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Mentorship matters

Welcoming new members benefits all

Ken Keffer was not what I was  expecting.
I ventured into the green ribbon meeting at OWAA’s 2014 annual conference in McAllen, Texas, to meet new members.
Jessica Seitz, OWAA’s membership and services coordinator, had matched me with a conference newbie she thought would be a good fit for me to mentor throughout the weekend.
This conference tradition is something I’ve come to appreciate. It is a chance for established members to help those new to the scene feel like they have somebody to eat meals with and introduce them to other members.
It was a formality I bypassed at my first conference in Redding, California, in 1998. I traveled to that conference from Utah with my Salt Lake Tribune colleague Tom Wharton. I figured he was already my mentor, so I probably didn’t need one. It turned out Tom was a little busy with board duties and as the incoming president of OWAA.
Thankfully, Bill Monroe stepped forward and showed me the ropes of that first conference while Tom dealt with business.
So Texas was my first foray into formal mentorship within OWAA.
After welcoming the new members to Texas, Jessica announced the mentor-mentee pairings.
It quickly became clear Ken wouldn’t need me to make any introductions. His gregarious and warm nature, not to mention a fantastic display of facial hair, made him someone everybody wanted to meet.
Nonetheless, he was polite enough to hang around me during conference. I think he was trying to make me feel like I was doing my job as a mentor.
Ken and I became friends during that conference. We talked about being writers, poked fun at our editors and discussed ideas for his upcoming books.
It is now sometimes hard to remember who was supposed to be the mentor at that McAllen conference.
I had a book deadline due smack dab in the middle of the 2016 OWAA conference in Billings, Montana, and I found myself struggling with maps. It was ironic — I had warned Ken how maps always take more time than planned. Now I was turning to him for advice and sympathy for my procrastination. He provided both.
Ken, like so many other members, came to OWAA as an experienced outdoor communicator. His advice is as valuable as mine, if not more so.
We come to this organization looking for ways to improve our skills, hone our ideas and find our voices.
OWAA is a team, and every member provides valuable contributions to keep the organization vital and the profession alive.
We need each other now more than ever to bounce ideas off of, vent frustration with the industry, seek inspiration and set the highest possible professional standards.
As outdoor communicators we often work alone. Even at the newspaper office I worked in for 25 years, I felt most other people in the newsroom didn’t understand my beat.
I found myself reaching out to OWAA members for help with editing and fleshing out story ideas. Email makes it easy to have peers take a look at a story that keeps you awake at night because it just doesn’t feel right. Other members helped me make me it feel right.
I’d like to think I helped others who reached out to me as well.
It is also nice in the social media age to have friends who recognize the value of our stories and understand that clicks matter to our publishers and editors, so they share them in their circles.
Sharing good stories by other OWAA members in your social media world benefits all of us by showing the value of our profession in a world increasingly disconnected from nature.
Walking into a green ribbon meeting is an easy way to become a mentor, but locating someone in your community and helping them find their way as an outdoor communicator takes some work.
Consider checking in at the local college or high school for communications courses, and offer to share your experience with the class.
In my experience, there is always at least one student with a passion for the outdoors and they usually wait for you after class to introduce themselves.
Or, borrow an idea from OWAA members and our staff in Missoula, Montana, and hold an “Off The Record” social to give outdoor communicators in your community, whether affiliated with OWAA or not, a chance to get together in an informal setting.
New members of OWAA, and veterans for that matter, come in with the passion and skills required to be outdoor communicators. They just need someone to welcome them to our tribe. ♦
— OWAA President Brett Prettyman, brettoutdoors@yahoo.com

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