Award highlights the success of this popular mentoring program for women in Harvard’s science and engineering programs.
HGWISE mentoring chairs Allyson Morton, Julia Rogers, and Jing Shi with Yang Chen (second from right), who nominated Rehana Patel for Mentor of the Year.
The increasingly popular mentoring program organized by the Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (HGWISE) announced the recipient of its Mentor of the Year Award on May 7. Twelve mentors were nominated by their mentees: Dr. Kirsten Bomblies, Dr. Kathryn Commons, Dr. Connie Chow, Dr. Meredith Fisher, Dr. Rachelle Gaudet, Dr. Neena Haider, Dr. Joanne Kamens, Dr. Beate Lanske, Dr. Zarin Machanda, Dr. Rehana Patel, Dr. Vicki Rosen, and Dr. Anne Wang. All of these mentors fostered exceptional relationships with their mentees, serving as role models and working with them to develop professional skills.
The Mentor of the Year Award went to Rehana Patel, who received her BA in physics from the University of Cambridge and her PhD in mathematics from Wesleyan University. Currently a visiting assistant professor of mathematics at Olin College, where she researches mathematical logic, Patel has held faculty positions at Harvard, St. John’s University, and Wesleyan University. She first heard about the HGWISE mentoring program as a preceptor in Harvard’s math department and was excited by the opportunity to participate.
Since becoming a mentor, Patel has been very impressed with the program and has nothing but admiration for the HGWISE organization. As a mentor, she channels her own PhD advisor, Dr. Carol Wood, a professor emerita at Wesleyan University, whose professional but human relationship with her students made a strong impression on her. Patel’s two mentees, who nominated her for the award, feel the same way about her and rave about her mentorship.
Yang Chen, who is a third year student in Harvard’s statistics PhD program, credits Patel for helping her learn how to come out of her shell. “I have become more and more confident in the workplace,” she says. “I raise questions in seminars when necessary. I never hesitate to speak up when I feel like doing so. Moreover, I stepped out of school to participate in activities and work with people from various backgrounds. One day Rehana asked, ‘Are you still the girl from two years ago who worried about almost everything?’ Ha, yeah, it is me, it is a better me.”
Both mentees mentioned the incredible amount of support they received from Patel, especially while preparing for their qualifying exams. “Being able to talk with someone who was not my advisor but still knew the ins-and-outs of academia was invaluable,” says the second mentee, who prefers to remain anonymous. “I appreciate that Rehana can share her own experiences by giving me perspective on my situation and by being a very patient listener (even at 10 o’clock at night!).” Patel also gave her students the opportunity to present their research as guest lecturers at Olin College, allowing them to practice their presentation skills and interact with students, an experience they both enjoyed.
The popularity of the HGWISE mentoring program illustrates the growing interest among students to connect with professionals and scholars outside of Harvard. This year, 120 students from science and engineering programs at Harvard are participating. The HGWISE mentoring chairs (Julia Rogers, Allyson Morton, Jing Shi, and previous co-chair Allison Provost) match these participants with 80 different mentors—professors, post docs, teachers, administrators, and industry scientists in the Boston area—based on skill sets and shared interests. In addition to making these pairings, the HGWISE mentoring chairs work tirelessly to host events and brainstorm how the mentoring program can best serve the needs of the Harvard community. This year, students were matched with male mentors for the first time, and in the future, HGWISE hopes to expand the program to include more mentors from the social sciences.