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Mentorship Leads the Way for NorthWest Research Associates

A case study about a three-part mentorship program that transformed employee development and collaboration for NorthWest Research Associates.

The Organization: NorthWest Research Associates

NWRA is a scientific research organization with expertise in the geophysical and space sciences. Its mission is to achieve excellence in basic and applied research by providing a working environment designed to support the success of every scientist and engineer. The business has approximately 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 immediate goals were to:

"Over NWRA’s 35 plus years, there have been several attempts to provide our researchers with a peer mentoring program. However, they all failed to be realized.  What was missing was a structured format that defined roles, allowed for variety in the types of mentoring needed,  and had a sustainability plan."

- Joan Oltman-Shay, President since 2002

When it came to levels of experience, NWRA had a mix of well-seasoned scientists with decades of experience, as well as early-career scientists who were learning the ropes to win grants for their research proposals. With all 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 that new recruits could learn and adopt valuable skills and project management techniques. An advisory committee was assembled to reflect the different needs of their scientists as well as explore what developmental topics would resonate with their non-research staff.

The Approach: Mentorship is a Two-Way Street for all Shapes and Sizes

We helped to design and implement a tailored mentorship approach that connected individuals across different functions to catalyze knowledge sharing and collaboration in order to further support all scientists and to develop NWRA’s future scientists.

NWRA’s mentorship program aimed to broaden outreach across the organization and provide less experienced scientists with learning and development opportunities that set them up for long-term success. With streamlined collaboration and knowledge sharing, a reinvigorated sense of community was felt across the company.

"The knowledge and resources that Enspira brought to the table helped us build that structure and to clearly define the program’s objectives and methods.  Our PI Resource Group mentoring program is now performing beyond that of all earlier attempts and provides us a guide to help it be maintained and sustained.  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, and they fully embraced the initiative. Mentors were dedicated to meeting with mentees on a frequent basis to establish accountability and sustainability, and various meeting formats were thoughtfully designed to help participants form meaningful relationships in ways that felt comfortable to them. This not only drove professional development and increased connectivity 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 takes bits and pieces from a number of distinct methodologies, resulting in a program that’s custom-fit to NWRA’s unique needs. 

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

  • Four meetings per year, once every 3 months/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 first six months of the program, these voluntary sessions drew full, 100% company attendance

Roundtable discussions were built to focus on specific work areas/project teams to dive deeper into the nuances related to those working on the project

  • Monthly meetings throughout the year
  • Covers a range of content to help specific groups work together to solve various challenges
  • “Roundtable” discussions to strengthen mentor to mentee and peer-to-peer interactions

One-on-one mentorships were developed to establish a tailored connection between mentor and mentee as they navigate professional growth and development

  • Content is mutually agreed upon as employee needs evolve over time
  • Provides a low-pressure environment that helps participants to solve short-term objectives
  • Longer engagements (approximately six interactions) that encourage personal and professional growth through a centralized and guided relationship


Enspira leveraged our human-centric approach to widen our view and create an actionable approach across the NWRA agency. The willingness to change and take action was there, and Enspira created the scaffolding structure to build the mentorship program for the NWRA advisory committee to own and manage into the future.

With our proven, insight-driven methodology, we work with you to co-create pragmatic people solutions and build a roadmap for your success. Nothing is over-designed, and our solutions are tailored to your unique culture, goals and priorities, so they actually work and deliver results.

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

the team
Jennifer Woods
Senior Director, Head of Search & Talent Acquisition Optimization
Rebecca Harris
Director, Human Capital
Renee Rosenkranz
Manager, Human Capital

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