Be Yourself — Pulling from a classic, there is a line from the movie Aladdin where the genie tells Aladdin to stop impersonating the rich and famous Prince Ali Ababwa and start being who he was: Aladdin. While this is a childhood lesson, I often see people in the corporate environment not be who they are. Yet,I have found that the more me I am, the more I am able to leverage my skills and personality to bring people together and deliver great work.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Daniels.
Jonathan graduated in 2011 from Prairie View A&M University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Upon graduation, he began working as a Production Engineer for Shell Upstream working within various assets in Louisiana, Kansas, and West Texas. Jonathan now works as a Subsurface Coordinator, responsible for the short and long-term development plans for Shell’s Permian asset.
Jonathan also has passion for being a STEM advocate for students. He has worked with multiple STEM related partnerships as a speaker, mentor and consultant to raise awareness for STEM professions for middle school and high school students.
Jonathan and his wife, Erica, have been happily married for 9 years and have a three-year-old son, Jonathan Jr. In his free time, you will likely find him spending time with family and friends, at the gym, or watching a good movie.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had an interesting background as I was growing up, in which I found myself often in two worlds. In one, I was raised by my single, disabled (paraplegic) mother who showed me how to persevere and prioritize the care of others, even through hardship. In the other, I spent time with my father, a successful engineer who taught me how to take ownership of my life and work hard to achieve my goals. My upbringing shaped my desire to motivate others to tap into their own potential.
After I started working as an engineer with Shell, I started to get involved with the Workforce Development and Diversity Outreach team, where I help middle school and high school students envision themselves as future Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) professionals. Many of the students I work with have not been exposed to the possibilities within a STEM career, and so part of my job is to help expand their perspectives to not eliminate this as a path for them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
People often tell me I look young for my age. When I arrived at a high school for my first-ever event, I introduced myself to the director, made small talk for a few minutes, and she finally asked, “What school do you go to?” I smiled and responded that I hadn’t been in school for nearly a decade. She felt embarrassed, but I told her not to worry about it. I actually enjoy going to events and blending in with the students as I feel it helps them to relate to me better.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started my career, I had a bad habit of not getting others involved. I remember I had a project that I had been working on for almost a month, and I was so excited to be at the end of it. However, when I sent off an email with the results — glowing with pride — my operations manager sent back a note saying, “I don’t like the way this is being managed.”
While I was hurt and a little angry, it ended up being a fundamental lesson that I needed to learn on collaboration and bringing people along with you in the process. Regardless of how great something is, it is important to have everyone (especially the person using your product!) on board.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The STEM needs for the world are vast and will only continue to increase. After all, our society is perpetually changing and technology is at the forefront. However, in order to reach our full potential, diversity, equity and inclusion is a must.
Through my work with Shell’s Diversity Outreach Program, we focus on preparing the next generation by improving their knowledgebase on STEM by providing funding and volunteers to assist organizations who are addressing disparities among minority and marginalized groups. We partner with groups that share our mission like DiscoverE, National Society of Black Engineers and United Negro College Fund. We also provide scholarships to students and awards for schools and teachers that are leading well within these communities.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I remember going to Washington, D.C. to assist DiscoverE with their FutureCity competition. FutureCity is a competition where middle schoolers from all over the country compete to build a city hundreds of years into the future, and the teams are given specific challenges — this year was a water filtration challenge. There was a team from North Carolina, and they had created an amazing city, where they had thought about everything from the water infrastructure to even the social aspects of the society. I was thoroughly impressed with their professionalism and the city they created. Even better, I noticed that while the group were majority middle school girls, that was not the focus. Instead, the focus was on how impressive they were — as it should have been. I was proud that we could have a small part of making that opportunity available for those young ladies to shine.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- From a societal standpoint, it is important to recognize that marginalized communities are often-times limited in terms of their pursuit of opportunities, especially when it comes to STEM disciplines. We should recognize these barriers and provide assistance. Anyone that has gotten anywhere has done so through the help of others.
- For those within the community, understand the limitations that individual students face and work on empowering them through their unique situation. For example, I was speaking with a leader who started a nonprofit and secured funding to provide iPads for her participants, as most of them didn’t have access to a computer. These are the types of solutions that will power our progress.
- Politically, it would be highly beneficial for community leaders and politicians to have a more open dialogue. In many cases, the necessary initiatives are already in place to address the community’s needs. They simply need more resources to truly make an impact. Through greater collaboration, we’ll be able to make positive changes within communities.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, leadership can best be summed up by this quote by Saint Augustine: “You wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”
Leadership is knowing the right direction and humbly serving a group there.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Fail Fast (Together) — It can be tempting to try to do everything perfectly, especially when you first start. However, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. When I first started working, I was so worried about looking like a failure that I would labor on a project for long periods of time before seeking feedback. In the end, I realized my expectations were unrealistic and my processes were inefficient. It is always better to collaborate on an issue rather than stew on it alone.
- Steal (or Borrow) — Starting out in my career, I always wanted to be original in my approach, be it engineering projects or programs with students. Yet as I became more acquainted, I found there were usually processes already in place. I’ve learned to see what others have done and do my best to take that to the next level, or partner with someone who is already doing it well.
- Be Yourself — Pulling from a classic, there is a line from the movie Aladdin where the genie tells Aladdin to stop impersonating the rich and famous Prince Ali Ababwa and start being who he was: Aladdin. While this is a childhood lesson, I often see people in the corporate environment not be who they are. Yet,I have found that the more me I am, the more I am able to leverage my skills and personality to bring people together and deliver great work.
- Trust — Trusting those around you is very important. To run a sustainable business operation, it is vital to bring people along with you. Yes, it will slow you down, but collaboration and delegation are absolutely necessary. I have heard it said “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Ask Yourself “Why?” — Life is too short to do anything you are unsure of or not committed to. In a broader sense, if you don’t understand the “why” that fuels your internal fire, you may never feel fulfilled.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire more people to have open conversations. From my point of view, many of today’s problems could potentially be avoided through greater communication. It would be ideal to create a “safe space” where people with opposing views can have constructive conversations to understand each other. While understanding does not mean agreeing, I believe society will be in a better place simply by having these conversations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
This quote speaks to me because joy is infectious. So, whenever I do anything — even when it may not be going the way I want — I choose to be happy and joyous. I would much rather have a less productive life where I have helped someone else experience joy than an efficient, highly productive life that caused others despair.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would either choose Will Smith or Timothy Keller. I have always looked up to Will Smith since watching him as a kid on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, andI think that would be a great breakfast. Timothy Keller is an author whose books have impacted my life deeply, so I would love to have a long sit down with him, too.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me on Instagram, @jaydotd. It’s private at the moment, but feel free to send me a request!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!