Mentoring Vision

Move the Universe: Be an inWEM Mentor

By Kay C. Goss, CEM®

Since I was 8 years old, growing up on a farm in the rural South, I was most interested in becoming a public official with the national, state, or local governments. These important public positions appealed to me because they seemed to be the people who made vital decisions which helped everybody in the community, state, or nation and made the biggest, positive difference in the lives of their people. My father, Mr. Kirby Collett, always an election judge in our precinct, shared a copy of the ballot at each of our elections, and I would pick out my candidates, and wait to see how they had done in the election. He was my first mentor.

After graduating from the local high school, where I took as many government and history courses as possible, I became a university student, also taking these courses. Along the way, I took a course (State and Local Government) from the chairman of the government department at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Henry M. Alexander. His teaching method and content interested me so much, and I made nearly perfect grades. I took another four classes of his (Municipal Government, Public Administration, Arkansas Government, and State and Local Taxation). After graduation, I stayed in touch with him.


After working at the FBI in Washington, DC, for a year, I returned to the University to secure a teaching certificate, because I wanted to teach government, history, and sociology. I went by to say hello to my favorite professor and he asked me if I would like to work in his office as the departmental secretary, assisting him and they other professors in the department. I was delighted to have the daily contact with all of the professors in the department of government and public administration.


When I thought of going to U of A Law School, actually applying and being admitted, Dr. Alexander advised against it, as he said, “It will be making a living on human conflict and I don’t see you enjoying that.” He, thus, saved me from a painful experience. He suggested that instead I seek a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Science, which I did, while working for him and the department a second year. I was only supposed to work for 10 hours a week, but I actually worked 40 hours a week and loved every minute of it, and learned how to be a professor and how to run an academic department. When it came time to do my master’s thesis, my mentor had me revise a book he had written many years before which needed revising – THE CITY MANAGER PLAN IN ARKANSAS, and the U of A Press published our co-authored result. After I did the first rough draft, he sat down with me and went over it word for word and discussed every angle of my writing, essentially taking the time to teach me how to write a book. During my last semester, my mentor was hospitalized with esophageal cancer surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. During this time, I taught his courses for him and he gave me instructions about what he wanted covered, teaching me how to present in class lectures. Additionally, I dated his son and served on the board of trustees of his daughter’s Opera Company of Boston.


When he died a few years later, I was hired to take his place on the faculty. I took a sabbatical after a few years and worked in a Congressional Office in Washington, DC. It was during this time that I met my next mentor, the Dean of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation at that time, Congressman Wilbur D. Mills. I dated and later married his Chief of Staff. Congressman Mills had been in public office for almost 40 years at this point and so he had the best stories anyone can imagine and a ton of wisdom about government and public policy. He shared many important lessons learned and historical perspective, as well as strategic thinking and vision for building a positive future for our state and nation. He became my daughter’s godfather, my family became close friends with his entire large family, and I still represent him on the Advisory Board of the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Prevention in Searcy, Arkansas, and have written a biography of him.


After his retirement from Congress, my family and moved back to Arkansas, and fairly soon afterward I started working for a young, up and coming Arkansas public official – Governor Bill Clinton, who gave me the golden opportunity to use the things my father, my professor, and my congressional mentor had taught me. Governor Clinton expected us to answer all phone calls the day they were received, answer all letters within 3 days, take each contact from a constituent as a project to be accomplished in the best way possible as thoroughly and rapidly as possible, while he devoted his personal time to economic development (Arkansas ranked Number 1 in the nation in job creation for a significant part of his tenure as Governor) and his political capital in behalf of educational reform and improvement. For progress in the latter, he had to take extremely courageous actions, a competency test for teachers and a tax increase to fund school improvements. He was truly an “education Governor.” Working in his office gave me the hands-on opportunity to see a very successful and devoted public servant, really a workaholic, make such a positive difference in the daily lives of all Arkansans. He mentored so well by example and opportunity. So many things I do today are a result of the magnificent model he provided on a daily basis. He has always been the world’s greatest strategist. As Hillary once said, “He is like having your own think tank!”


When he appointed me Associate FEMA Director in charge of National Preparedness, Training, and Exercises, he asked me to continue the outreach nationally and internationally that he had me doing in Arkansas – to other nations, to tribes, to minorities, to women, fire service, emergency medical services, emergency management, law enforcement, public health, nonprofits.


With the strong foundation I had from the shared wisdom from my mentors, I felt confident speaking to groups of thousands, establishing policies for millions, and making quick and effective decisions on behalf of the nation.One of the programs I installed at FEMA was a Mentoring Program, for I have always believed it is the best way to learn and build one’s own profession and personal skills.


As I began writing this article, I looked to see the resources on the web on mentoring and I would like to point out a few best practices for your reference in case you want to do some reading on your own.


There is the Mentoring Group, which is a worldwide mentoring services organization. It shares an article by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones on “Getting Your Mentoring Program Off the Ground.”

For a new program, she recommends:

  • Start small for success in all respects is important at the beginning
  • Start with small enhanced informal mentoring
  • Plan ahead, usually takes six months
  • Link goals to mission and values
  • Don’t do everything yourself. Create a dynamic task force
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – go to the web, consultants, train everybody, evaluate      the impact
  • Plan a great deal of structure
  • Evaluate everything you do

Their website has so many great tools: mentoring application and tracking systems, mentoring coordinator’s guide, mentoring interest survey, website template, et al.


There is a GUIDE TO THE MENTOR PROGRAM LISTINGS. This site includes definitions of mentoring, inclusion criteria, contact information, updating and accuracy, organization of listings (162 pages of them), and a section on adding a mentor program or service –


There is a site on Mentoring Programs at There are one-to-one Matching Programs, Group Mentoring Programs, Reverse Mentoring Programs, and Informal Mentoring Programs.


The University of Dayton has a Mentoring Program and a Mentoring Handbook (“Mentoring in a Higher Education Environment: Constructing a Formal Program to Meet Women’s Needs” on their webpage at


Then, there is which includes mentoring stories, connecting to mentoring opportunities, locating tools to support mentoring programs, mentoring partnerships Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota Helps Kids Find their Spark), training and events sections, a place to sign up to become a mentor, to register a program, and to make a difference. They also sponsor a National Mentoring Summit each year, present a Mentor of the Year Award, share Summit videos, and having some illustrious sponsors and hosts: America’s Promise Alliance, Harvard University School of Public Health, Commission for National and Community Service, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, boys and Girls Clubs, City Year, College Success Foundation.


US Office of Personnel Management devotes a section of their webpage to Mentoring at  They share a “Best Practice in Mentoring” Guide and include their stated purposes:

  • To help new employees settle into the agency
  • To create a knowledge sharing environment
  • To develop mission critical skills
  • To help accelerate one’s career
  • To improve retention

InWEM is stepping out smartly to create a mentoring program at an exceptionally important time, as many women emergency managers have achieved great things and that history lays a firm foundation for moving forward. However, much needs to be done in the profession to move it to the next level and the next 20 years will see more focus on standards, accreditations, certifications, credentialing, technology, social media, none of which were a part of our daily lexicon almost 30 years ago when I was getting my start in working the field. So, exciting days and years of opportunity are ahead! Everyone needs to feel that they can be a part of it, if they are interested in helping people in their greatest hour of need and in preparing for, mitigating against, responding to, and recovering from disasters world wide, nationally, state-wide, or locally, in the public, private, and non-profit sectors!