Mentoring as a Vehicle for Empowerment
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Ifeoma is a graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, starting medical school in the fall of 2020. Throughout college, she has mentored different types of people including college students of various levels. She hopes to impact her community through medicine, public health, and education. She values contributing and improving things wherever she goes.
Can you share a little about your experience being mentored?
I have had two main experiences being mentored and they were really different. The first was more short-term and ad hoc, meaning I contacted her as needed. As a freshman in college, I was assigned a formal mentor who was an upperclassman. My mentor referred me to an organization and encouraged me to apply to be a part of the organization’s leadership. She told me she believed in me, and that I should let her know once I applied. I applied and I got in! I later reached out to her about an internship because I was not sure if I was qualified for it. She encouraged me to go for it, and once again I got it. She played a big part in setting me up to recognize that I could do more than I thought I could.
My second mentorship experience was more informal, but also more long term. This mentor had already graduated from college and we spoke at least once a month. It was great to have someone who had been in my shoes before and know that you can be an adult and still not know what you want to do with your life. I could ask her questions and not feel dumb, whether it was about applying to medical school or what internships to apply for.
How would you describe the role of a mentor?
Mentorship can have different meanings based on the person’s needs. A mentor can act as an advocate for you, help you navigate how to do things, and/or give you advice. With a mentor, there is a sense of lock and key, where the mentor has something (whether it be experience, connections, or knowledge) that you need, and is willing to share that something with you. Basically, a mentor is an active guide that helps you work toward your goal. There is an understanding that the focus is on you.
How did being mentored impact you?
Knowing that someone else was in my corner and was there to advocate for me (even if they were just there to give me advice) made me see that not only was I an amazing, strong, smart woman but that I could accomplish tasks and take on responsibilities more than I initially thought I could.
Having a mentor also helped me bridge the gap between just having ideas and taking action. For example, early in college, I was thinking about applying for an internship at a hospital, despite feeling like I was too young and unqualified for the position. The internship also required me to have transportation to the hospital, and I did not have a car. My mentor told me I was qualified and said, “apply and I will make sure you have a ride.” My mentor then coordinated rides to the hospital throughout the internship.
Lastly, there are some experiences I might not even been able to have if people had not told me about them or that I was a good fit for them. Having a mentor also made me more aware of the impact of mentoring and gives me the push to do that for other people.
How did you start to see yourself as a mentor?
I started seeing myself as a mentor when I realized how young some of my mentors were and that I was not that different from the people who were mentoring me. It took some time, but once I finally had the self-awareness that I had experiences that were worthwhile and that I should share my experiences and insights with others, I began to view myself as someone who could be a mentor.
How have you empowered others?
I have reminded people of their strengths and what they have to offer, and I have made them aware of opportunities they would not otherwise have known about. For example, I reached out to individuals I knew and encouraged them to apply for leadership positions I had engaged in. I did this because I realized that in order for me to apply for those leadership positions, someone had reached out to me and told me I was a good fit. I knew I would not have applied if they had not reached out to me. Therefore, I knew I should do that for others, or they probably would not apply either. It all comes down to noticing what someone has to offer and using that to empower them to take a risk or opportunity.
What are some red flags for bad mentoring?
Mentors: keep in mind that mentors should play a supporting role – they are not the main character in this story. It should not be about the mentor, and they should listen to the mentee rather than just telling them what to do.
Mentees: there should not be a sense of expectation. The mentor is not obligated to do anything for you. If the mentee does not adjust their expectations when the mentor does not meet their expectations, this is a red flag. Remember, a mentor is not your assistant, and it is not their job to get you certain roles or fix things for you.
Do you have any advice for people interested in mentoring?
If you are interested in being a mentor: do it! And if you are interested in being mentored, be open to it. Sometimes it will fall in your lap, and other times you may need to seek it out. Be aware of what you do not know because that makes it easier to find mentors and for them to help you. Recognize that you need help to get where you want to be. And lastly, remember that no one has gotten where they are without help!
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