You are hereWelcome to MentorNet's New Board Chair - Mary Fernandez
Welcome to MentorNet's New Board Chair - Mary Fernandez
I have been a mentor since MentorNet began in 1998, so it is a great honor to now
serve MentorNet as chair of the board.
I began my journey to MentorNet chair as a protege myself. As part of
an AT&T Bell Labs fellowship for graduate women, I was provided a
mentor, Brian Kernighan, who encouraged me AND dragged me through
graduate school. Along the way, I faced many challenges common to
young adults in graduate school. My soon-to-be advisor left my
university, which required me to find a new advisor and change subject
areas. I got married and had a baby, which plunged me head first into
At each juncture, I had a crisis of faith and asked myself whether
completing the Ph.D. was worth all the stress. Brian reminded me that
the Ph.D. would open doors that I didn't even know existed (he was
right!), so it was worth sticking with it. I would not have completed
my graduate education without Brian's support, and I knew that the
best way to repay his gift was to mentor students myself.
My thirteen MentorNet proteges have changed the way that I view the
world, myself, and my profession---all for the better. They are a
diverse lot! Four are native-US citizens, and one is a naturalized
citizen. Eight are immigrants to the United States from Algeria China,
Columbia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Poland, and Romania. Eleven are
women, and two are men. Most are computer scientists, and one is a
With such diversity, it's hard to believe that my proteges share
common characteristics, but two stand out.
First, many of my proteges have made significant sacrifices to pursue
their higher educations, with the common goal and responsibility of
improving their own and their family's economic futures. Most have
left their families---including spouses and children---thousands of
miles away, and some do not see their families for many years at a
time. Second, many have had to cross geographic, cultural, and gender
boundaries and frequently challenge stereotypes in the pursuit of
their higher education.
A random sample of challenges: Jia(*) and her husband lived 1500 miles
apart for 5 years while she pursued her Ph.D.; Dan(*) sold a thriving
Internet business to self-fund his graduate education; Ivonne(*), a
single mother, started her associates degree in IT after raising her
three sons; Helen(*) and her husband left their daughter with their
parents, across the ocean, for more than two years so they could
complete their graduate educations. Every one of my proteges has
faced challenges and trials like these, and I am sure that many of you
have as well.
As a mentor, I believe that I have learned more from my proteges and
grown more from our time together than the inverse. Being a mentor
has prepared me for my current position leading a research group more
than any other professional activity. And mentoring has made me aware
of how U.S. immigration and education policy impact students in STEM
fields and their future employers.
My hope, and our plan, is that we can expand MentorNet to match even more
proteges with mentors in STEM fields. We will be asking for your help
this year as we expend our reach. When we do, I hope that you will
share your personal mentoring experiences with colleagues and friends,
because its your stories that tell the power of one-on-one mentoring.
(*) Names changed to protect confidentiality.