Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

April 25, 2022

Photo of Yanto Mualim and Jerry Wheeler Yanto Mualim and his mentor, Jerry Wheeler, were matched through a Lab mentorship program. Credit: Garry McLeod

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Engineering ombudsman supporting the NIF & Photon Science Directorate is “paying it forward” by mentoring a fellow Lab employee. Both have found the relationship beneficial.

Jerry Wheeler, an 11-year Lab employee specializing in industrial controls and safety interlock systems in LLNL’s Laser Systems Engineering and Operations Division (LSEO), had intended to sign up for the Lab’s Engineering mentoring program. He was motivated largely by gratitude for the guidance he had received years before from LSEO colleague Stanley Sommer.

But before he could get around to volunteering, he was contacted by Engineering mentoring coordinator Beth McCormick and paired with Yanto Mualim, who works in the Lab’s Environment, Safety & Health Directorate. Mualim joined LLNL in 2018 with a focus on controls engineering.

Wheeler and Mualim were matched in the spring of 2020 just before COVID-19 safety protocols took effect. They are pleased to now be able to meet in person again.

Wheeler has enjoyed his mentoring role and recommends it to anyone interested.

“If you’re a person who likes to make a difference, it’s tremendously rewarding,” Wheeler said. “The program is well-organized—it’s loaded with resources. You’re not on your own. And you’ll really help someone."

Mualim added: “The benefits of the mentorship program exceeded my expectations. I encourage colleagues to participate and gain an advocate for their personal and career development at LLNL. Be open-minded and don’t get discouraged if the match doesn’t work out the first time.”

In 2020, with his project wrapped up, Mualim began looking for new opportunities at the Lab, as well as answers to some questions about technologies, protocols, and culture. He discovered the mentoring program, and saw the value of a mentor with whom he could discuss technical, career, interpersonal, and situational matters.

Once he signed up, Mualim waited six months to be paired with a mentor. It’s a typical timeframe, as there are far more employees than mentors available.

Wheeler and Mualim reviewed the tips on the Lab’s internal mentoring website before plunging in.

"Engineers like structure," Wheeler explained. "The program provides clear direction and practical assistance to get you going and keep the relationship meaningful."

They held their introductory meeting just before the Lab transitioned to a minimum safe posture to adhere to a regional COVID-19 shelter-in-place policy in March 2020. They then switched to online meetings for the duration of the pandemic.

“I remember one particular challenge when I was introducing a computer virtualization to my current monitoring system project,” Mualim said. “I also had difficulty deciding the format of a full functional test plan to launch the monitoring system. Jerry shared technical information on the adoption of computer virtualization at the National Ignition Facility and provided a sample of a full functional test plan to consider.

“His support encouraged me to propose the adoption of proven modern technologies for current and future projects,” Mualim continued. “He also gave me a concrete example to emulate in my own journey toward mentoring.”

Like Wheeler, Mualim is motivated to pay it forward. He has signed up with the Lab’s Abilities Champions Employee Resource Group to mentor students and colleagues with disabilities.

“I have personal experience in helping family members with diverse challenges thrive, plus I'm new enough to remember it’s tough to find your feet at the Lab, and what was really helpful,” Mualim said. “I’m thankful for my positive experience and motivated to share it as best I can.”

—Margaret Davis

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