This article was originally published in Lenovo StoryHub: https://news.lenovo.com/national-mentoring-month-dr-maricela-becerra-on-why-mentorship-matters-in-education/

Dr. Maricela Becerra is a college professor and 2021 Lenovo Innovator. She wrote the following article.

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As a first-generation immigrant turned college professor, I believe you can do anything you put your mind to. However, having a support system while one is chasing their goals makes a significant difference. This is why mentorship is so important.

I visualize life’s challenges as a running river, with my goals on the other side. With no bridge available, I have to find rocks to build one. In the process of building this bridge, I find there are a few gaps, challenging my perseverance and confidence. Mentors and ‘femtors’ (women that mentor women) help me find rocks to fill these gaps or empower me to create them myself.

As I face different rivers throughout my life, I will need to build additional bridges to continue on my journey. In turn, this means mentorship is a life-long experience.

The spark behind my interest

While navigating my Ph.D. program as young Latina mom, I realized I needed to find support that spoke to this part of my journey. So, I decided to share my experiences online to create a community to see this part of myself. What I gained was a wonderful network of support filled with people who believed in me and showed me that someone like myself could become a professor.

I am a firm believer that you cannot be what you cannot see, but I also know that sometimes you have to BE the representation you need. It worked. Empowering others in whatever way I can while empowering myself in the process has gotten me this far.

My online community

Throughout the years, I have used my online platform to share advice – from researching and applying for Ph.D. programs to time management in grad school to moral support as a fellow, stressed student mom. In addition to receiving my own support from this online community, the experiences I have shared have become little stones in someone else’s bridge.

I’ve received an overwhelming number of messages from people that have taken something from what I’ve shared. I’ve received graduation pictures of other Latina moms who found inspiration in my journey and are now helping other generations to build their bridges. My own graduation was possible thanks to them.

Mentoring and my life

Mentoring has been so present in my life that it took a while to realize I had stepped into the mentor/femtor role. As I started teaching college classes, students would reach out for advice or simply for a welcoming space on campus. I will never forget a couple of my students that asked if they could eat lunch in my office just because they just wanted to hang out with me.

What motivates me as a mentor/professor

My career as a professor has shown me that mentoring and femtoring is always a two-way process. I learn from my mentees just as much (if not more) through what I share with them. I wear my mentor/femtor badge proudly.

I think about the many ways I can create and encourage mentorship as a professor. I want mentorship to be available for my students in all my classes. Whether it is me mentoring them, them mentoring me, them mentoring each other, or all the above, I want them to know that my class is a supportive community.

Technology, education, and mentoring

As virtual learning becomes more commonplace, I’ve wondered about the benefits, as well as challenges, that technology can have in mentoring. To establish connections and relationships, I’ve implemented little things like sharing my journey at the beginning of each class and listing the things I can help with. I have also implemented a 5-minute “hallway” space after online classes to simulate organic conversations, similar to ones that would take place following an in-person class.

Technology and its global reach

Now we have mentors and femtors all around us. With the help of technology and social media platforms like mine, students have been able to create their own mentoring networks completely online. Virtual platforms allow us to engage as more or as little as we need, with people who we otherwise wouldn’t be able to meet in-person. There are people who message me and start a conversation, while others feel more comfortable simply interacting through the content I share.

You can follow your mentors/femtors, listen to their podcasts, watch their videos, reply to their conversations, etc. And similarly, you can share your experiences and knowledge in any way that you feel comfortable with.

“Imagine all the bridges we can build!”

To be part of my continued journey as a femtor and #LenovoInnovator, follow me on Instagram (@academicmami).

Comments

  • I like Dr. Becerra's view that mentorship doesn't need to take place in the confines of a very formal and structured relationship. It seems like the modern connectivity plays a large part in her own experience, and that is something I now want to harness more as I seek out and connect with mentors for my own research. This article has got me thinking!

  • I love to see women guiding other women as they start on new career journeys. There's always something to learn from seasoned professionals and it also goes the other way around. It's great to have access to new information and techniques that new employees have learned.