She’s an Army veteran and CU Denver civil engineering student who plans to graduate in May. He’s a veteran of the Air Force and vice president of the global water resources engineering firm MWH now part of Stantec. When the CU Denver | Anschutz Office of Veteran & Military Student Services (VMSS) brought them together in the Boots to Suits Professional Development Program, it was a mentorship match made in heaven.
Perfect mentorship match
The student is Stephanie Espinoza. Her mentor is Bob Armstrong. ”Stephanie is an intelligent, strong and resourceful person—a natural leader and she will do well,” said Armstrong. “This program is important to facilitate the progression of those who’ve taken an unconventional path in their development as they pursue a degree and meet and expand upon their potential.”
The two have been meeting regularly through the fall semester and Armstrong’s work in wastewater unexpectedly piqued Espinoza’s interest in that side of water engineering. It’s insight that would have been difficult for her to gain without the mentorship relationship.
“It’s so important to make real world connections before you exit school,” Espinoza said. “My professors have been a great resource for this but when Bob actually takes me out to his job sites and introduces me to working professionals I feel like my transition to my future career as a civil engineer won't be so hard.”
Benefits for college
Espinoza enlisted in the service during her senior year in high school, went into combat deployment only 2 weeks after graduating basic training and worked as a Chemical Operations Specialist during two tours in Iraq. The ultimate goal was always to use her military benefits to pay for college.
Boots to Suits & more
Once she got to CU Denver, like many other student veterans, Espinoza found support and assistance at the VMSS including computer access and staff resources to answer questions. She learned about the Boots to Suits program through the experience of a fellow student. “He told me how much he gained from participating. The idea of being paired with a professional in the field of my interest really intrigued me.”
Mentorships are just part what VMSS offers through Boots to Suits. Additional programs include peer to peer mentoring, tutoring and mental health support which all leads to helping students like Espinoza make a successful transition from campus to career.
“Both the veterans and the employers should understand that vets bring a special skillset to the workplace,” said Armstrong. “They’ve learned, and hopefully still know, what it takes to be part of a team. They understand sacrifice and how to get things done. They’ve been in situations where they’ve had to tolerate discomfort and focus on the tasks at hand.”
Espinoza is Armstrong’s first Boots to Suits mentee but he regularly supports veterans elsewhere in Colorado and as far away as Okinawa and South Korea. Working with Espinoza gives him the opportunity to make a difference close to home and share his perspective with someone who’s also chosen civil engineering as a career.
Just be you
“He’s an amazing mentor,” said Espinoza. “He and I think a lot alike since we're both vets. He has a great sense of humor and everyone who works with him genuinely cares about him and respects him. The fact that he was so easy going and so good at his job surprised me. I figured everyone in engineering was so serious. He made me excited that I can be myself and I don't necessarily have to conform.”
“The best advice I can give her,” said Armstrong, “is to be herself, be proud and be strong.”