If we take a moment to reflect on our opportunities and career choices, we will find nodes where we made conscious decisions. Applying to college, choosing a graduate school, and obtaining a job opportunity are all examples of a node in our life where, once the decision was made, the course of our life was refined. Take a moment to reflect on the nodes of your life and what factors played into your decisions. I am willing to bet that, for every last one of us, there was a person or several people who greatly influenced our decision in that moment. This person took us under their wing by providing perspective, advice, and knowledge. Where would you be today without your mentor?
In my own life, I have been very fortunate to have mentors in the many important stages of my life. I would like to share with you a story about one of my first mentors and their effect on my life. In my senior year in high school, I wanted to take an advanced chemistry course. I grew up in a remote area of the country and I happened to be the only student signed up for the course, which didn’t even have a teacher allocated to it at the start of the year. I attempted to take an advanced online course, but I quickly found myself overwhelmed with the material, with nobody to ask for help. Right when I was about to give up, a former teacher decided to come out of retirement to teach the school’s physics course and to help me with chemistry. I self-studied the material and met with Dr. Craig Holt once a week to take tests and get questions answered. He would send me emails with fun questions and thought experiments. I found myself incredibly engaged in the subject, sometimes distracted the entire day by a problem I couldn’t solve. As if Dr. Holt hadn’t done enough for myself and my physics classmates, he stayed after hours to help us with lab experiments that he organized. The hands-on experience that Dr. Holt provided really solidified my passion for chemistry and gave me the conviction I needed to apply to colleges’ chemistry programs. These after-hours experiments also gave me the opportunity to meet an amazing man who earned a doctoral degree in Physics, and talk with him about college, graduate school, and the life of a scientist—conversations which undoubtedly shaped my desire to pursue science.
With Dr. Holt’s encouragement, I applied to UC Berkeley’s Chemistry program where I eventually enrolled and completed a degree in Chemical Biology. Today I pursue a doctoral degree of my own in the field of Organic Chemistry. I often think of the conversations Dr. Holt and I had about chemistry and science, five years after they happened. What was two hours a week of Craig Holt’s time, was to me, a fundamental understanding of chemistry, motivation to pursue a college degree in chemistry, and the resolve to study at a top-tier institution; that, is the power of mentorship.
Project SCIFI was born from experiences like this and the understanding of their impact on an individual. We supply customized laboratory coats, but we also supply teachers and schools a resource they can use to create opportunities for mentorship like the one I have shared with you. Laboratory coats boost the self-esteem of students, create a reason for hands-on science instruction, and the opportunity for teachers to bestow students with advice, passion, and support for their future pursuits. The power of mentorship is too valuable to not be utilized.