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Ep 12: Mentorship- K through Ph. D, Bertha Haro, Executive Director, Great Minds in STEM

Updated: Jul 18, 2023




EPISODE SUMMARY


Hello, This is Sirisha, welcome to my podcast! January is National Mentoring Month and in recognition of that, today's guest is Bertha Haro, Executive Director of Great Minds in STEM. Bertha brings a breadth of experience in leadership roles in workforce initiatives and collegiate academic programs that help launch careers.


Great Minds in STEM and MentorNet together inspire and encourage underserved students and women from K - Ph.D. through mentorship and augmented programs to enable their success. Mentors are a critical part of the ecosystem, that can afford us a safe space for honest conversations and to push us out of our comfort zones. Consider becoming a MENTOR! Each podcast has a few takeaways and resources at the end. Check them out and leave me your feedback!


Come, let's #paintlifetogether!


Follow me on Instagram @womencareerandlife, and don't forget to listen & subscribe to the podcast here!



Below is a transcript of the episode, slightly modified for reading.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT OVERVIEW


[00:50] - Mentoring...Upskilling students for success [Jump to section]

[06:41] - Great Minds in STEM... MentorNet [Jump to section]

[09:23] - K-12 & Women in STEM... Need for Mentors [Jump to section]

[15:20] - Matching Mentor...Mentee[Jump to section]

[21:10] - Impact of Mentors [Jump to section]

[24:24] -CALL FOR ACTION... Be a Mentor [Jump to section]

[25:10] -Note to your 21-year-old self... [Jump to section]

Food for thought. Episode takeaways [Jump to section]


PODCAST DETAILED TRANSCRIPT


Mentoring...Upskilling students for success [00:50]

Sirisha: Hello, everyone. I am really excited to have Berta Haro join us today from Great Minds in STEM, she's the executive director of the organization. January is national mentoring month, and I want to give a little backstory on how Berta and I got connected. When I came here as an immigrant to graduate school in the U S I signed up for an organization called MentorNet as a mentee


My mentor was a NASA scientist who worked on the Hubble telescope which is exciting in itself. Once I graduated, I signed up to be a mentor for MentorNet as well. It got me connected with many female engineers who were starting their college life experiences, either as freshmen or graduating seniors. Some of them were first-time college students, and some of them were immigrants like myself. Mentoring has been such an enriching experience and as I looked across the mentorship landscape, I was able to connect with Bertha who is part of Great Minds in STEM, where MentorNet is a part of their organization.


So Bertha welcome today, I'm really excited to be having this conversation with you. As we talked about it, it's national mentoring month, and you've been really engaged with this organization as an Executive Director. Can you give us the backstory of how you came to be here and what really drives your passion for this?


Bertha: Thank you, Sirisha so much for inviting us to participate in this working woman podcast. This is very exciting. MentorNet has been in existence since 1997. The story you just shared about your personal success and how mentored was one of the toolkits that helped you, is across the board. There are so many individuals, women, and men, and just individuals across the entire US, that MentorNet has been a critical part of their success. My name is Bertha Haro, and I started with Great Minds in STEM back in 2003, I came across this organization because I had a really strong personal passion for workforce initiatives, but workforce initiatives that were associated with higher education access.


I am an immigrant to this country as well, a first-generation college student. I attended Public schools here in the United States and was not considered a traditional college-bound student. I did find my way to college and, through mentors that I had the great opportunity to receive guidance from, I was able to receive my bachelor's degree. Started working in the industry and then went back and earned my master's degree in public administration, but my passion has always been workforce initiatives. At Great minds in STEM, we focus on education access. We focus on expanding opportunities, introducing people to what STEM is.


We have what we call the AIMS model A for awareness. We want to inform other students similar to the demographics that we serve, generally underserved students here in the US. We want to inform them about college and all the access opportunities that are available. The I is for inspiration, once you know about it, it's not until you get truly inspired that you actually want to set up challenging goals for yourself. So we want to plant those seeds, we want to inspire people. M is for motivation, it takes a lot of effort, grit and sustained effort towards working on completing anything that you set out to complete in life. So we want to show them that the motivation, to pursue these goals, might take a lot, you're going to build it, but once you build it, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish. And the S is for skills, it takes the right amount of technical skills, we preach algebra by the eighth grade so that students can have access to calculus by the 12th grade, in order to be academically grounded enough to pursue any stem fields. Those are core elements that we share as we're introducing the STEM concepts to the K-12 community. It really does take building upon a skillset in order to be able to successfully pursue STEM degrees, once students are in college.


"AIMS model-A is for awareness, I is for Inspiration, M is for motivation, S is for skills"

Sirisha: That's such a clearly defined approach. I have teenagers myself, so I like the fact that you're talking about algebra by eighth grade and setting them up for success. Because when you look at studies out there, just from an earning potential there's a huge difference between whether you graduate with a high school degree or a college degree, and the opportunities that you get from that. So from your space, Great minds in STEM, not just covers K to 12, but it actually even works with college students and educators in developing that connection and growing that potential future workforce. So is your community serving, everybody or is it targeted towards certain underrepresented communities?



Great Minds in STEM... MentorNet [06:41]


Bertha: We are a broad organization, we're based in Los Angeles. Our programs are national and we are K through PhD. Our focus is generally underserved students, the majority of whom would be first-generation college students, but we are open to all underserved students when it comes to the K-12 programs that we conduct across the nation. Our programs have been conducted in over 20 states. Our team actually researches public schools that receive title one funding, meaning that the students do not have to pay for four lunches or they have reduced lunch payments that they make. That is the bare criteria that we have and so that can encompass any underrepresented group, in the populations that we serve, that is our K-12 program.


"Great Minds in STEM-MentorNet: Our programs are national and we are K through Ph.D. Our focus, are general underserved students, the majority of whom would be first generation college students"

When it comes to our college programs, our scholarship program is a merit-based program focused on underserved students. So any student that meets our criteria can apply for that and our MentorNet program. We have a curriculum for students that start at two-year colleges, so maybe that's their first step. Maybe they're starting at a two-year college and from there, they're going to transfer to a four year. University, we have topics for them as well. Our topics are from the two-year institution all the way through PhD candidates and our topics really focus, Sirisha. on the first two years, freshman and sophomore year of college. That is the acclimation period for students. Now, some students may know definitively what STEM degree they want to pursue. and so our topics are aligned to help them support that. Some students, a lot of students and for women, it's almost half the women that enter STEM actually opt out of STEM degrees and so that's what we're working on mitigating. We're working on helping students that may hit a wall, they're not able to progress with their STEM degrees or maybe they're reconsidering that they, want to pursue them.


"Our topics are from the two year institution all the way through Ph.D. candidates and out topics really focus on the first two years, freshman and sophomore year of college. That is the acclimation period for students."

" For women, it's almost half the women that enter STEM actually opt out of STEM degrees and so that's what we're working on mitigating. We're working on helping students that may hit a wall, they're not able to progress with their STEM degrees or maybe they're reconsidering that they, want to pursue them.

Mentoring can provide them guidance as to plan if plan a did not work. Okay. If, but you really want to pursue a STEM degree, let's build your skillset. Let's see what other external factors can be added to your toolkit to help you stay on track. and so we really want to focus our efforts with MentorNet, keeping students focused on their stem degree and working to mitigate the students that opt-out.


K-12 & Women in STEM... Need for Mentors [09:23]


Sirisha: That's a pretty significant statistic. I didn't realise that 50% opt out of STEM. Just anecdotally, I've watched the transition even in school from middle school to high school. When I just look at the demographics at school, either at my children's school or others I know of, it's not heartening to see that same transition when you go through college. You said you have obviously a big support system that helps build that skill set. Can you give some examples of stories? That might be easier for us to understand what those opportunities are because a lot of us have opportunities to be mentors.


When we think about mentors, we all think we need to have, a certain level of experience or a certain sense of achievement before we think we can be mentors, but that's really not true. You can be a mentor even as a kid in school, mentoring younger students in lower grades than you. You could be a mentor in college with a peer group, I mean there are opportunities everywhere.


" When we think about mentors, we all think we need to have a certain level of experience or a certain sense of achievement before we think we can be mentors, but that's really not true. You can be a mentor even as a kid in school, mentoring younger students in lower grades than you. You could be a mentor in college with a peer group, I mean there's opportunities everywhere."

Bertha: That's a great observation and definitely in Great Minds in STEM, part of our strategy is that we do have near-peer mentors across all of our programs. So when we are conducting K-12 programs in particular, we look at the current college students to serve as mentors to the K-12 students because they are the next level of people in their current life path that are pursuing college. And so we want to make college relatable and attainable by showing current role models.


For college students, making professionals available to them that share commonalities, that share values, and that's what we provide with MentorNet. So with MentorNet, we have an extensive algorithm and anyone that has a minimum of an associate's degree within the STEM field, anyone can sign up to be a mentor, we will capture that information. Once a professional has a complete profile, they will be ready to be showcased as potential mentors to students. When students complete their profile, they see a lineup of professionals and they can read the short bios and see what they have in common based on our algorithm.


"Once a professional has a complete profile, they will be ready to be showcased as potential mentors to students. When students complete their profile, they see a lineup of professionals and they can read the short bios and see what they have in common based on our algorithm."

A lot of people are really impressed once they're connected. So the student has the opportunity to invite the professional. Once the professional accepts, that's when the mentoring relationship starts. And once they have an initial conversation, like we are here, they get to see how much they actually have in common, you know, they may enjoy a Mexican. Spicy holiday drink. And so they're going to see that they both have that in common and, they're going to be pleasantly surprised and that builds a really great foundation to have conversations that are really authentic conversations that we provide through MentorNet.


We have a structured curriculum, but the structured curriculum also facilitates being able to talk to someone that might be in your specific STEM field. So this individual might be someone that is really going to be within your specific STEM industry once you graduate, but yet you're having a challenging time right now as a sophomore. You can have conversations with this person because you know, they're not associated with your family who may have very strong views as to what you should or should not do and, or your academic institution if it's not a safe environment to talk about a subject that is really weighing a lot on you, that you do need guidance on.


So mentoring, it does provide a safe space to have an external person provide guidance. So we do value that space that we allocate to students, that we actually provide to students, but we also have the guided mentorship. So when a student is a sophomore, we have certain topics that we do want mentors to talk about. If the individual that's serving as a mentor believes that they don't know how to be a mentor, we actually send them all of our topics, in addition to some information to help them reflect and help them see like, yes, I experienced something similar in the past, and this is how I pursued it. So maybe they were really happy with the course of action that they took, and they can share that particular story with the student, or a lot of times. Sirisha individuals actually wish somebody would have told me this, this type of advice, this type of concrete nugget, and they get to share that, so they get to help another individual, maybe have one less hurdle that they actually have to go through because they learned through pain, but now they want to help someone, you know, this was my aha. I stumbled upon this. You know, I came to this country and these were the difficulties I experienced transitioning and getting acclimated to the US education system, but I wish somebody would have told me this factor and, that made all the difference. So nuggets like that are what we hear the most, and we provide through mentoring it, a forum to facilitate discussions that make the journey less lonely. And you truly feel like you do have a virtual support system. You do have people that have your back and are willing to share their experiences.


"So mentoring, it does provide a safe space to have an external person provide guidance."

Matching Mentor...Mentee [15:20]


Sirisha: I like the fact that you define it as a safe space. It's a sounding board, a third voice, an independent voice that can give you feedback, give you a leg up, probably walk the same path you did or something similar and they can share that experience. It's not necessarily about repeating mistakes because there are so many experiences we have and having someone to discuss it with is really key. When I think of mentors that I've had in the past and continue to have, they've also prodded me to try new things that I might or might not have thought to do. I wonder in your case, you have first-time college students where there are opportunities for them to take a step and challenge themselves to try something new. For example, one of the topics that I spent a lot of time talking to my mentor when I was in graduate school was really about dual-working couples because my husband was pursuing his graduate degree and just trying to figure out how we were going to balance that aspect. When we touched base last time you talked about some unique stories of mentoring experiences, can you touch upon some similar themes you've seen?



"When I think of mentors that I've had in the past and continue to have, they've also prodded me to try new things that I might or might not have thought to do.

[00:15:31]


Bertha: Actually, that's right in alignment, we do have family obligations as topics. We do have family expectations but also have a sense of belonging. When we're looking at the topics that we introduced to students, we do our research, and our topics are all evidence-based. So they are factors that contribute towards the academic success and persistence of students, but they're really external factors. So we really do focus with mentoring on external factors outside of the academic institution. We realize that most universities have some type of mentoring, focusing on that specific academic track that students are on. So we're not trying to replace that, we really focus on augmenting that. So having topics that deal with shared responsibilities, may be what you're working on. and so you're balancing not only your relationship but you're balancing your time and scope of areas of responsibility. So those are all factors and topics that we bring to the table and are part of the lineup.


"We really do focus with mentoring on external factors outside of the academic institution. We realize that most universities have some type of mentoring, focusing on that specific academic track that students are on."

Sirisha: That's really great that you are augmenting the college experience because often you're so academically focused. When you step into the workplace, it's quite a different experience. There's the skill set of the job or the academic technical skills, but there's such a huge plethora of other things that you need to ramp up and learn what they call the soft skills or the power skills. The conversational ability to ability to negotiate, how to work in a team, there are so many other aspects. We need to be able to engage on and even the opportunity to update your resume, How do you find an internship? What should you be looking for? There are a whole bunch of other things to have that conversation.


Bertha: That is correct and traditionally MentorNet, we have had over 50% of our mentors are women, and these are professional STEM women that want to give back when they volunteer to serve as mentors online through the internet, it's really a very flexible way of providing mentoring. As Great Minds in STEM, we provide the platform but it's up to the individual pairs to decide. We want to connect on a Monday evening at this time because this time works for both of us and so there's a lot of flexibility in how people can connect for women, and for all of our mentors actually. MentorNet and being a mentor really provides them a way to actually use your STEM skills in a volunteer capacity.


" MentorNet we have had over 50% of our mentors are women and these are professional STEM women that want to give back, when they volunteer to serve as mentors online through internet, it's really a very flexible way of providing mentorship."

That is very flexible and because women will be at different stages of their lives, they're able to share, the things that have worked well, but also the pain points that they have encountered and how they worked through them. So giving that guidance to the mentees, whether they're, male or female or non-binary, they may face some of those obstacles themselves or come across some of those situations that may not be obstacles, but they need to be addressed to really help them be successful.


So they really get to hear from actual people working in the STEM fields. what I love about MentorNet is, people can stay connected. So after the traditional four-month mentoring relationship that we had prior to the pandemic, people would really choose to do this. You've been in communication with this individual for over four months, they're in your particular STEM industry. You want to stay connected with them, you can stay connected with them and not necessarily have to go through another series of our curriculum. You can if you would like, but it's great to be connected with them on LinkedIn and keep in touch. For incoming talent to the workforce, it's a great way to connect to individuals that are in different stages of their careers before people that are already in the workforce, it's a great way to be connected to incoming talent within their STEM disciplines, so it works both ways.


Impact of Mentors [21:10]


Sirisha: Yes, and to your point, being a mentor is such a, I mean, fulfilling is one way to look at it, but I think it's also thought-provoking experience because they're going to ask you questions or experiences that you either forgotten or that you haven't to have to relive, or you're going to have to give deep thought and do your own research to figure out what the answers are going to be questions for which you do not know the answers. And it's a learning experience, there's nothing better. Like they say, you learn by teaching it. It's the same thing, you're going to learn so much. I met this very senior leader at another company and her mentor for a few months was this new engineer in her organization who was teaching her about social media.


So when we have this mentor-mentee relationship, it is not about someone with more experience, necessarily being the mentor, it can be flipped and be the other way because the landscape has changed so much. There's so much knowledge out there and it's constantly changing, so there are different aspects you can learn from different people.


" When we have this mentor-mentee relationship, it is not about someone with more experience, necessarily being the mentor, it can be flipped and be the other way because the landscape has changed so much."

Bertha: Absolutely, and I think more people are becoming used to that idea and which is why they like to build their network with people at different stages of their own careers because you're right where a seasoned professional can provide guidance. As far as this is how to pursue your first position as a supervisor, this is how to lead a team, you know Core skillsets, having someone to give you some guidance will really help an entry-level individual to move up at the same time. The technology, the platforms, how people are communicating, that's changing and so I could see an entry-level person or a student teaching the mentor while the. 'This is a tool. This is a platform that we're using, and this is why. So you'd be amazed how popular it is, we just came across that with, our national conference, the Great Minds in STEM conference, Sirisha we actually added a platform where people that like video games, are on it all the time. Well, the population that we serve with our national conference, enjoy video games, so we went to them, and we had so much momentum and so much fun communication because we adapted and provided a forum in which they are naturally already communicating.


"People are becoming used to that idea and which is why they like to build their network with people at different stages of their own careers."

Sirisha: Absolutely powerful. That's a fabulous idea. This generation especially what I watch at home, that is one great way to connect with them, is through the video game platform. For me, just with this podcast, I'm having to learn some basic social media skills, which I did not have. It's been a learning curve and asking my niece, how do you know what to do with Instagram of what you do with this, there are so many ways you can learn from so many people.


Bertha: Exactly.


CALL FOR ACTION... Be a Mentor [24:24]


Sirisha: So before I step into ask you the last question, I want to do a call for action, since this is National Mentoring Month, for anyone listening to the podcast. I would suggest or recommend that you either become a mentor or even a mentee be it through MentorNet, or Great Minds in STEM, or be it through any avenue that is within your community, through your company, within your own workforce. Please take the opportunity to be a mentor or even a mentee and give back because I think you will find that an enriching experience for yourself, and you will give the opportunity to someone else to grow and learn from your own experience and grow and learn in their own career and for them to pay it forward.


"I want to do a call for action, since this is National Mentoring month. Please take the opportunity to be a mentor or even a mentee and give back because I think you will find that an enriching experience for yourself, and you will give the opportunity to someone else to grow and learn from your own experience and grow and learn in their own career and for them to pay it forward."

Note to your 21-year-old self... [25:10]


Sirisha: So this is a question I ask every guest, what does the one quality or advice you would give your 21-year-old self for them to be successful in their career and life?


Bertha: In addition to setting audacious goals, I would say build your network. I would definitely build your network within the goals that you want to achieve because you're going to find so many like-minded people. You are going to be impressed, happily impressed by how many people are willing to give you different nuggets of advice along the way. So anything that you set out to pursue, build on that network to help it be a part of your success toolkit.


"In addition to setting audacious goals, I would say build your network. You are going to be impressed, happily impressed by how many people are willing to give you different nuggets of advice along the way. Build on that network to help it be a part of your success toolkit."

Sirisha: I'm so glad you touched on networking because as we wrapped up Season one and I was doing the summary for it, that was the first thing network, network, network. You can never say that enough because it's about learning from others and really not being intimidated by the word. When you say network, it's just a conversation you're having with. I want to say thank you., It's been a real pleasure. I know we touched and spent a lot of time talking about mentorship and the opportunities that it gives you, but really talking about the bigger landscape of what we all have, that we can learn from different people and just the scope for giving back and taking that leap of faith as well.


Bertha: Thank you.



Food for thought. Episode takeaways

Here is today's food for thought,

  • CALL FOR ACTION: Please take the opportunity to be a mentor or a mentee and give back

    • You don't need to have a certain level of experience or achievement to be a mentor.

    • Mentoring provides a safe space to have an external person provide guidance.

    • Mentors can prod you to try new things that you may not have thought to do.

    • People are building their network with people at different stages of their own careers.

  • Great Minds in STEM -MentorNet programs are national and support K through Ph.D. with a focus on underserved students and Students in STEM fields in college.

    • Over 50% of mentors are professional STEM women. Almost half the women that enter STEM actually opt out of STEM degrees.

  • Build your network as a part of your success toolkit. You are going to be impressed by how many people are willing to give you different nuggets of advice along the way.


Resources Mentioned:

Guest: Bertha Haro

Host: Sirisha

Get in Touch:


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