Mentoring program creates pipeline for Honda, experience for future women engineers
Started in the fall of 2019, the Honda - Ohio State Mentoring Program not only aims to engage and encourage the next generation of engineers, but to help the company realize an important goal – have its workforce accurately reflect its customer base.
While the mentoring program thus far has focused on several under-represented groups – a large gap remains among women, who make up over 62% of new car purchasers in the U.S. (according to Cars.com). Currently women make up about 25% of Ohio State’s College of Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment.
“Women’s perspectives in product development of any type are important,” said mentor Janine Odell, a senior engineer and group leader at Honda. “To bring a different viewpoint is a benefit to the organization and ultimately benefits the customers who buy the products that are developed.”
It’s not just about reflecting customer viewpoints. Students are gaining confidence in a field where they haven’t always seen women and under-represented minorities before. “One of the most powerful tools to encouraging women in engineering is giving visibility to those who have come before them,” said senior Megan Hart. “Being able to see and relate to my mentor gives me encouragement that if she was able to overcome adversity and being a minority, I can too.”
Freshman Natalia Wargo agrees. “Talking with my mentor who has a job like what I want to have has made me feel more comfortable with the idea of working in a male-dominated environment and pursuing my goals,” she said. “I get to speak with a woman engineer who does it every day.”
Sarah Boylan, an Ohio State alumna and interior project lead at Honda, mirrored that sentiment from the mentor side. “I love to see people realize their potential whether that is men or women," she said. "But I think it’s important for woman to have role models in the fields that they are interested in, so that they can plainly see that there’s nothing stopping them from achieving their goals except for perseverance and determination.”
Honda and Ohio State have used the opportunity to design a mentorship program that meets the company’s needs and provides a meaningful connection for today’s students.
"We see value in this program in that our associates are able to give back and lift up the next generation of engineering leaders while paving the way for them,” said Kristina Kennedy, Honda – Ohio State Partnership project leader and senior engineer. “Additionally, we are able to supplement the student’s traditional in-class learning by sharing real world experiences, career pathways, and tips for future success.”
About 25 Honda associates have served as mentors throughout this school year, matched to students for ongoing one-on-one sessions and participating in online group forums. Having varied activities helped students engage more. “I really enjoyed not only being able to connect with my assigned mentor, but also hearing stories from many of the Honda mentors,” said Hart. “From panels to lunch discussions, each mentor brought some really great insight and advice that is invaluable to students trying to discover what they want to pursue after obtaining their degree.”
Students aren’t the only ones growing as a result of the program – the mentors themselves agree they are learning as well. “I think this mentorship opportunity has made me more cognizant of how much I’ve learned in the last 18 years as an engineer in the auto industry and made me reflect on some of the unique challenges that has posed and how I’ve risen to meet them,” said Boylan. “It’s helped me realize how capable I am and how much I bring to the table.”
In the past year, COVID-19 restrictions may have changed the way the program operates, but they have not slowed interaction between mentors and mentees. All interactions that were in person during the first year of the program had to shift online during the 2020-21 school year.
One mentor, Paige Domicone, a Honda engineering coordinator and Ohio State alumna, thinks changes with COVID-19 have provided a learning opportunity as well. “The coronavirus has complicated everything for these students – social life, job interviews, and schooling,” she said. “I really admire their ability to persevere through these struggles, and I have high hopes that they can carry that resilience into their career.”
The program is too young to see if it’s impacting the talent pool at Honda, but both mentors and mentees are indicating that they see it as a value-add. All mentees that participated in the first year of the program indicated they had a favorable view of Honda and 80% indicated they were interested in someday working for the company. All mentors indicated they would recommend becoming a mentor in the program as well.
“If these student mentees choose to pursue careers in the automotive industry, we would certainly celebrate that,” said Kennedy. “But more important is that these students achieve continued success as they launch into their careers and it is our hope that through this program, we are supporting that goal.”
Mentoring is just one aspect of the Honda – Ohio State Partnership, which was formed more than 20 years ago as a result of the establishment and evolution of the Transportation Research Center. Learn more about how work between the entities is enhancing research, talent and community at honda.osu.edu.
by Krista Richardson, Ohio State Corporate Engagement Office