The other day, I was eating pretzels and writing a paper at one AM when I thought, what am I doing? It wasn’t that I had just polished off an entire bag of pretzels by myself or that I’d postponed the assignment until the very last minute (although this was concerning too). I was having one of those existential crises, the kind that hits when you’re fresh into college and have aspirations but little idea of how to turn them into reality. A few days later, I found out about an event happening in DC called MentorHER. At this event, young women are paired with a mentor to get on track to meet their professional goals. Clearly, I could use the help, so I seized the opportunity and signed up. Here’s how it went.
MentorHER is put on by the 1,000 Dreams Fund, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to “supporting dreams of talented young women in need by providing access to critical funding, resources, and meaningful mentor relationships.” Their MentorHER event pairs mentees with mentors who have similar career goals and aspirations. The best part? It’s open to any young women who are looking for some guidance, free of charge. To sign up, I filled out a short survey introducing myself, identifying my college major and career goals, and what I was looking for in a mentor.
When I walked into the venue, I was instantly impressed by the effort they’d put into making mentees feel welcome. Their staff greeted me, checked me in, and gave me a fun sticker and laptop case. There was a table covered in appetizers and drinks for us. I grabbed some food and joined the other mentees in our seats, chatting with students from surrounding high schools and universities. A few minutes later, we were welcomed by Christie Garton, the founder of the 1,000 Dreams Fund. She introduced us to a panel of women who spoke about finding their passions and entering the workforce. I was in awe of the impressive lineup; among the panelists were Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Daniele Wivel-Wagner, Operations Manager for the Malala Fund. All mentees were able to ask the panel questions and glean advice related to their specific interests.
We were then matched to our mentors. I was lucky enough to be paired with two; a woman who writes for the Malala Fund and a man who works as a manager for Hilton’s Computational Lab. We found a small conference room in the venue and jumped right into the discussion. They began by asking me how they could make the most of my time. My time! It felt strange and wonderful to be the center of attention of such interesting, successful people, and I appreciated their consideration. I told them about my career goals, that I was looking for guidance. They shared the details of their current jobs and the long journey to these positions. Two pieces of their advice struck me as a new college student: to take advantage of any internship or job, and to recognize that success isn’t linear. They emphasized that their achievements had come from throwing themselves down random paths and remaining open to change. This helped me to put a positive spin on my anxiety and embrace the unknown as a learning experience. By the time the event was over, I left with new professional relationships, contact information for various experts in my field of interest, and a new perspective on tackling my goals.
What I appreciated most about the MentorHER event was how much inspiration and support were packed into just two hours. When I first signed up, I expected to solely network with my mentor for the duration of the event. Instead, there were learning opportunities all around me. Simply sitting in the crowd, I had the chance to mingle with fellow D.C. students. Listening to the panel, I got a sense of the attitudes and actions it takes to achieve professional success. With my mentors, I received guidance [KG1] and a glimpse at the career paths of experts who epitomize what I hope to become. As MentorHER was a positive step outside of my comfort zone into a realm of possibility, I came to recognize that this is the case with my professional goals as well.
If you’re reading this pondering whether a mentor sesh is for you, I encourage you to dive in headfirst. The opportunity to learn from people who have stood where you stand is invaluable and will inevitably help you clarify your next steps forward. I’d also encourage you to find an event that allows you to interact with various circles of people- in this way, you come into contact with many mentors. MentorHER is one of many wonderful mentorship programs. Many schools have established mentorship programs to assist students in defining and meeting their goals. Another source to check out is MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. This website helps find mentorship programs that are near you and focused on your areas of interest. Best of luck in your search!
To check out the 1000 Dreams Fund and their MentorHER program, click here.
Photos taken by Sophia Thomas