At a young age, Na’Shawnda Mitchell found a passion for basketball. Her aunt, Lynnetta Dority Harris, played professionally, and would take Mitchell out frequently to train as she got more serious. When Lynnetta got her first coaching job, she took Mitchell on as her assistant coach.
“She was really a phenomenal force, and basketball just became a family thing for us because of her,” she said. “I think I was just 22 when she took me on as assistant coach, and we coached at several Cincinnati public middle and high schools.”
Mitchell, who works for GE Aviation as a Principal Technical Product Manager for the Project Management and Digital Technology Separations Office, has been heavily involved in the separation process for the three GE companies. From the aviation perspective, she’s helped set standards and facilitate projects related to the separation. Understanding how the company can grow and empower employees is at the forefront of her duties, and she’s able to pull from her coaching skills when approaching her work.
“Taking the time to learn individuals for who they are and understanding what they want and how I can be a facilitator to get them where they want to be is important. It’s really about showcasing everyone on the team and bringing the best assets forward.”
Mitchell is now the proud mother of three daughters, all of whom continued the family tradition of playing basketball. After taking a coaching break to focus on being a mother, Mitchell felt compelled to come back to it after seeing a change in her oldest daughter’s behavior while playing.
“I watched this beautiful, bright, wonderful girl who had so much skill lose her confidence and self-esteem. She would get so nervous before every game, and I thought ‘this is not normal, this is not good.’ I saw a change that I did not like, and it kind of carried on into her middle school teams.”
When Woodland Middle School needed a new coach, Mitchell knew she had a calling.
She currently runs Woodland’s 7th and 8th grade girls’ basketball program, and while tiring – she said the growth she sees in her team is what keeps her motivated. She aims to build her team’s self-esteem in ways that not only improve their playing skills but also alter how they carry themselves off the court.
“I looked at my husband and my daughter, and I said, ‘I’m doing this for her, because the girls need someone who’s going to build into them.’”
“I see a lot of young women in basketball drop off in middle school, and a lot of it has to do with confidence and body image, and I made a point that my program and coaching philosophy is about bringing the best you forward and having them understand their self-worth and value. I want to push them to want more from themselves and not allow others to attack that self-esteem they’ve developed.”
Another huge motivation for Mitchell is her commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Around 2016, she decided that the company needed to push for DEI, and she started programs with senior leaders that discussed DEI, such as how to avoid microaggressions and other forms of ignorance. As a member of GE’s DEI forum, Kindred, she’s helped initiate annual D&I weeks for the company since 2020.
“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion really starts with a common conversation and getting to know someone on a personal level. There’s so much power in people being alike, and we want to spread that through D&I week speakers and educational events.”
Mitchell also advocates for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), and participates in various educational opportunities in the Cincinnati/northern Kentucky area to bring a face that young people of color can connect with in schools.
“A lot of times when I go to these predominantly minority schools, it’s hard to understand what an engineer looks like if they’ve never seen one. We have programs where we teach students how to build a bike they get to keep, or other engineering projects that introduce these students to successful professionals that look like them.”
The best advice Mitchell ever received came from one of her early mentors who said, “Title doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you do and who you are that is the true essence of you.”
When she’s not working or coaching, Mitchell loves to read and watch romantic comedies. She also likes to garden, although she said that hobby is a work in progress! And, to no one’s surprise, she is an avid basketball fan. Her favorite team is the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, and she got to go to the SEC to see them play this year.