Drexel’s Women in Computing Society (WiCS) did not allow a pandemic to slow their plans for launching an expanded mentorship program designed to pair students in computing with industry professionals. WiCS members are no strangers to building a successful mentorship program: the group’s peer mentor program, which pairs freshman and sophomore students with junior or senior mentors to foster inclusion, has been running since 2014 and received a seed-funding grant from Google.org and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) in 2016.
WiCS President Jui Hanamshet (BS Computer Engineering ’21) was inspired to expand their mentorship program to include alumni and people in the tech industry after having her own positive mentorship experiences through the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
“I had an amazing mentor with SWE and I realized that as a computer engineering major, there weren’t that many computer engineering or computer science mentors. My own mentor had contacted WiCS because they wanted to find mentees who are computing students but at that point, WiCS did not have this type of mentorship program. So, seeing that deficiency within WiCS, and also seeing how much of a good experience I had with my mentors, I realized we needed to push for a program like this,” explained Hanamshet.
As she got to work crafting her idea, Hanamshet collaborated with other members of WiCS including Saloni Purswani (BS Computer Science '21), Mannika Kshettry (BS Computer Engineering '21), Katarina Galic (BS Software Engineering '23) and Tapasya Sharma (BS Data Science '23). Together, they took advantage of their connections across the University.
“Around the time we started to think about launching this program last spring, WiCS was invited to present to the Alumni Board of Governors. We shared our idea for the mentorship program and it really hit home with a lot of the members. The Alumni Relations Office helped us in the initial stage to brainstorm and come up with launch ideas,” she said.
When it came time to seek out mentors, Hanamshet took advantage of the training she received through the Pennoni Honors College’s Aspire Scholars program, which she was selected to join as a sophomore.
“The Aspire Scholars program trained us to network, and through experience that I felt comfortable reaching out to a lot of alumni at Drexel and building that relationship going forward,” Hanamshet said.
Over the summer, WiCS leadership started out with a goal in mind: they hoped to secure 10 mentors to match with students. The group collaborated with College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) and College of Engineering (CoE) advising and professional staff, and Drexel’s Alumni Office. WiCS members also reached out to contacts at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, where they’d been on internships or co-ops, to establish their network. Perhaps the most successful tactic, according to Hanamshet, was connecting with Drexel’s freshest alumni: the class of 2020.
“We sent out an email to the entire senior class who graduated in the spring. We said ‘Hey, you’re going to be an alumni pretty soon. Do you want to sign up to help younger students?’ and we had a lot of mentors sign up through that,” she said.
Mentors of all gender expressions and experience levels were welcome to apply. To make the program accessible for busy working professionals, WiCS kept the criteria for becoming a mentor simple: mentors must work in a tech-related field and be willing to meet with their student mentees at least once a quarter. During that meeting, the mentor-mentee pairs are instructed to set goals for the next three months.
After launching at the end of July, the program has already matched 40 students with mentors, far exceeding their initial goal of 10 pairs. “I have never heard of a mentoring program starting off with such a large membership,” said Associate Teaching Professor & Associate Department Head, Undergraduate Affairs Thomas Heverin, PhD, who serves as the faculty advisor for WiCS. “I think it is amazing to see and I am proud of the work of these students.”
When asked to reflect on why mentorship is so important for student development, Hanamshet pointed to the many mentor relationships she’s built through her membership in various student organizations, internship positions, and co-op experiences over the years. A mentorship that particularly stands out is the one she’s forged with Tamine Mokdissi (BS Business & Engineering ‘17), the former WiCS President who helped start its peer mentorship program.
When Hanamshet was having doubts about her ability to successfully interview for an internship with Microsoft (spoiler alert: she got the position), she contacted Mokdissi, who worked her way from a Microsoft internship to a full-time position as a Program Manager with the tech giant.
“We had such a wonderful conversation about how being in WiCS had helped her [overcome] impostor syndrome. And through her help, I was able to deal with my own impostor syndrome and believe that Microsoft was an achievable dream. And I realized that these mentors were really important for me to become not just a better software engineer but a better leader. I couldn’t just sit with that knowledge myself; I felt like I had to help more and give back to my community,” Hanamshet said.
If you’d like to get involved, applications for membership to the mentorship program (now closed) will re-open in Summer 2021. For updates and for more information, find WiCS on Dragonlink. You can also keep up with WiCS by following them on Instagram or Facebook.