After having left the executive search firm he founded in 1981, Kelly Kincannon was searching for something, and he knew that mentoring was something he enjoyed. Years prior, he’d been a mentor to young children in Texas, and his interest in helping others remained strong.
Around two years ago, he encountered Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., who suggested he connect with Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Dean Miles K. Davis, Ph.D. He did so, and helped kick off a then-new business school initiative, led by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Fritz Polite, Ph.D.: the Leadership and Mentoring Program, also known as LAMP. At the end of the spring 2017 semester, it included 32 mentors and 32 mentees. The program is open to graduate and undergraduate students throughout the university.
LAMP connects students with regional business leaders, providing a support system where ideas and professional experience can be exchanged in a nurturing and healthy environment.
In many cases, LAMP mentors are sounding boards who also make suggestions, while being supportive. “I listen very well,” said Kincannon, who has mentored two MBA students. “They just needed somebody to talk to,” he said. “Somebody who could provide objective, constructive advice.”
Participating in the program makes him feel terrific, he said. He feels that his perspective, experience and knowledge aren’t going to waste. Instead, they’re helping him offer something of value: honest, supportive assistance, without expecting anything in return.
Winchester Mayor David Smith, who is also an owner of Village Square Restaurant in Winchester, was introduced to LAMP by Dr. Polite at a business school advisory board meeting. Although he had worked with young people in social service environments in the past, he had never acted as a mentor in ways related to his professional and civic life. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
What he found was a rewarding connection in which he often let a mentee talk out an issue with him and then find a solution on their own. Smith meets with his mentee twice a month in an informal way: sometimes at his business and sometimes at Rouss City Hall; he’s also invited his mentee to attend area civic meetings with him to better understand the community.
When David Baxa, chairman of VISTA Technology Services Inc. in Tysons Corner, who also serves on the business school advisory board, talked about his mentee, he said, “I feel like I’ve developed a friendship.” The pair meet monthly, with a recent meeting running two hours. Baxa encouraged his mentee, who is a part-time MBA student, to network, network, and network some more, to find a job that didn’t require a daily commute of two hours, each way.
His mentee found a new job, closer to home. And Baxa encourages him to learn as much as possible about the company. “I have encouraged him to take advantage of this experience,” said Baxa, who notes his mentee hopes to one day own his own business, so experience in many areas of business will be beneficial to him, because business owners must make judgements about a host of concerns.
His mentee said that Baxa “made sure that I hit the ground running from the very first day. Month after month he extended tasks that would further my career and broaden my networking opportunities. As one of the tasks, I became a member of the Speechcraft group, which met weekly on campus. This six-week workshop enabled me to build my confidence, speak more clearly, and be more effective in interviews. I would recommend to every student in the LAMP program to participate in Speechcraft to improve their presentation, interview and networking skills.” The mentee said he networked for eight months, participated in 22 networking meetings (57 hours) and sent 26 emails to initially connect with people.
Another MBA student in the program, Casey Edsall ’16, ’17, said he “decided to participate in the program because I think it is very important to ask industry professionals how to network and make yourself marketable when transitioning from school to the workforce. All of the mentors are very reputable and are able to give good tips and advice to students so I wanted to be able to have someone to work with and help me in the transition from school to the workforce and beyond.” Edsall had two mentors through the program, with his second being Darlene Kent with Signet Marketing in Winchester, whom he began working with in January.
“I think the connection with my mentor will persist after graduation,” he said. “We have established a good relationship and feel that we will continue to be connected after I move on from Shenandoah.”
And, Edsall intends to pay it forward with the LAMP program. “In the future, I hope to be a LAMP mentor myself. I think it is imperative for students to have a mentor who can guide and assist with the transition from school to work. My mentor has truly helped me, and I want to help a future student the way she has helped me.”