Molding young people through mentorship is important

Inspiring the next generation of leaders helps to create a brighter future for our communities. As we celebrate National Mentorship Month, we acknowledge how encouragement, guidance or a simple word of advice from a trusted mentor can make a profound difference in someone’s life. We are delighted to see how much some of our own staff value this principle. United Way’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Shuntae Shields Ryan has over 30 years of experience in nonprofit marketing and communications and was selected to serve as a mentor for the St. Louis Business Journal’s 11th annual Mentoring Monday event coming up in February. She shared her path to success with us and what she hopes to instill in the next generation of leaders.

When you were younger, when did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in marketing and communications and what gave you the confidence to believe you could be successful with it?

After participating in several journalism programs in high school, I pursued journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and took an atmospheric sciences class and decided I wanted to be a Meteorologist. So, I took all of the writing from my English major and atmospheric science minor, and newsroom experience (I interned at three TV stations along my journey) and landed my first job as the Marketing Manager for Downtown St. Louis. The head of that organization at the time became a great mentor for me, taught me the things I didn’t know and trusted me on the things I did. Thankfully and gratefully, my outlook, attitude, experience and commitment to growth took me up the Marketing/Communications/Public Relations ladder – from Director, Senior Director, VP and now Chief Marketing & Communications Officer. 

As you were beginning your journey in this career path, did you have anyone that you knew you could lean on for support and guidance?

Many people along the way – teachers in high school, presidents of all of the organizations I’ve worked for, family, friends, sorority sisters and colleagues. It takes a whole village, and you never know who you’ll need to call on, so it’s important to take care of the relationships you build along the way. My various mentors have supported me everywhere along my path from career to family and I appreciate how open they’ve been to sharing their experiences with me which has helped inform many of my decisions along the way.

As you began to advance in your career, you won a lot of awards and had notable success, but at what point did you realize that it was more than about just you, that lending a helping hand to the next generation was also important?

I’ve always known that life was bigger than me and what I do. It has more to do with my faith than anything else. However, what a joy it’s been to win awards and receive accolades just for doing the things that I love and wanting to make an impact in the community I serve and make a difference in people’s lives. It’s beautiful! It’s in me to help and pursue meaningful opportunities to serve.

January is National Mentorship Month. What does being a mentor mean to you? 

Mentoring is very near and dear to my heart. I’m both a mentor and have mentors…STILL!

National Mentorship Month is important because it is one small way that mentors can give back to others by being a guide and resource for them in various stages of their lives – work, career, family, even as a subject matter expert. 

The key piece of being a mentor for me is simply having a willingness to share your story and experiences with others, listen to others and coach them as well as give feedback based on my life’s experiences. 

It’s passing along to others what we’ve learned along the way and hopefully saving them the trouble of possibly going down a path that might not be good and/or helping them make the best choice for their life’s situation.  

Mentoring is also my way of giving back to others, which is part of my purpose in life. I believe that what you make happen for others, happens for you. 

If I do my part to help coach and mentor others, young or old, then I know and hope somewhere along the paths of my children… people will do the same for them. 

What do you hope to instill in the young women you come across next month at the St. Louis Business Journal’s Mentoring Monday event?

First, it is an honor to be able to serve this way. Everything that has happened or not happened to me in life has prepared and placed me in a position to be able to give back to others in this way, as a mentor. In the short time I’ll be spending with these ladies, I plan to listen well, be able to openly share with them, speak to whatever need, question or pressing issue they have and/or connect them with someone who can assist them if I’m unable to. The power of connections in our community is so meaningful. I also hope to learn just as much as I give and connect with the other ladies serving as mentors as well. I’m open to the possibilities of lifelong connections as well as continued mentor/mentee relationships.

United Way’s Women’s Leadership Society will be launching a mentorship program soon, how important do you think it is for women to empower each other and pursue opportunities to be leaders in the community?

It is wonderful that United Way of Greater St. Louis gets to pull together some of the region’s best leaders to offer their talent, time and experiences to other women in our region through the Women’s Leadership Society Mentorship Program. What started as a pilot program really took off and was successful because there was a need that was met and people wanted more. Women empowering women and encouraging each other to be their best selves is why it’s so important. It gives women the opportunity to elevate their skills, build meaningful connections, create purposeful impact and be part of a strong network of inspirational women dedicated to actively supporting each other in achieving professional and personal aspirations.

Empowered women power our communities!

Take action now:

Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries