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Celebrating National Mentoring Month

Izzie Zahorian, Louisa Sholar, Matt Dobson, Espy Thomson, Marina DeFrates

January 31, 2024

  • GSA
  • HHS

Mentorship is a key element of the U.S. Digital Corps Fellow experience. Dedicated mentors from across the federal government support USDC Fellows as they develop key technical and non-technical skills and navigate working in government, often for the first time. In honor of National Mentoring Month this January, we are sharing reflections from several Fellows and their mentors on the importance of mentoring and the value it has in helping launch a career in public service.

Mentor: Izzie Zahorian, Design Lead, U.S. Digital Service

USDC Fellow: Louisa Sholar, Design Fellow, Department of Health and Human Services

What encouraged you to become a U.S. Digital Corps mentor?

Izzie Zahorian: I’m incredibly passionate about bringing more early-career people into government and believe that government should represent the people that it serves. U.S. Digital Corps is at the forefront of this movement. I wouldn’t be at the U.S. Digital Service today without great mentors who supported me throughout my career journey, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to pay it forward.

What is your mentorship philosophy?

Izzie: My mentorship philosophy is values-centered. What values are most important to my mentee? What future do they want to see? And how might we leverage the many resources, tools, and experts that the government has to offer to get there?

What has been your favorite moment or conversation with your mentee?

Izzie: My favorite conversations with Louisa are hearing about meetings and activities that bring her the most joy and value at work and then brainstorming ways to do more of it! I’m a big believer that people do their best work when it’s enjoyable and connected to something larger than themselves.

What have you learned from your mentor?

Louisa Sholar: The biggest, most important lesson I have learned from Izzie is how important it is to stay true to yourself, your values, and your interests in your work — and how to hone into what those truths are in very practical ways. There are no overwhelmingly prescriptive or “correct” ways to build a life or a career; your individuality is what will make your path unique and grounded.

What do you appreciate most about having a mentor?

Louisa: A mentor can be there for you in several different capacities, both personal and professional. I appreciate that Izzie has taken time to get to know me and understand what drives my passions and enthusiasm with my work, as well as my future career aspirations. She cares about me as a complete person first and that enables us to have deeper and broader conversations about my life goals.

Do you have anything else to share?

Louisa: Especially for folks who are early-career or are new to civic tech, having someone in your support system outside of your supervisors can be beneficial as you acclimate to working in federal service and the opportunities and resources available to you.

Mentor: Matt Dobson, Design at 10x

USDC Fellows : Espy Thomson and Marina DeFrates, Design Fellows, 10X

What encouraged you to become a U.S. Digital Corps mentor?

Matt Dobson: I was excited to have new designers joining the team at 10x and had been very impressed with the previous year’s Fellows. I get a lot out of teaching and sharing—being able to explain something is a good test of how well I understand it myself. It had been a while since I’d been a mentor as part of my role, and I’d forgotten how rewarding it can be. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few good leaders and mentors along the way, and I hope that I can support Espy and Marina the way others supported me.

What is your mentorship philosophy?

Matt: I don’t have a well defined philosophy, but I try to figure out what my mentees want and are interested in and respond to that. I hope to use my experience to anticipate questions or shine a light on things they may be interested in but aren’t aware of yet. I’m grateful to have been paired with mentees who are curious and ambitious—they make it easy!

What has been your favorite moment or conversation with your mentees?

Matt: I really enjoy getting to know Espy and Marina as individuals, and I appreciate our ‘small talk’ conversations. It has also been great when our day-to-day project work has intersected and we’ve been able to work directly together. In those cases, I can help them make a connection or play a supporting role as they lead in some aspect of their project work. Having that day-to-day context helps make the mentoring moments more concrete.

I’m also grateful for Espy and Marina’s curiosity—they do not accept things as they are without asking why, which has helped me consider things more deeply.

What have you learned from your mentor?

Espy Thomson: It can be easy to enter a new job or project and assume that you do not know enough to meaningfully contribute. Matt not only taught me but made me actually believe that being young and new can be an advantage in a job. The ability to ask questions, including “why do we do things this way?” can be really useful for work at any stage.

Marina DeFrates: Matt has helped me expand my understanding of what it means to be both a designer and a public servant, and he has empowered me to identify opportunities for directing my own professional and personal growth according to my values and what I care about.

What do you appreciate most about having a mentor?

Espy: Mentors show up in many different ways in your personal and professional life. Having someone who understands you as a full person, nurtures that, and shares their own perspectives from their field is important. I appreciate how Matt has been the perfect combination of cheerleader and challenger.

Marina: To me, having a mentor feels kind of like an exercise in iterative design! I appreciate that mentorship provides enough structure to help me feel grounded in a new work environment, yet is flexible enough for me and my mentor to adapt the relationship from week to week into something that best serves us both.

Do you have anything else to share?

Espy: If there are any established mentorship opportunities in your work, take advantage of them! Thank you, Matt!

Marina: Navigating work in the federal government can be complicated enough as it is, and that’s before layering on the challenges of being an early-career technologist—but mentorship can often help ease these overwhelming feelings of confusion. Just a huge amount of gratitude to Matt for consistently and wholeheartedly showing up every week no matter how busy he is!

U.S. Digital Corps Fellows work on high-impact projects across government. Applications for our 2025 Fellow cohort will open this fall. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay updated on upcoming events and opportunities to apply.

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