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Mentorship Leads the Way for NorthWest Research Associates

A three-part mentorship program transforms employee development and collaboration.

The Organization: NorthWest Research Associates

NWRA is a scientific research organization with expertise in the geophysical and space sciences, whose mission is to excel in basic and applied research by providing a working environment designed to support every scientist's and engineer's success. It has 80-100 employees between its corporate headquarters and research offices in Seattle, WA, Boulder, CO, and Monterey, CA.

Led by Joan, NWRA president and a senior research scientist in coastal oceanography, and Don, an original NWRA founding member, executive VP, and senior research scientist in fluid dynamics, NWRA provides a structured environment for researchers to support their proposal writing process, grant requests, and research activities.

NWRA's atmosphere & climate work ranges from measuring aerosols and solar radiation, to general circulation and stratospheric dynamics.

The Need: Connecting the Well-Established to the New and Aspiring

NWRA saw the need to create greater connectivity between early-career and established research scientists  through a formal mentorship program, whose immediate goals were to create a structured format that defined roles, allowed for various types of mentoring, and had a sustainability plan.

NWRA had a mix of well-seasoned scientists with decades of experience, and early-career scientists learning the ropes with hopes to win research grants. With the resources, knowledge and skill sets across the greater team, NWRA saw an opportunity to provide a forum for scientists to learn from one another so new recruits could adopt valuable skills and project management techniques. An advisory committee was assembled to determine the different needs of their scientists and identify and explore developmental topics that would resonate with their non-research staff.

The Approach: Mentorship is a Two-Way Street

Enspira helped design and implement a tailored mentorship approach that connected individuals across different functions in order to catalyze knowledge-sharing and collaboration across NWRA.

The mentorship program aimed to broaden outreach across the organization and provide less experienced scientists with learning and development opportunities that prepared them for long-term success. Streamlined collaboration and knowledge sharing, created a reinvigorated sense of community across the company.

"The knowledge and resources that Enspira brought to the table helped us build a structural framework for the program and clearly define its objectives and methods. Our PI Resource Group mentoring program is now outperforming all earlier attempts. We are all thrilled and believe that this program will help NWRA’s future remain bright."

- Joan Oltman-Shay, President since 2002

The program’s success was contingent on the commitment of the program leaders, who fully embraced the initiative. Mentors were dedicated to meeting with mentees frequently to establish accountability and sustainability, and various meeting formats were designed to help participants form meaningful relationships. These efforts drove professional development and increased connectivity not only among scientists, but also between cross-functional groups throughout the organization.

NWRA's research includes air-sea-ice interaction, oceanography, and geophysical fluid dynamics.

The Result

The three-part mentorship program borrows from a number of distinct methodologies, resulting in a program that’s custom-fit to NWRA’s unique needs. 

Quarterly learning sessions were designed to provide an educational group forum, open to all, for regular discussion and networking between groups

  • Four meetings per year, once every quarter
  • All are encouraged to participate, regardless of role/level/tenure within the organization
  • “Targeted” content, driven by experts/mentors on a particular topic
  • In the program's first six months, these voluntary sessions drew 100% company attendance

Roundtable discussions were created to focus more deeply on specific work areas/project teams

  • Monthly meetings throughout the year
  • Cover a range of content to help specific groups work together to solve various challenges
  • Strengthen mentor-mentee and peer-to-peer interactions

One-on-one mentorships established a tailored connection between mentor and mentee as they navigate professional development

  • Content is mutually agreed upon as employee needs evolve over time
  • Provide a low-pressure environment that helps participants achieve short-term objectives
  • Longer engagements (approximately six interactions) encourage personal and professional growth


Enspira leveraged our human-centric approach to create an actionable approach across the NWRA agency, creating a framework the NWRA advisory committee can use to build out and manage the mentorship program into the future.

With our proven, insight-driven methodology, we work with you to co-create pragmatic, results-driven people solutions--tailored to your unique culture, goals, and priorities--that help you build a roadmap for your success.

The Enspira HR consulting team collectively brings years of in-depth experience and expertise in HR, business, technology, and consulting across a variety of industries and geographies. We understand your challenges and collaborate with you every step of the way—from solution creation to implementation.

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