“ASK” an Expert: Gillian Steele

As the former Assistant Vice President of DePaul University’s Career Center, Gillian Steele built many lasting relationships across the university, though perhaps not in the places you might expect. An experienced and passionate mentor herself, Gillian’s varied career—she’s worked as an occupational therapist, an ESL teacher, an intercultural consultant, a career management consultant and an adjunct professor, in addition to her time at the Career Center—has shown her time and time again the uniquely valuable perspective that an effective mentor can offer. Since departing DePaul in 2018, Gillian has turned her focus to voluntary mentorship for several organizations and individuals, including DePaul’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge program (ASK) and Upwardly Global (UpGlo), an organization that helps immigrants, refugees and asylees start or restart their professional careers in the United States.

During her time at DePaul, Gillian mentored a student named Tina Stulajter (LAS ’12, MS ’18). When Tina graduated with her Master’s degree in International Public Service in 2018, she planned to move to Singapore. Not knowing many people who had made the big move to Singapore, Tina got in touch with Gillian, whom she knew had lived there previously, in the hope that she would be able to share some valuable insight.

Expanding networks… Gillian Steele (right) met with Tina Stulajter (left) and Zhang Hong Wang (center) in Singapore.

Gillian was able to help Tina get settled and adjusted in a new culture and environment, and this past September, they were able to reunite in Singapore! Tina’s is just one of many successful mentoring relationships that Gillian has been a part of throughout her life. We sat down with her to talk about how mentors have made a difference for her, what to look for in a mentor, and the many benefits of finding a mentoring relationship for both mentor and mentee.

Did you have an influential mentor early in your career, and if so, how did that person impact you?

Early in my career, I moved to Singapore from the United Kingdom. I was very excited about the opportunity to practice occupational therapy in a new environment and culture. It didn’t take long for that excitement to turn to anxiety. Everything was different – the physical environment, the treatment philosophy and the culture of the patients and staff.

Aru, a psychiatric nurse, caught my attention. He had a calm and nurturing personality, and he adapted his approach depending on the cultural backgrounds and norms of the staff and patients with whom he was working. He willingly “took me under his wing” and explained how those cultural norms influenced his work. His total confidence in my ability to apply my skills in that setting made all the difference to me!

What does a good mentor/mentee relationship entail? How can you tell if your mentor/mentee is a good fit?

The relationship works well if it is an equal partnership built upon mutual consent and centered around the mentee’s goals. It should take place in a climate of trust, with open and honest dialogue that respects and values differences. It needs to be a partnership where both the mentee and mentor are committed to continuous learning and expanding their network.

An effective mentor is a sounding board who helps a mentee articulate their goals. They listen well, ask good questions and provide open and non-judgmental options and advice. They are happy to share their own experiences (successful or not) and introduce the mentee to others. They inspire and empower the mentee.

How are you currently involved with mentorship?

Since leaving DePaul in 2018 after 12 wonderful years, I’ve focused on being a voluntary mentor for several organizations and individuals including DePaul’s Alumni Sharing Knowledge program (ASK) and Upwardly Global (UpGlo), an organization that helps immigrant, refugees and asylees restart or start their professional careers in the United States.

DePaul students and alumni find me through the Career Center’s ASK system and UpGlo refer their clients to me for career and cultural mentorship.

Other individuals just find me through my network. They often want to pay me, but that’s not what mentorship is about!

From the outside, it would appear that the mentee benefits more from the relationship than the mentor. What are some of the benefits of becoming a mentor?

The mentor is rewarded with an acknowledgement of their skills & experience, the joy of supporting the development of others and of learning themselves. I’ve learned about the petroleum industry, for-profit healthcare, managing a remote team and much more from my mentees.

Why is mentorship important, particularly for today’s students?

Finding and engaging with mentors is a lifelong skill that can help students navigate all aspects of their lives—not just their studies or careers. They can use formal systems (like ASK) or simply approach someone whom they respect for their experiences and skills and ask for advice. This may be a professor, a fellow student, someone they saw speak at an event or a person they have come to know through their network. The words “mentor” and “mentee” may never be formally used, and that’s okay. It’s a relationship in which an experienced person assists in developing specific skills and knowledge that enhance the less experienced person’s professional and personal growth.

Interested in finding a mentor or sharing your insight with DePaul students and alumni? Visit the ASK Network to connect with fellow Blue Demons, discuss career and life transitions and expand your professional network.

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