When we announced our Mentors in Design program at our Fourth Anniversary party last November, it was met with both enthusiasm and confusion. What is the criteria? Who can be nominated? What if I work with him or her? What if I don’t? We purposely offered few parameters hoping we would encourage people to think beyond the obvious and dig deep to consider how mentors can be both subtle and powerful presences in our lives.
Last night, at our Fifth Anniversary celebration held at the gala opening of the 15th Annual Boston International Fine Art Show at the Cyclorama, we announced our first Mentors in Design honorees. Each was presented with a beautiful fossil keepsake designed by Cumar Inc., purveyors of fine stone and tile and supporters of the Over My Shoulder Foundation, a organization that promotes mentoring.
It was a lot of work to enter a nominee. Folks had to write essays and offer background information. But we knew we got it right when the members of our selection panel each said, “This is going to be really hard!” There were so many great candidates, and so many meaningful stories about mentors and their giving spirit. But, choose they did. (A big thank you to the panel: Nancy Hackett, School of Art and Design at Suffolk University; Peter Wheeler, president of Sara Campbell Ltd., and David Shapiro, Mass Mentoring Partnership.)
Distinguished Mentor: Lynda Onthank, Onthank Designs and Group One Partners
“Occasionally, you meet and incredibly gifted person who has no idea of the wonderment they provide to the world around them.” That is a direct quote from the nomination essay for Onthank. She has designed high-end hotels and presidential suites around the country, but the only project she boasts about is a room she designed, pro bono and on a wisp of a budget, for a chronically ill child. She is a teacher who never fails to take the extra five minutes to make the design process the dialogue it should be. She has an altruistic sincerity in her dedication to the profession. And she is the epitome of the busy person who always has time for mentoring.
Distinguished Mentor: Steve Durkee, Cornish Associates (formerly of Durkee, Brown, Viveiros + Werenfels)
He called them his “Collection of Spin-offs” — firms that Durkee helped launch when, as pricipal of his own namesake firm, he influenced and mentored dozens of young architectural designers. Many went on to start their own businesses. “He was never threatened in these situations; he was proud and eager to offer his advice as they started their new ventures,” says one of his mentees. “He took a chance on me, he encouraged me to go after my dreams,” and in her case entirely change the direction of her career. Says another, “He taught me by example how to be a leader and how to value my individual talent. Though we no longer work together, I still look forward to meeting with him and asking his advice, and though there is not much in it for him, he keeps showing up.”
Distinguished Mentor: Estelle Guralnick, editor & writer
Guralnick is an excellent example of the cross-disciplinary nature of mentoring. She doesn’t teach designers about paint color or the hand of a fabric, but she has single-handedly boosted the careers of countless designers whose work may not have matured to publication-readiness if not for her tutelage. She has also guided many a photographer. As one of them wrote, “She has and continues to teach me more on a shoot than anyone else I have ever met . . . She doesn’t get paid to spend all day teaching everyone on the shoot, but she does it, and she does it because she cares more than anyone I’ve met.” As a nomination essay from a fellow writer put it “Everyday spent with her is a delight and a source of learning.”
Mentors of the Year: Kim and Ted Goodnow, Woodmeister Master Builders
Kim and Ted Goodnow have created a corporate culture around mentoring. “That is what really makes them stand out,” said our panel of judges. “They have taken mentoring and made it an institutional imperative.” Their employees will attest that the spirit of mentoring is found at every level of the organization. They instituted a year-long coaching program designed to develop employee leadership skills throughout the company. Those who participate are asked to give back by becoming buddies to new hires or by mentoring fellow employees. Their mentoring initiatives also reach into the community. Through a state grant, they set up an in-house education program for high school students that includes woodworking skills, English as a second language, and management training. And, boy and girl scouts can take plant tours and earn merit badges for competencies such as architecture, drafting, and home repairs. They believe that life-long learning — and mentoring — is essential for success as individuals and as a company.
Nominations for the 2012 Mentors in Design open in January. Stay tuned for more info!
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Gail Ravgiala is editor of Design New England and a fan of both the region's historic architecture and its growing inventory of modern houses and public buildings.
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