A Family Affair: Siblings Share Ties to Humphrey School as Alumni, Mentors
When you ask professionals why they volunteer to mentor students at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, most will tell you it’s because they want to give back to the institution that helped them establish their careers.
We recently caught up with two such mentors who share a special bond: not only are they both graduates of the Humphrey School, they are also brother and sister.
Minneapolis natives Brian Elliott (MA ’98) and Beth Elliott (MURP ’02) share an appreciation for the experiences they had studying at the Humphrey School, and are also more than willing to share some of their expertise to current students through the mentor program, which is marking its 30th anniversary this year.
Brian Elliott is executive director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Minnesota State Council, a position he has held for the past six years. He previously worked for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and for Clean Water Action. Beth Elliott is a senior urban planner at Stantec, a worldwide design firm. Prior to that, she was a planner with the city of Minneapolis for 14 years.
They’re both committed to public policy, although they’ve taken slightly different career paths.
“Brian has always been the more political one,” said Beth. “I like the behind-the-scenes, policymaking aspect of public service.”
Another bond they share is the value they place on mentor relationships; they’ve both been mentors, working with Humphrey School students, for more than 10 years. During those years, they’ve developed similar opinions about what makes a good mentor-student relationship.
“What I try to do is to help students take all the theoretical work they learn at the Humphrey School and start applying it to the real world,” said Brian.
“The mentor’s job is to offer structure and focus to the student’s goals,” added Beth. “I want to ground my mentees in the realities of the job, and I want them to understand the practical elements of being in the field.”
That often happens through regular career planning discussions, job shadowing, and other activities. An example of how that works comes from Brian Elliott’s mentee this past year, Master of Public Policy candidate Lydia Quint (in photo at left). Quint said she’s not yet sure what she wants to do after completing her degree next year, and Brian exposed her to several potential career paths.
“He showed me what it's like to lobby when I shadowed him one day at the State Capitol; he showed me what it's like to advocate on behalf of citizens; he showed me the work that SEIU is doing related to political engagement,” Quint said. “He showed me that public policy reaches across many sectors, people, and topics.”
Mentors also spend a lot of time helping their mentees develop relationships with professionals in the field. “One of the main lessons I learned from the Humphrey School was how important it is to build connections with the right people,” said Brian.
Beth and Brian noted that the primary responsibility for a successful mentoring experience rests with the students. When mentees come into the program, they need to take the initiative rather than waiting for their mentors to do the work.
“The first interaction I have with a new mentee is always about finding out what they think they want to do, and then really digging in and exploring that,” said Brian. “And I’ll sometimes offer up other possibilities they may not have thought about.”
Those students who know what they want to get out of the mentor relationship are going to be the most successful, Brian added.
“If there are a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ in that first conversation, it’s going to be more difficult,” said Beth. “I’ve had a lot of mentees who weren’t ready and didn’t understand what their role was.”
“The ones I remember the most are the ones that grabbed the opportunities provided them and ran with them. They were go-getters.”
Both the Elliotts keep in touch with some of their former mentees, and say it’s rewarding to see them become successful. They both plan to remain active in the mentorship program for the foreseeable future.
“The best part is that it keeps me connected to the Humphrey School. I love that I have opportunities to stay connected without having an official role,” said Beth. “Knowing who is coming into the school, and the talented people who are entering my field of urban planning, keeps me excited.”
We're currently recruiting new mentors for the upcoming academic year. Learn more about the program here.