NRECA’s Women in Power Mentoring program couldn’t have come at a better time for MeLisa Garcia.

Garcia was working as the manager of financial services at Nevada’s Overton Power District No. 5 when the general manager announced his retirement. She considered applying and was looking for someone to help her navigate the process.

Then she found out about the Women in Power mentoring program launched by NRECA last year to support women professionals in the electric cooperative community.

“I felt like there had to be a little bit of the Lord’s hands in the fact that this program came along exactly when I needed it,” Garcia said.

Garcia and her mentor, Bartholomew County REMC CEO Courtney Metzger, were among 10 pairs who took part in the inaugural six-month program, which ran from June to November 2023. It’s NRECA’s third mentoring program—the others are targeted at human resources and IT professionals.

“NRECA has made a concerted effort to recognize, support and provide opportunities for women in our electric co-ops. The Women in Power mentoring program was a natural addition to our set of offerings,” said Regina Sheehan, NRECA’s interim director for membership and business development. “We’ve heard from participants that these programs help them be more invested in their careers and in their organizations.”

Twenty applicants from a pool of about 50 were selected. Among the 20, about half were senior managers and the rest were in mid-level positions. Pairs set their own rules and committed to meet virtually at least once a month for one hour. With the exception of two individuals who left their co-ops during the program, many of the participants plan to continue their mentoring relationship.

“We asked applicants to be very specific about why they were interested in the program because that would help us make a better match,” said NRECA Member Relationship Manager Susan Mortensen. “When assigning pairings, we aimed to match a mentee’s goals with a mentor’s experience. And we wanted the pairings to represent co-ops all across the country, both large and small.”

A popular feature of the program was monthly “coffee sessions” moderated by Mortensen and, occasionally, NRECA IT Cooperative Relations Principal Shawna Ryan, who is also the IT mentoring program coordinator. Mentors and mentees met in separate groups to discuss their program experiences and other issues.

Participants gave the mentoring program overwhelmingly positive reviews, and NRECA will offer the program again this year.

“Everyone was fully engaged,” Mortensen said. “I was blown away by these women, and the whole time I kept thinking ‘I wish I had had a mentoring program when I was in my 20s. I think it would’ve changed the course of my career.’”

Garcia is unequivocal about the “life-changing” impact of the program and said the pairing with Metzger “100%” led to her ultimately successful bid to succeed General Manager Mendis Cooper when he steps down during the first quarter of 2025.

“I know that sounds over the top, but it really was,” Garcia said. “It was beneficial to talk to someone, especially a woman, who could help me navigate all that the transition encompasses. It’s a lot of work and very different than applying for any other position.”

As a mentor, Metzger benefited, too. Throughout her 16-year co-op career, she’d taken part in informal programs as a mentor and mentee, and the NRECA experience “was a way to pay it forward from all those individuals who helped me grow in my career.”

The experience also provided Metzger a rare opportunity to reflect on her own path.

“Reflection is valuable for so many reasons, no matter where you are in an organization. My conversations with MeLisa pushed me into thinking, ‘What are the strategies that I’m deploying here that could be helpful? What am I not doing that I should be doing?’”

After months of virtual meetups and texts, Metzger and Garcia finally got to meet in person earlier this month at NRECA PowerXchange in San Antonio, Texas.

“Courtney will always be a part of my life, and I'm so thankful that NRECA matched us up so very perfectly,” Garcia said.

The application process for the 2024 program will be announced this spring in the Women in Power professional community. For more information, contact NRECA’s Susan Mortensen.