Virtual Mentoring for Long-lasting Impact
Published July 24, 2018
This essay is part of a series of guest posts from Academy Members and Ambassadors. For more content by and about our Members and Ambassadors, click here.
Two years ago, I was a high school junior from Macedonia with a rudimentary understanding of water purification research and a passion to pursue a career in STEM. Now, I am an Applied Physics major at Columbia University. It wasn’t an easy journey, but the mentorship I received through the New York Academy of Sciences' Junior Academy had a huge impact along the way.
Back then, the Academy had just launched a virtual mentorship program for high school students around the world and I was honored to be one of the first students to participate. In The Junior Academy, I was exposed to topics and resources that were completely new to me—things like statistics and human-centered design. The program consisted of an educational phase, followed by the innovation challenges. After going through three months of education on how to conduct research and build products, we moved to the challenges phase where we were asked to come up with an innovative design for a wearable that would solve a sanitation problem.
I was part of a team of four students from three different countries—the US, the UK, and Macedonia—and we were later assigned a mentor from India. Having five people from four different time zones in one group is a challenge on its own, let alone solving a global problem. From taking turns at staying up until 4 AM, to waking up at 7 AM on weekends, we managed to have at least one meeting every week and more as we approached challenge deadlines. Every phase of this challenge was an experience of its own, but what I’ll never forget is the dedication that our mentor, Ankit Shah, had for our team.
Ankit had a full time job as a graduate engineer at ARM in India and was working on his own application for graduate school. Nonetheless, he never missed a call. Thanks to his commitment to our group, we overcame our technical challenges, and became better team players.
"It is through these connections that we can make use of the tools we’ve created in the digital world to have a long-lasting impact in the real world."
As high school students, we had times when we disagreed or wanted our particular ideas pushed forward. Luckily, we had a mentor who calmly told us that, while both ideas might be good, we had to thoroughly analyze and compare both before making a decision. We not only gained from his experience as an engineer and a hard-working mentor, but he would always post different scholarship and educational opportunities in our group chat. Having such an amazing mentor makes it impossible for a student to dislike STEM; it makes a student want to pursue a career in STEM, so that one day she can motivate others the way her mentor motivated her.
My team ended up winning the challenge, which gave us the opportunity to meet at the Global STEM Alliance Summit in New York at the Academy. Unfortunately, our mentor wasn’t able to make it, but he was still present, viewing the livestream from home. I had always thought that the best mentors are those you get to see and talk to in real life, but The Junior Academy proved me wrong. In working with him, I realized the true power of mentorship in developing global networks and expanding students’ exposure to STEM.
Now, I coordinate the mentorship program for alumni at Aspire Academy in Romania. I also have a new mentor through the Academy’s Member-to-Member Mentoring program with whom I just had a meeting last week. I am excited for another journey with a different mentor from whom I will learn and grow both academically and personally. It is through these connections that we can make use of the tools we’ve created in the digital world to have a long-lasting impact in the real world.
Academy Membership consists of a global community of innovators, educators and problem-solvers. By joining this network, you'll lend your support to mentoring and professional development opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and young people embarking on a STEM career.
Edita Bytyqi is a rising sophomore at Columbia University studying Applied Physics. She is an international student from Macedonia who was part of The Junior Academy, a mentorship program for high school students from the New York Academy of Sciences. Now, she is involved with the Academy's Member-to-Member Mentoring program.