Part One in the Series: Increase your stock by investing in your future “You should be a teacher!” It was an innocent, sincere statement made by my high school Chemistry teacher after watching me help a friend with his assignment. I also immediately dismissed it; I wasn’t yet sure what I wanted to do with my […]
“You should be a teacher!” It was an innocent, sincere statement made by my high school Chemistry teacher after watching me help a friend with his assignment. I also immediately dismissed it; I wasn’t yet sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew it wasn’t teaching. I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of lesson plans, and I especially didn’t want to be handed classrooms full of students who couldn’t care in the least that I’m at the front of the class trying to impart some knowledge that they may or may not use later in life.
I went to Virginia Tech as a Computer Science major. As a recent graduate, I struggled to find a job due to lack of experience, even after having multiple web development internships during college. With time, I found a role as a professional web developer. Over ten years later, I was happy with my life and job – working as a contractor to the Army, writing websites to help with their development and testing of upcoming weapons systems. It was fun and exciting, and I was challenged and solving fun problems. Then, a chance encounter on the golf course (that’s where business really happens, right?) changed my life.
I was given the opportunity to play in a golf tournament with someone who, like myself, was a web developer. Throughout the day, our conversation turned to specifics about what we each did for a living. He proceeded to tell me about the program he was running known as the Extension Center. The premise was simple: employ Virginia Tech students to provide clients with discounted rates while simultaneously allowing those same undergrads to partake in a unique learning experience. I thought it was a great concept and wished I’d had something similar available to me as a student. Students in his program were getting relevant career experience beyond the three months over summer – it was a part-time job during the school year as well.
A few weeks later, my new friend invited me to lunch and asked me to join his team as a mentor. My mind was reeling; I went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about what Exelaration was doing, the difference it was making in the lives of students, and how in the world I could help. The words of my former Chemistry teacher were echoing in my head: “You should be a teacher!” I realized she was right.
Today, I’m the lead mentor of that very Exelaration Center office and I’ve never been happier at work. Every day is an opportunity to teach someone something new or to show them the real-world application of a concept. The difficult programming challenges I’ve always loved solving still exist, but now I’m teaching someone else how to solve those challenges. My challenge now is not to solve the problem, but figure out how to equip someone else with the knowledge to solve those problems and enhance their career. I still spend time programming and learning new things myself – it’s what I love, so I never want to stop. Now, however, when I learn something new, I immediately think about how I can turn around and teach another student or colleague. In my seven years with Exelaration, I’ve mentored close to a hundred students. Each one has experienced some sort of “light bulb” moment where they fully understand the concept I’m trying to teach. I live for those moments now; it’s a joy to keep up with them after they graduate and see where their career takes them.
My role as a mentor and teacher has produced benefits that I never imagined and want to make sure you know about. This post is the first in a series covering the ins and outs, joys, benefits, and business cases for a LOT more mentorship in today’s business world. I encourage you to follow along and if you find yourself excited by anything you read, then, in the words of my former Chemistry teacher – you should be a teacher!
This blog post is part of our “Increase Your Stock by Investing in Your Future” series. Here, mentors at the Exelaration Center (XC) at Virginia Tech share their experiences developing an award-winning internship program, lessons learned, and tips you can apply when building your own program!
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