Mentoring women in STEM: “My mentees provide me with a regenerating sense of humility.” #ThinkBigDiversity

As I give talks about mentoring and equity in STEM, I am reminded of a comment that I made a few weeks ago during a moderated panel at the National Press Club. I had been invited to speak at the Million Women Mentors Summit, and one of the questions at the end was,

“What have you learned from your mentees?”

I responded:

 “My mentees provide me with a regenerating sense of humility.”

STEMConnector National Press Club Fall 2017

[Photo with other panelists and organizers, STEMConnector, National Press Club, 2017]


I am regularly remembering that as much as I think that I am teaching my mentees or people who work in my group, I am constantly learning from them. Sometimes I learn lessons about life, and I am reminded that they are all brilliant and have their own contributions to give. I am grateful that they want to work with me, that they consider my advice, and that they put up with my frenetic style of pushing the envelope!


I use the word FRENETIC slightly in jest because in the early days of computer speech recognition, my undergraduate and graduate students in my “Speech Technology Lab” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my first faculty position), noticed that the computer didn’t translate my name (Voice to Text) as “Renetta,” it always wrote “frenetic” until we trained it. You can imagine the laughs that used to occur in lab during analyses.


When you are a mentor, and you are invited on stage to talk about how you mentor, it is important to understand things about yourself. Here is what I know about me:

  • I know that I am a “warrior – driver” on one of those work-style assessments.
  • I don’t remember my Myers-Briggs type, but it probably was not an INTJ ( and if you’ve ever been in any of my offices, you will probably agree!)
  • I am an extroverted introvert (or the other way around.)
  • I know that my recent habit of pacing a room while typing emails on a cell phone is not always appreciated by all in the room (although at least I’m getting exercise.)
  • I am the anomaly of a left-brain-trained right-brain thinker who can, at the drop of a hat, switch between the logic of Spock and the art of embracing “pie-in-the-sky” thoughts to solve a problem.
  • I love and care for people deeply.
  • I work for a cause as if lives depend on it.


So, as I continue my work, with black coffee in hand, I am writing this post and reflecting. Thank you to all of the mentees – for being patient with me, and for giving me a chance to learn from you. I also thank all of the people who give me a chance to share, and to be a voice for our cause!

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