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Helping students find their way

Bakersfield’s South High MS3 students find paths to success with the help of Aera’s Mike Winward and other Aera employee mentors

Aera Logistics Specialist Mike Winward has two daughters of his own, but is incredibly proud of his six “kids” who recently graduated from Bakersfield’s South High School. Four of the six start their freshman year at major universities this fall.

Aera Logistics Specialist Mike Winward mentors dozens of students through South High School’s MS3 program

Winward’s “kids” are students in South High’s MS3 program, dedicated to inspiring careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Aera has supported the South High program for more than 20 years. Most of the students come from low-income minority families and may otherwise have limited access to these career options.

As the 2022-2023 school year starts, Winward will continue to work with his current mentees entering their junior and senior years, while welcoming in a set of new sophomores.

“I call them my kids because I want to help them succeed in life,” said Winward, who is now in his sixth year mentoring dozens of high school students. “These kids may need some motivation, help getting steered in the right direction, or just need someone to talk to.”

Winward, who has a 30-year career in the oil and gas industry, uses his personal experience to encourage teenagers to go to college. He was born and raised in Bakersfield and dreamt of becoming an architect. He was passionate about AutoCAD drafting and skipped college to work on a production rig, at a manufacturing company, and then bounced around to different engineering firms. He even worked a few years in golf-course maintenance before joining Aera.

He’s now Aera’s “map guy” and does what he loves — getting paid to draw on a computer all day. He creates permit maps and helps maintain Aera’s pipeline system by creating web maps. He believes getting a college degree would have gotten him where he is today much sooner.

“I take from my own personal experience in life to help these kids. I tell them, when you’re doing something don’t give it 100 percent — give 110 percent – make yourself invaluable to any company you work for. Do a job you love doing, and you’ll never consider it work, a day in your life,” he said.

Nearly 50 sophomores will begin the mentoring program in the fall and join the existing group of 100 juniors and seniors continuing in the program with their mentors.

South High coordinators say because the mentoring program places students with mentors for three years, they play an important role in keeping students motivated and focused.

(Left to right) Aera mentor Tom Snowden; Irene Ramey, South High counselor; students Erick Martinez Gonzalez, Kevin Munoz, Ruben Alverez Gutierrez, Eduardo Hernandez, Maritza Chavez, Nicole Inga; and Aera mentor Mike Winward

“Aera mentors provide students with a broader perspective of the college and career opportunities available to them,” said Stacey Fuentes, a South High mathematics teacher, who coordinates the program. “As a result, our students are better equipped to navigate college or technical education programs and graduate with skills that make them competitive in the workforce.”

She added, “it is not an overstatement to say that this program changes lives.” Winward says he’s proud to have even a small role in that.

A recent email from one of his mentees reads “our previous mentoring session was a success as we got to introduce our roadmaps and our plans for the future. I’m looking forward to our next mentor meeting.” Winward looks forward to seeing his kids too.

“I can’t wait to see what my next group of kids will be like. Seeing their development over the next three years, how they choose their future paths in life. They will become the young adults they are meant to be and I’m just here to help them along the way,” Winward said.

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