Maxar’s Director of Systems Engineering Steve Bates was recently named the Space and Satellite Professionals International’s (SSPI) 2022 Mentor of the Year, a recognition that celebrates the attention, support, wisdom and guidance he has provided to young professionals and colleagues throughout his career.

Mentorship is an essential aspect of any successful workplace, and it’s something that we actively encourage and support here at Maxar. We spoke with Steve to learn more about the power of mentorship and how it can help create a more inclusive aerospace industry.

Steve Bates receives the 2022 Mentor of the Year award at SSPI’s 2022 Future Leaders Celebration in Mountain View, California, on October 12, 2022.

Maxar: Can you tell us about what you do at Maxar?

Steve Bates: I am currently responsible for developing the safety roadmap for Maxar, working with a team of engineers to ensure that the spacecraft systems we manufacture meet demanding safety requirements. For example, we’re currently supporting development of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) for the lunar Gateway, part of NASA’s Artemis mission, to ensure it meets safety requirements for a crewed NASA spacecraft.

Maxar: What drives your passion for mentoring?

Steve Bates: I am a firm believer that career progression requires the help of others, be it tacitly or actively, and through that connection we can learn and achieve great things. At times, we’ve all stood on someone else’s shoulders or have been carried forward with someone else’s help. My obligation is to pay that investment forward and hold myself accountable for doing so.

Maxar: How has mentorship impacted your own career?

Steve Bates: Most of what I have achieved in my career is the result of others investing in me and giving me the chance to grow. That came in the form of opportunities to work new projects, introductions to new people, and sometimes a long, long leash. Every time, I knew and trusted that someone had my back and that I could tap into help when needed. I may not have called each of my helpers a mentor, but they were always there to support me.

Maxar: What advice would you give someone who is early on in their aerospace career or who is considering a career in the industry?

Steve Bates: Let me answer by telling a story: Once, in the middle of an airplane development program, I spoke to a group of students earning their master’s degree in mechanical engineering to help prepare them for the aerospace industry. What I said surprised many of them. I told them that we all spend most of our academic lives learning to answer the question given. In other words, giving the correct answer defines success in academia.

In the professional world, however, success is defined in the opposite way. In large-scale systems integration projects that are common in the aerospace industry, there is rarely anyone who possesses the technical acumen and depth to know the solutions right away. Success comes from knowing what questions to ask and then knowing who to turn to for the answers. Most, if not all, aerospace companies will have the right pool of experts to answer the question.

So, learning to ask the right questions is the key to success, particularly in industries where technology development moves so fast that the problem becomes even more acute. This approach leads to lifelong learning and helps create fertile ground for mentorship.

Maxar: In your view, how important is mentorship in helping create a more inclusive aerospace industry?

Steve Bates: Aerospace products are extremely complex and large-scale systems integration projects present some of the most challenging problems to solve across any industry. It is imperative to have a diversity of perspective, thought, backgrounds and ideals when attempting to solve problems this complex. Mentorship can help create a more inclusive environment by helping people from different backgrounds feel more supported and by creating a stronger community. The fact that we don’t all think alike is an advantage—and mentorship can help nurture that advantage.

Want to call Steve a colleague?

Check out Maxar’s career page.

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