona has established itself as a leader in advanced data analytics by leveraging networked environments, machine learning, visualization, business intelligence applications to bridge the Navy’s data silos, enabling informed decision-making for the warfighter and solidifying NSWC Corona’s role as an expert in gauging the Navy’s warfighting capability. Anchor to the Inland Empire Tech Bridge, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, California, with detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and personnel in 14 additional locations.
*Editor’s Note: Casebier left an important legacy, being one of the pioneers in providing missile system performance assessment within our original parent organization, the Naval Ordnance Laboratory Corona Missile Evaluation Department. It was because of Casebier’s and other pioneer engineers’, scientists’, and mathematicians’ efforts, holding steady and true to the importance of independent assessment, that eventually led to the establishment of a new Command, the Fleet Missile Analysis and Evaluation Group (FMSAEG). FMSAEG (the original name of NSWC Corona Division) was established with the support of Capt. Eli T. Reich (eventually becoming Vice Adm. Reich) as an organization that was independent of missile design and In-Service Engineering Agent responsibilities, enabling objective assessment on Navy missile performance.