The Importance of a Mentor

Each year as part of our Energy Day Academic Program (EDAP), we award students for their accomplishments in STEM. What will our future look like without these students? Many students never even attempt to enter these competitions because they don’t know where to begin. These students will greatly impact our future, so we need to invest in them now.

We’ve all heard famous people thank their mentors, and most of us can certainly remember at least one person in our lives who inspired us to take a chosen path in life. But have you ever considered being someone else’s mentor? Before you start objecting that you can’t, I am only too aware that this may seem a daunting task, what with the responsibility and the time required. But just for a minute or two, think about the alternative. What if no one sacrificed his or her time to be a mentor?

I have often wondered what my life would be like if I’d had a mentor from a STEM field because you see, I am a classic story of what happens when one doesn’t have a mentor.

I have always been good at Math and Science. During high school, my interest in chemistry and physics was sparked. While taking chemistry, we had a (female) engineer from Dow Chemical come talk to us, and after listening to her, I knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer. The next year I took physics, and I fell in love. I loved making things; I loved tinkering and figuring out what made things work. I loved the application of mathematics; finally there was something to apply it to! I decided then to attend Texas A&M and get a degree in Engineering.

My first year there, I took all of the necessary math, science, and engineering courses. While they were not easy, and they were taught very differently (as boring lecture classes) than the classes I loved in high school, I wasn’t actually discouraged by this. I wasn’t even discouraged by the fact that I was probably one of only three females in my classes. In fact, strangely enough, I never even thought about that until later in life when it was brought to my attention. None of these things bothered me, yet I did not pursue an engineering degree. Why?

I have a very outgoing personality; I’m extremely social, and I like to talk. In fact, apparently I was so social that it made some of my classmates uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I was repeatedly told “Shut up; you talk too much”. That in and of itself, however, is not what discouraged me. What really changed my decision was this: I imagined that since so many of my classmates expressed this to me, most engineers probably felt this way, and I didn’t want to pursue a job in an environment that felt obstructive to me rather than constructive. So I changed my major…to Psychology.

Looking back, I honestly believe that if I’d had a mentor, someone to guide me and talk about these things with me, that maybe I wouldn’t have changed my path. Being a mentor is sometimes just about being a face and a personality that students can connect with an industry or a job. We need to break down the stereotypes and show students all of the different kinds of people and jobs that make up STEM industries.

Will you change the perception? Will you be a mentor? Make a difference now!