Sometimes half the job of training to become an engineer seems to be learning to bounce back from failure to figure out the solution. But how does someone studying for that profession learn how to handle it?
That’s partly why Sidney Basham loves being co-leader of the ETCS LEAD Mentor Program—the acronym LEAD standing in this case for Learn, Engage, Achieve, and Discover. Along with senior Isaac Wendel, Basham pairs freshmen with upper-level mentors to adjust to the rigorous academic demands of the curriculum. There are around 70 freshmen taking part in the program this year, and more can join this semester.
“We wanted the program to be a ray of sunshine for people,” said Basham, a mechanical engineering major. “Engineers statistically are more prone to depression, and we wanted to bring light to let the mentees know they are not alone. That’s part of why we want to bring people together. People struggle and think they are dumb for struggling, but they are not. It’s supposed to happen, and then you’ll come out on the other side.”
Coming to this realization can be difficult for students whose high academic achievement came easier prior to arriving on the campus of Purdue University Fort Wayne. Some don’t know how or where to ask for help. That’s why the LEAD program started several years ago, and those being mentored have averaged at least a 3.2 GPA for the consecutive fall and spring semesters. Many receive high-paying internship offers even after their freshman year.
Part of the co-leaders’ job includes letting the first-year students know what additional resources are offered on campus, and encouraging them to connect with professors, especially informally, during program-sponsored events.
While being recruited over the summer, incoming first-year students are asked to complete an entry survey and are paired with a mentor before classes start. The major ice-breaking event is an outing at the Friends Pavilion that includes a scavenger hunt.
“It has inspired our freshmen to go after things they maybe typically would not,” said Ranesha Smith, B.A. ’15, program coordinator, and director of the ETCS Student Success Center.
Basham is critical to that inspiration, both Smith and Wendel said, and Basham said the key skill is the ability to listen.
“Helping people do well means a lot to me, and it’s really cool to see that flower into something they feel that they can step into,” Basham said. “Just seeing them get so excited is really fun. I always try to ask the devil’s advocate questions to get them to think of what the right answer should be instead of me telling them, `Here’s what you need to think.’”
“(Sidney) exceeds the boundaries of what it means to be in the field,” Smith said. “She’s artistic, she’s intelligent when it comes to the science side of things, and most people think of someone who is on either side. Are they artsy and in that side of the house, or are they science? You cannot put her inside a box.
“She is so critical to our program, not only to the young women but to all of the students because they get to see a real role model. She’s so kind and humble that she can easily be overlooked, but she’s a force to be reckoned with.”
One of Basham’s primary second-semester goals will be finding the leaders to take over next year after she and Wendel graduate.
“For the longevity of the program, it is something you really need to care about and care about what it was before and what you can make of it now,” Basham said. “I would hope it would grow because ETCS is growing. I would hope more freshmen would be interested because they have seen what it has done for their friends or older siblings. I would also hope more people want to be mentors.”