Life gets busy, especially at conferences. The few short days are full of meetings, sessions, and networking, and it may seem impossible to fit another thing on the list. Some executives recognize, however, that one of the most important things they can do is reach out to young professionals and offer support and advice.
Young professionals may feel the questions they ask are trivial, but these seemingly trivial questions can spark reflection in more experienced members of the workforce. Is there some idea that hasn’t been challenged in years? Questions that seem simple can provide an opportunity to innovate and explore new solutions to old problems. Experienced engineers and young professionals working together have the potential to create an atmosphere of innovation that might not occur otherwise.
“I think it’s every executive’s obligation to give back for the betterment of STEM and the education system, to take the time to give advice to students, to try and be accessible the best they can,” says Steve Isakowitz, CEO of The Aerospace Corporation and founder of the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program.
Isakowitz says he has always welcomed young professionals seeking advice, even if it isn’t work related. He takes calls from students at his alma mater, offers his perspective, and listens to young professionals speak about what excites them and keeps them motivated. “I always find it comes around. What excites me or is obvious to me might not be that way to others. That’s something important I’ve had to learn,” he says.
Many young professionals doubt they could ever make an impact on the industry. But sometimes, it takes just one comment, one recommendation, one swapped business card to nudge them into an interplanetary trajectory that will influence the entire industry. Isakowitz comments, “Students are keen to underestimate themselves, and sometimes the slightest nudge makes them the future industry icon.”
In 2016 at Politicon in Pasadena, California, Lori Garver, now CEO of Earthrise Alliance, spoke on a panel with Bill Nye about space policy. In the audience was a woman who was studying political science and had a deep love for space. She listened to Garver speak about her time as deputy administrator of NASA, and was enthralled by Garver’s fervor to push the development of space policy. The young woman approached Garver after the panel to ask for advice and to share why the topic of space policy was so intriguing to her. Garver was more than happy to offer advice she had, and the two stayed in contact.
Four years later, that young professional, Karina Perez Molina, works for Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), runs the SGx portion of the SATELLITE conference, and was even given the opportunity to give back to the Brooke Owens Fellowship by collaborating with Bill Nye for a STEM education fundraiser.
Molina remembers that day as a “weird pivotal point where I was advised to ‘just do this, just go for it,’ and I said ‘Okay, I’m going to go for it.’”
When Garver took the time as an executive in the aerospace industry to reach out and support a young professional, Molina followed through with full force. Molina acted on the advice she was given and she followed up with Garver consistently, making her a lifelong mentor and friend in the industry. Both Garver and Molina have benefitted from the relationship, and they have stayed close.
“I always encourage students to talk to other executives. You’ve talked to me, you can talk to other executives, we don’t bite,” Isakowitz says. Molina learned that lesson firsthand and continues to benefit from approaching Garver that day at Politicon. VS