By Kenna Rathai (mentor) and Rachel Lium (mentee)
Editor’s note: We started a new mentor program last fall and wanted to catch up with a pair who have been on top of things from the start. Kenna Rathai has been in agency and freelancer roles for more than 20 years, and Rachel Lium has a couple years of agency experience under her belt.
Q: Did you have any preconceived notions about the program? How have your expectations changed?
Kenna: I’ve been involved on both sides of mentor programs in the past, so I know that in order for it to work, you have to work at it. I was more than thrilled to be paired with Rachel – we discovered so many similarities in how we work, our attitudes, style, etc. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to build a relationship that I think will continue long after the mentor program, but I definitely am doing just that!
Rachel: Being new to an organized mentorship and just beginning my career, I had hopes to receive a mentor who would offer guidance on my career path and ambitions, help me connect with other industry professionals, and discuss how to navigate challenging situations.
Being 10 months into the program, Kenna has not only checked the box on each of those hopes, but has beyond exceeded my expectations. She has reaffirmed my passion for the agriculture agency grind and is a constant reminder that I am in the right career field.
Once I received my pairing information, I was ecstatic, as my mind immediately flashed back to Ag Media Summit 2016 in St. Louis. I was a recent college grad and this was my first AMS experience. While networking with some previous colleagues at AMS, and sharing my growing interest in the agency world, it was suggested that I had to meet “Kenna” that week. I was told – almost incessantly – “Have you heard of Kenna? She’s great. You have to meet her. Oh, you should definitely meet her.” To my dismay, I did not have the privilege of meeting her at AMS that year. Fast forward to September 2017, we were paired and I was grateful!
Q: The “responsibilities and expectations” we set for both of you were pointed, yet flexible. How are you doing? What are you doing?
Both: We love learning from each other! We try to set a topic on each call for the next one — both of us contribute to that list of things we want to discuss. Aside from the general introductions, we’ve had calls on a variety of topics, including: working remotely, time management, agency culture, writing tips and brainstorming techniques, how to manage work/life/extracurricular balance, compared StrengthsFinder results, and discussed professional development opportunities. We also were able to meet in person at the NAMA conference in April in Kansas City!
Q: You’re more than halfway through the year-long program. How will you sustain the good thing you have going? What’s on your wish list of future call agendas? What do you still want to accomplish?
Kenna: If I was sure her supervisor wouldn’t read this, I’d say I’d love to work with Rachel some day! Oh, did I type that out loud?!? But seriously, Rachel is someone I envision always keeping in touch with, leaning on when I have a confusing millennial question, and offering an unbiased opinion whenever she needs anything. I can’t wait to see her grow in her career and confidence, and get more connected with AAEA. We never seem to have a shortage of topics to talk about, and hopefully we can discuss in person again before the end of the year.
Rachel: I am grateful that we were able to meet in person at the NAMA conference. This gave us the chance to connect in a different way rather than a phone call. I’m fairly certain Kenna introduced me to at least 10 new people in a matter of 20 minutes while walking around the NAMA trade show – which completely checked the box on one of my goals I identified for this program.
It would be great to identify more face-to-face opportunities, such as meeting up again at summer farm shows, Ag Media Summit, etc., that we know we’ll both be attending. These in-person interactions would be a good way to maintain the relationship in the future.
Wish list topics: the art of humble confidence, navigating internal work styles, building and maintaining client relationships, trends in ag PR. Additional wish list item: meet in person again!
Q: I hear you have a small-world story. Do tell!
Rachel: Working in the agriculture industry is a constant reminder that it is a small world. But with this pairing, the world got even smaller. During our first mentor call, we established the basics: where we grew up, our career paths, interests, etc. Kenna noted that she grew up visiting northern Minnesota often for family vacations. My first thought was, “Huh. I, too, grew up visiting northern Minnesota.” I wrote this tidbit about her down in my notebook, and about 10 minutes after she mentioned it, I just had to ask: where in northern Minnesota? It’s a large state. What were the odds that we even visited the same area? You know where this is going. Turns out, we grew up visiting the same region, towns, and sometimes even the same lake – in the land of 10,000!
Kenna: Yes, that pretty much sealed the deal. I adored this new person in my life. Is that too mushy for a professional to say? I don’t think so. AAEA: The Agricultural Communicators Network can be kind of a mushy bunch. The relationships we make within this organization can last not just a career, but a lifetime. And I’m excited that this mentor program is offering the opportunity for Rachel and I to connect.