University News

Coaching Alumni Profiles: Melanie Fenwick

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Manager

Creating a culture of happiness and well-being at work is a goal that Melanie Fenwick accomplishes regularly with her team, thanks to the coaching skills she learned in an early version of our center’s Leadership Coaching for Organizational Well-Being program.

Fenwick, organizational development manager at Fairfax County’s Department of Family Services, has integrated what she learned from the program into her daily work. “I integrated it into my one-on-one meetings with staff, and group meetings, as well. I’ve often used coaching to help people on my team problem solve together.” She also serves on her department’s internal leadership coaching academy, and leads weekly mindfulness meditation sessions for well-being in her workplace.

Her experience in the program has led to lasting benefits for her, her colleagues, and the people they serve, she says. “It’s not that great work leads to happiness and well-being, but it’s the opposite. Happiness and well-being will lead to great work. Promoting our employees’ happiness and well-being is important to us in our department; it’s a core value of ours. It affects not just how we feel at work and how well we help each other, but how well we do our work – how we serve the people we’re working to serve in Fairfax County.”

Early in Fenwick’s professional life, she worked with a career coach and discovered that it was “one of the best things I ever did for myself and my first introduction to coaching. Several years later while in grad school, I took a class on executive coaching and quickly realized how I could be a better organizational practitioner if I developed better coaching skills.” She was motivated to become a leadership coach herself. “I knew that developing this craft would enable me to better serve my clients and make a difference in ways that would stay with them indefinitely. I was thirsty to learn more, transform my leadership, and develop this new craft. To have the opportunity to attend the Mason program was a dream come true for me.”

The coaching program challenged Fenwick to evaluate every part of her life, she says. “The program forced me to take a long, hard look at myself and how I was showing up everywhere – professionally, personally, emotionally, and spiritually.”

During her time in the program, Fenwick had to face an especially daunting challenge in her personal life. “While I was going through the program, I was also caring for my mother, who had a terminal illness. To say I felt overwhelmed and stressed is an understatement.” While caring for her mother, Fenwick says, her circumstances forced her to let go of her desires to be perfect and to plan for the future. “There came a point where I just had to let go and face my fears and just be in the moment. I relied a lot on my faith and practicing mindfulness. Some small moments were significant times that forced me to be fully present in the moment – like singing songs to my mom that we had sung in church. Being in the moment is a coaching skill I integrated into my caregiving experience that led to strength during that stressful time.”

Fenwick regularly uses the coaching skills that helped her in her own life to help others — both in her work for Fairfax County, and in her work leading Mason’s alumni steering committee. “I’m challenging the team and alumni to get involved, support each other, and continue developing this craft called ‘coaching.’ This is a great group of people to work with and I’m excited to help create opportunities to support and grow Mason coaches. We have a great group of Mason coaches with a real commitment to each other’s well-being.”

Connect with Fenwick by emailing her at

Apply to join the next cohort here