A Model Mentoring Match

Editor’s Note: The John A. Hartford Foundation is collaborating with ASA to advance equity in aging by supporting ASA RISE, a 20-week social justice and leadership program for rising leaders of color in aging, and via the development and dissemination of equity-related, partnership-based thought leadership through ASA’s Generations platform. This blog post from an ASA Rise Fellow is the seventh in that series.

Jennie Chin Hansen and Keri Vogtmann were connected as mentor and mentee in the ASA RISE program through the “virtual village” Eldera, which matches younger and older generations. But if you ask either Hansen or Vogtmann they’ll say it was a match made in heaven.

Hansen has worked in the aging sector for many decades, some highlights being as Executive Director/CEO of On Lok Senior Health Services in San Francisco; as CEO of the American Geriatrics Society; as Federal Commissioner of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission; as a mentor at the Clinical Excellence Research Center at Stanford University’s School of Medicine; as Purpose Prize Juror and chief volunteer spokesperson for AARP—the list is long and notable. Her educational background is as a nurse.

Vogtmann has spent more than two decades in the tech industry and currently works as a user experience and design consultant and as director of project management at Blink. She also has worked in the healthcare sector for 11 years, consulting with the Veterans Administration for 8 years, and was hoping the ASA RISE program might help her with connections in the aging sector, as next she would like to work at the intersection of aging and technology. Her educational background is in business, policy, strategy and user experience and design.

“Understanding what people need [re technology] is key, because if no one is going to use it, what good is that?” Vogtmann said. Also, she’s hoping to “bring more value to the workplace as a woman of color.”

Not Drive-by Mentoring

Hansen may not have volunteered, exactly, to be an ASA RISE mentor (having been recommended by others), but she can’t seem to stop volunteering her time, and, as she said, “part of my commitment at this age is supporting others. The description of the program intrigued me, it’s not drive-by mentoring, but it’s about understanding another person, including their hopes and wishes, but first it’s about meeting them as people.”

‘I knew I would get a mentor, but I got Jennie, and she is the cream of the crop!’

She finds great value in building connections that she can also learn from and was excited to find that ASA RISE is not a top-down mentorship model but works in both directions.

“When I found out I had Keri I was so excited,” Hansen said. “By circumstance and by the background she has, she’s starting into the aging field later in chronological age than most mentees, but her wealth of background is in a topic for which I have great interest.”

That feeling of lucking into the right mentor was mutual as Vogtmann stressed that the program “in a lot of ways was more than I had anticipated. I knew I would get a mentor, but I got Jennie, and she is the cream of the crop! Given her experience and the exposure she’s had to how things work politically, commercially, and nonprofit-wise,” is an immense advantage to Vogtmann.

Vogtmann also lauded the ASA RISE program in general, as she “didn’t anticipate how it would feel like therapy, being with colleagues who have similar and different experience as people of color, being in a virtual room with only people of color. I had never anticipated that and it’s very enriching and has helped me to process experiences I’ve had and to be more compassionate,” she added.

She had specifically requested a woman of color to be her mentor, due to having gone through some professional challenges she hoped to talk through and felt the ASA RISE mentorship provided a safe environment in which to do that.

Deepening Relationships

Hansen appreciated the relationship-based nature of the program as it gave her a reciprocal opportunity to learn. “I think part of it is for many of us, we know we’re learning all the time, but to be exposed to something different from ourselves, it enables growth. To have someone who’s moving into our field after about two-thirds of her career—it’s so cool to bring new people like Keri into the field with their expertise, their talent and our need,” said Hansen.

‘It’s so cool to bring new people like [Keri] into the field with their expertise, their talent and our need.’

And she agreed with Vogtmann about the value of being two women of color in this mentoring relationship.

“There are these quiet inequalities, not being part of the mainstream, and you feel it. Keri is very accomplished, and her kids are doing fantastic things, but there’s a vulnerability regardless of those positives. Our understanding is that everyone has vulnerabilities—those who carry physical differences and those who have experiences others just don’t—there’s a deep awareness on an experiential level we have exposures that others will not. And of course, that is true for our reciprocal sensitivity.

“I became that much more sensitized to it working with Keri. We all have otherness,” added Hansen.

And she appreciated that the program was designed for BIPOC, each of whom have silent sorrows, Hansen said.

Vogtmann had always hoped for but never had a mentor and is so impressed with all that Hansen has accomplished. “She has moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and has done all these different roles, it motivates me even more. I’m in my 50s and I always felt I needed a mentor, that maybe I could have done better with a mentor, but to get to see and be with a mentor now, it makes me want to be one in the future,” she said.

“This has been such an awesome experience, she has shown me that one’s potential doesn’t ever need to stop. She doesn’t have a definitive timeline, and she’s just a joy,” Vogtmann added.

ASA members make the best mentors! The ASA RISE program is actively seeking new mentors for Fall cohort of RISE Fellows, which begins Sept. 28, 2022, and runs through March 30, 2022. Please email asarise@asaging.org to express interest.

Photo: Keri Vogtmann, left with mentor Jennie Chin Hansen.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jennie Chin Hansen