Megan Northup needs workplace supports to accommodate disabilities related to her autism, and she had no aspirations for career advancement. That didn’t stop her mentor, UMass Medical School disability employment leader Kathleen A. Petkauskos, from promoting her. Petkauskos’ faith inspired a grateful Northup to nominate her for the National Disability Mentoring Coalition’s Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.
“Kathy makes me want to do more and be more than I ever envisioned for myself because she believes in me. For example she promoted me, even when I had no ambition to move forward in my career because she knew I could handle it, and that really showed me that I could handle it, and I should take opportunities when they come my way to move forward in my career,” wrote Northup, who works as a project assistant for UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits program, of which Petkauskos is director. “Her faith in my ability to do any job she gives me makes me want to take on different tasks and challenges just to prove her right.”
Petkauskos is one of 17 mentors inducted this year into the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame for her commitment to mentoring and improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Petkauskos will be featured in the Hall of Fame on the Partners for Youth with Disabilities website and honored at several events throughout the year, including the US Business Leadership Network conference in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 22 and the Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities FULL ACCESS Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Nov. 18 and 19.
“I never viewed myself as a mentor,” Petkauskos said. “The fact that Megan does, and that this nomination came from her means the world to me.”
Work Without Limits, a program of Commonwealth Medicine, is a statewide network of employers and partners established in 2008 to increase employment among individuals with disabilities. The program hosts career fairs and conferences, and manages a fully accessible job board, Jobs Without Limits.
Northup credited Petkauskos with giving her the support she needs to do her job. The two most important things Northup has learned from Petkauskos are her ability to overcome obstacles and her value as an employee.
“She has given me the chance to work at a job I love by offering the supports, accommodations, and encouragement I need to be able to work despite my disabilities,” Northup wrote in her nomination. “It may sound a bit cliché but that I can do anything that I put my mind to. That even though I struggle with certain tasks when I put my mind to it I can overcome even my biggest obstacles. That I am worth employing because even though I have a disability I am a great worker.”
Petkauskos added, “I have seen Megan blossom over the last several years, from being shy and introverted to a strong, confident woman with a full set of skills. Being part of her development as a worker and as a person has been a joy and a pleasure. Megan is a role model; not only to people with disabilities or autism but to all people. Perhaps someday she’ll be a mentor to someone else.”
Northup hopes Petkauskos has learned some things from her.
“I would like to think that I have taught her how to be a more flexible supervisor, because I have needed unexpected accommodations and she has always found a way to make it work, even when she could have given up,” she wrote. “I would also like to think I have taught her how to supervise a person with autism, and to never assume that I can't do the job just because I don't like to shake hands or make eye contact.”
Petkauskos said she has come to realize that even supervisors can be mentors. “Through this experience, I have learned that mentoring is giving someone the opportunity, support, and room to grow. Giving up at the first sign of struggle should not be the first option. Stick it out and see what someone can do. It’s worth it.”
The Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame was established by the National Disability Mentoring Coalition to honor individuals who are making a difference in the lives of youths and adults with disabilities through mentoring and to raise awareness of the importance of mentoring.
Petkauskos’ Hall of Fame induction comes a few months after the Northeast Human Resources Association named Work Without Limits the 2016 Frank X. McCarthy Organizational Diversity Champion for its efforts to improve workplace diversity and increase the employment of individuals with disabilities.