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Volunteer Spotlight – Mentoring has been a great experience and it’s nice to feel that you’re making a difference!
For this spotlight interview, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Iona, a Geotechnical Engineer working in the offshore wind industry. It was great to hear about her experience as a mentor and why she decided to become a volunteer mentor. She also shares more about the goals she helped her scholar achieve and what she’s gained from volunteering as a mentor with GT Scholars. It was great to hear how passionate she is about helping young people achieve their goals!
Please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m currently a Geotechnical Engineer. I work in the offshore wind industry, where I design offshore wind turbine foundations. I did my undergraduate and PhD at Oxford. After completing experiments as part of my PhD, I decided to move into the industry and apply those skills in the real world.
Tell me a little bit about you and what got you to where you are today?
At school, I enjoyed Science and Maths, Art, and more practical subjects. I did a bit of research and decided that engineering might be a good fit. I did what’s called a Head Start residential course, where you can go and stay at the university for about four days. They give you a taster of what it’s like to study that subject at University. Doing this convinced me that engineering was a good fit for me and gave me the confidence to apply for it at University.
What made you decide to become a volunteer mentor?
While I was at university, I engaged in quite a bit of outreach work and found it rewarding and wanted to continue that when I moved to London. I feel that I’ve benefited from lots of advice from different places, to help me get to where I am today. I think that the inputs that you get from people who are outside of your school or family can be helpful and can maybe help build confidence in big decisions. I felt that I could give back and be involved with young people, to hopefully help navigate through some of the big decisions.
How did you get started as a volunteer mentor with GT Scholars?
I applied to GT Scholars online, and I was open to being either a mentor or a tutor. I wasn’t quite sure how I could or would be most helpful, so I spoke with GT Scholars about what might be best. I decided a mentor would be a good idea. We had online training, which was thorough and put me in a good position to take it on.
What did you enjoy most about mentoring your scholar?
It has been rewarding to see the scholars that I work with build their confidence through our conversations. We’ve discussed such a wide variety of topics. From revision and studying strategies to personal strengths and weaknesses and how that impacts the way we study and learn and build relationships. It’s just been great to provide support, and a bit of a sounding board, through this period as well, with school being on and off and having a lot of uncertainty with exams.
What goals have you helped your scholar to achieve?
At the start, we set a lot of goals for the kind of grades to achieve, and of course, that’s been almost impossible this last year, so we’ve planned more short-term goals. We’ve focussed quite a lot on discussing subjects such as the growth mindset and understanding strengths and different personalities. We did this during the period when there was uncertainty in school, so we turned our focus away from exams, which I think was helpful. Recently, I’ve helped my scholar plan revision. We are trying to minimise stress by prioritising the different tasks, particularly now where there’s quite a lot coming up at once.
What part of the volunteering process have you found the most fulfilling?
I suppose just being there to support someone else through this strange year, knowing that I have made some small contribution to their life. I think it’s valuable in having or being exposed to experiences or opinions or just advice from someone outside of your school or family life, providing a slight alternative touchpoint.
What do you think is the most important skill to have as a volunteer mentor?
Listening and communicating are valuable skills to have as a mentor. Being able to lend an ear to whatever is going on and trying your best to think of creative ways to discuss it further. Having meaningful conversations is a really crucial part of mentoring.
What was the experience as a volunteer mentor, like for you?
It’s been a great experience and nice to feel that you’re making a difference. And from GT Scholars, it’s been a smooth experience with excellent communication. I have felt very well supported throughout the process.
How important has support been in getting you to where you are today?
Support has been essential, particularly with big decisions. You lean on those around you to help you out with those decisions. One of the reasons I think mentoring is so valuable is that it’s providing an alternative form of support, which can be really valuable.
What have you gained from volunteering with GT Scholars?
I’ve developed my communication skills. I don’t usually talk to young people that much, so I had some learning here. I’ve also learnt from some of the worksheets I’ve done together with my Scholar – for example on ‘growth mindset’!
What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a mentor with GT Scholars?
I would say give it a go. The commitment is manageable. But at the same time, it’s enough of a commitment to feel like you’re involved in something good. The support from GT Scholars is also excellent, so you should feel well supported. I definitely recommend volunteering as a volunteer mentor with GT Scholars.