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  • Her Story Contributor

From the Mouth of Experience

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

To understand EWAAB, you need look no further than our mentorship program. We believe all young women and non-binary individuals deserve the tools and support to break through professional barriers, so we are building a college to career pipeline powered by mentorship. We are now in the second year of our university mentorship program at EWAAB. This year we are proud to have 61 new Mentees supported by our amazing team of Mentors which has grown to 30. To capture the impact our program is having, we asked a Mentee and a Mentor to tell their story and how EWAAB has helped them step more confidentely into the world!

Confidence through Connection: A Mentee's Story

Hi! My name is Ella and I'm a sophomore from Chicago, IL who is majoring in public policy and minoring in psychology and hispanic studies. I am also president of our Best Buddies chapter and love spending time with peers and adults who have developmental disabilities. Besides that, I love to read and spend time outside. As an incoming freshman who was the first (and only) mentee at William & Mary at the time, I would tell myself to fully commit and immerse myself in the experience that EWAAB provides. I was really unsure how the program was going to go because I had nobody to talk to about it and wasn’t sure if I was up to the task of being in an inaugural program. However, working with my mentor who immediately committed to building a relationship with me helped me realize how beneficial the resources EWAAB could give me. For example, thanks to the program I was able to become proficient in new presentation skills and created goals that grounded me throughout my freshman year and have evolved to help me throughout college. I also saw throughout the program how much more confident I was becoming. In the same vein, as we went online and began an internship all at once I was partnered with another university that had four mentees I’d never met. It was once again uncomfortable being put into a group that already was comfortable with each other. I would tell my past self to let go of those fears and dive in. Every mentee is chosen for a reason and the four women were absolutely incredible, both towards me and in general. I loved getting to know them and become friends with them and wish I had been more confident from the start so we could have gotten closer more quickly. Luckily, after already being in the program for a semester I was able to adapt quicker than I would have previously and had a large role in designing our presentation. Overall, EWAAB was a valuable experience that helped my confidence, leadership skills, and presenting abilities. So, finally, I would tell my former self that they’re making the best decision of their freshman year!

Growth Through Leadership: A Mentors Story

Nobody makes it alone. Nobody has made it alone. And we are all mentors to people even when we don’t know it.”

- Oprah Winfrey, Boston, 2002.

Oprah Winfrey’s epigraph speaks to the power of community in traversing life and career obstacles, regardless of their nature. It especially rings true for those who face manifestations of larger institutionalised problems regularly while being multiply burdened by the intersection of oppressions to which they are subjected due to historic marginalisation. Such is the importance of a community like that which EWAAB cultivates. Of course, unlike what Oprah is focussing on, EWAAB provides a much more organised framework of mentorship.

When I first put my hand up to mentor, I was motivated to participate largely by my own experiences in a male-dominated, masculinised field which lacked diverse representation and thus had the potential to really alienate students like myself. In addition to providing the kind of guidance I wished I had had in entering into my degree myself, throughout my year with EWAAB I was consistently surprised by the ways in which this position of leadership affected my own relationship with learning.

There are the somewhat expected skills you refine when you are in such a position. You practice efficiency of organisation in preparing content with (in our case) international collaborators. Public speaking and working jointly is required so frequently (even if over Zoom) that you become more settled in good practices of engaging and actively listening. By the nature of group mentorship, you become better equipped to find a balance between the group focus and individual needs. When life throws a global pandemic at you, you adapt to the time management and technological tasks required for you to continue operating.

But alongside these, there are some more interpersonal lessons that quietly find a home in your mind. See, the benefits of community are felt not only by the mentored, but also by the mentors. The comfort and empowerment generated by storytelling (also counter-storytelling when combined with the intent of dismantling normative narratives) and advice-sharing elevates everyone involved – we all have much to learn from one another. Working with people of such beautifully diverse makeups promotes a better understanding of how lived experience differs from identity to identity and person to person. Working with people within different courses helps confront damaging notions of supremacy between contrasting career choices. Of course, none of this “on-the-job” learning replaces the need to do more formalised learning – say, in the form of unconscious bias training – but there is much to be said about the power of listening to diverse voices in motivating this learning.

Furthermore, being in this formal position of leadership with EWAAB, I learnt more of the subtle ways in which leadership is assumed informally. Like Oprah comments, not all leaders are aware that they themselves are perceived as such by their peers, colleagues or otherwise. As gender minoritized people within academia and the professional world, we may often find that our presence alone is political; that our voice is taken to be authoritative and representative of others who share elements of our identity. While this is not always fair, we can be unaware of the positive ways our presence impacts upon those younger people wishing to venture into our fields. Because of this ability to help and inspire as we go about our everyday existence, we are leaders. What an immense privilege it is to be able to invoke growth within ourselves and others in the process.

Our Writers

My name is Ella Schotz and I’m a sophomore at the College of William & Mary who is studying public policy with minors in Hispanic studies and possibly psychology. I am a former EWAAB mentee and am now a primary mentor! Besides EWAAB, I am president of our Best Buddies chapter, which builds friendships between students and adults with disabilities. I am also a part of Active Minds, an organization that promotes mental health awareness, and my sorority’s diversity committee. I have loved my time at EWAAB so far as a mentee and a mentor and can’t wait to continue!

Celia Dowling (she/her) is a playwright and senior undergraduate student studying Physics and Applied Mathematics concurrently at the University of Melbourne, Victoria Australia. Celia participated in EWAAB in its first year of existence as a graphic designer and as the first Primary Mentor for the Encourage Her program at the University of Melbourne.

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