September 2, 2014

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Dave Layton
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

Retired Engineers Ready to Mentor WIU Engineering Students

On Tuesday, August 19th, five RSVP members—all retired engineers–attended a mentor training at Western Illinois University’s beautiful new Riverfront Campus. This training is the first step in the start of a new Mentor Training Program for engineering students. Its the brainchild of WIU School of Engineering Director, Dr. William Pratt, with design and coordination by lead mentor Tom Schwake, and RSVP Education Program Coordinator Julie Ross. Tom, a retired engineer from John Deere and member of the RSVP Advisory council, led the majority of the training. The mentors also were joined by the WIU Engineering Department faculty. During the three-hour training, these highly-skilled engineers learned some new mentoring skills, including active listening, understanding challenges facing today’s college students, and how to help students to set career goals. Afterwards, the group enjoyed a tour of the WIU Engineering School.

The most interesting part of the training was learning about the varied, rewarding, and impressive careers these engineers experienced before their retirement. They all shared vivid (and sometimes humorous) memories of the challenges and demands of their own education. They understood that even today for freshmen just entering college, difficult course work can look like a lot of trees blocking a path through a forest of challenging classwork. These RSVP volunteers will be able to guide young engineering students through the forest, and ultimately through the fantastic world waiting beyond. For now, these mentors’ first order of business is to join the students at a cookout and group meetings, where all can get to know each other. Individual mentoring partnerships will come later.

Actually, these volunteers are doing even more than mentoring–they’re part of an RSVP-led pilot program that is already receiving attention from the National Senior Corps, Director, Dr. Erwin Tann. Once established, this program will be replicated in other university towns, with the goal of increasing the number of homegrown engineers produced in America. This is potentially a huge benefit to our country, and an important way that RSVP members in our community lead by example!

WIU’s Engineering program will be expanding greatly as the Riverfront campus is completed. More mentors are needed right now, and as WIU’s Engineering Program expands, even more will be needed in the future. WIU is also looking for volunteers to help recruit new students from local schools. Dr. Pratt says an advantage of having local students is that there are many engineering opportunities in this area due to the large manufacturing base here. It’s a chance to keep great students here, contributing to our local economy.

If you’re interested in learning more about the WIU/RSVP Engineering Mentoring program, call RSVP at (309) 793-4425 or email

Filed Under: Community

Trackback URL: