By Makena Malia-Miyo Nakaji
As part of National Mentoring Month in January, San Francisco State University’s (SF State) SF BUILD research training program reached out to students and faculty to ask what mentoring means to them.
See what a handful of mentees from SF BUILD’s Cohort 8 had to say about their mentors.
Andrea Swei, PhD, mentor to Adriel Evaristo, Cohort 8 Scholar
Andrea Swei, Phd, is an associate professor in the Department of Biology at SF State who specializes in disease ecology, population and community ecology, microbiome analysis and emerging infectious diseases. The Swei Lab employs empirical field approaches, molecular and genomic analyses, and quantitative modeling to understand and predict the interactions of microbes and pathogens in a community of eco-epidemiological framework.
“My experience with my mentor [Andrea Swei] was nothing like I ever had before. I gained so much knowledge and skills in her field that now she’s putting me in charge of a new project which I’m looking forward to,” Adriel Evaristo said.
“She’s taught me so much and has given me opportunities to work with her and other students on her research in STEM. I would like to thank my mentor for everything she has done for me.”
Kala Mehta, PhD, mentor to A’lexus Taylor, Cohort 8 Scholar
Kala Mehta, PhD, is an associate adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who teaches clinical research methods to undergraduate students, medical students, residents, fellow and international faculty. Mehta’s research focus is on domestic and international vulnerable populations. Her most recent work is on the interaction of social entrepreneurship and health in a global context.
“My experience with Kala [Mehta] has been great,” A’lexus Taylor said.
“She constantly shows that she cares about my future and how I feel, not only as a student but as a human being. I really appreciate her for all that she has done.”
Tiffany Kim, PhD, mentor to Krisha Fernandez, Cohort 8 Scholar
Tiffany Kim, PhD, is an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF whose subspecialty is in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. Her research focus is on osteoporosis and bone metabolism. Kim is currently investigating the effects of improved glycemic control on bone marrow fat and skeletal health in people with type 2 diabetes.
“My experience with my mentor [Tiffany Kim] has been great. I’ve been able to expand my knowledge on research and understand that the skills that I already have can be further enhanced in this new environment,” Krisha Fernandez said.
“I have been able to learn a lot from my mentor and she has been an asset in my ability to foster my critical thinking as well as analytical skills. She has also been helpful in showing me that there are various career opportunities that I can pursue in the future.”
By Arjun Viray
As a first-generation student whose parents were children of immigrants, Belinda Zeidler, PhD, understands the need to connect with a mentor.
“Navigating college on your own is hard, confusing, and lonely. Mentors help support students who may otherwise drop out because everything is so overwhelming,” said Zeidler, a mentor for Portland State University’s (PSU) BUILD EXITO program.
Zeidler, who has been at PSU for nearly 38 years, is the associate dean of Undergraduate Affairs at the School of Public Health, the undergraduate curriculum chair who is responsible for overseeing course and program changes, and serves as an academic advisor, and as an internship coordinator. She is also an assistant professor for applied health and fitness.
During her tenure at PSU serving in her many roles, Zeidler said she has learned so many things.
“I am a better person in all respects from my mentoring and advising. I am more compassionate, empathetic, and a better listener. What I do know is that relationships matter,” she said.
Throughout January, PSU joined many other BUILD sites to celebrate National Mentoring Month by posting “Thank You” notes from mentees on social media.
Chynele Johnson, Cohort 7 Scholar, was among the students who sent in a note, where she expressed her gratitude for Zeidler.
Johnson said she met Zeidler nearly a year before she was accepted to PSU when she was the only person to show up for a virtual public health enrichment workshop.
“[Zeidler] encouraged me, validated me, shared advice, and gave me her undivided attention. Dr. Zeidler was my mentor long before she was assigned to be; and I can honestly say, she has changed the trajectory of my life,” Johnson wrote in her thank you note.
Zeidler said she was touched by Johnson’s words and it’s students like her who keep the longtime faculty member at PSU. They make her feel like she’s doing something valuable, she said.
These sentiments have also played a role into how Zeidler is approaching her future work plans as she approaches retirement.
“What I realized was that I wanted to stay working if I could, [to] spend more time mentoring and advising students. It is my true passion. There is nothing better than helping a student find their path and their passion and to support them along the way,” Zeidler said.
Pursuing a biomedical career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM) can be challenging and students sometimes aren’t prepared for the rigorous journey ahead and the dedication required to stay the course, Zeidler said.
Sometimes students need to hear that they can take fewer classes and doing so doesn’t make them a failure, or they might find that STEMM isn’t for them, she said. It’s helping students through those moments as a mentor that makes Zeidler happy.
“Each student is unique and I find such joy in learning about their passions and helping them think through how to translate their interests into a career goal with supportive coursework. I love watching them grow over their time at PSU,” Zeidler said.
She added that she is a “proud mentor parent” when her mentees graduate and get admitted into their graduate programs.
“Their stories are remarkable. Their quest for learning is so great and they have overcome so many obstacles,” Zeidler said. “They bring a richness to the classroom and I am every day humbled by the amazing things our students and my mentees have accomplished.”
By John P. Garza
Jeffrey Olimpo was appointed Director of the Center for Faculty Leadership and Development (CFLD) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Olimpo, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences, is a longstanding member of the BUILDing SCHOLARS team as a co-investigator who has contributed to the development of undergraduate research programs, research publications and mentoring a successful BUILD trainee.
One of the original BUILD faculty hires in Fall 2015, Olimpo brought expertise as a biology education researcher in course-based undergraduate research experiences, or CUREs. CUREs provide undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct real research with a professor in the context of an accredited course, and Olimpo was instrumental in implementing some of the first CUREs at UTEP before they developed into an institutionalized course sequence.
UTEP BUILD Co-PI Jeffrey Olimpo
Following this beginning, Olimpo has worked across multiple avenues to improve how research is taught and made accessible to students. He has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation to improve graduate and undergraduate professional development and CURE spaces, ethics and responsible conduct of research in CUREs. He additionally researches psychosocial outcomes among students including scientific identity development, self-efficacy, and persistence. He has published over thirty peer-reviewed publications across these research areas.
Prior to this new appointment, he served as a Provost’s Faculty Fellow as part of the Reimagining Core Curriculum initiative to improve student engagement and success in science curricula.
Olimpo received the BUILDing SCHOLARS Mentor Award in 2017 in recognition of his mentoring efforts. At the time, Olimpo mentored BUILDing SCHOLARS alumnus David Esparza (UTEP Class of 2019), who is currently a PhD student at Cornell University where he studies natural science education and student psychosocial outcomes.
Olimpo identified several interconnected characteristics of good and effective mentoring. The first of these is reciprocity.
“It's not a unidirectional flow of information from mentor to mentee,” he said, adding that he fulfills his end of the exchange early. “I do this with basically anyone who comes into the lab – to goalset from the outset and in doing so, also make very explicit and transparent the opportunities that are available.”
However, this occurs in a reciprocal context.
“Interactions need to be intentional and motivated by the goals of the mentee - to be mindful of always meeting them where they're at, but also in the service or mentality of advancing whatever goals, ambitions . . . that they want to achieve through this experience,” Olimpo said.
Transparency is the second key aspect to mentoring for Olimpo, who said he’s not a “micromanager [and] that means . . . transparency becomes especially critical from me as a mentor, and from them, so that we're always constantly revisiting our expectations.”
Finally, Olimpo discussed the importance of positive motivation for his mentees. “Playing off mentees’ strengths and understanding that the learning process is something everyone engages in is key,” he said.
“The best example is students who come in and express that they don't know if they can succeed in the lab because they don't know anything about education research. Which doesn't shock me – that's fair,” Olimpo said. “They probably haven't had any opportunities to do it, but then I remind them, neither did I until I started doing what I do. So I try to equal the playing field and demystify the process that it takes to engage in research-related work.”
Olimpo’s new appointment as director of the CFLD means that he can apply his mentoring perspective to a broader range of individuals. He aims to make the center more inclusive and reemphasize its focus on the advancement of teaching for whomever does it, from faculty and post-docs, to graduate students and even staff.
In his new role, he plans to create new undergraduate teaching certifications, professional development opportunities for underserved individuals, and expand networking opportunities for pedagogical innovators.
Olimpo continues to work with BUILDing SCHOLARS, and contributes to manuscripts investigating the impact of undergraduate research and CUREs on academic success.
SPAD & DPC DaTA
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.