The story of mentorship: from surfing in Portugal to a book launch in Seattle

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a buzzing book launch party overlooking the city of Seattle, surrounded by some very accomplished people that flew in from all over the US. We were all there because we crossed paths with Janet Phan at some point of her journey. A journey of mentorship, growth and bringing more women into STEM fields.

Thriving Elements

It all started when I decided to spend one semester during COVID completing my, then, online university from Portugal instead of London. Since immersing myself in the culture was part of the deal I made with myself, I started learning how to surf. I joined a local surf camp on a couple of their day trips and one day met a highly energetic young women that actually graduated with a similar degree to mine and was now working in technology consulting, something I have considered myself. After connecting with Janet (and asking way too many questions about her career in technology), she told me about Thriving Elements, her international non-profit organization that provides mentoring for underserved and underrepresented students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), and asked me to become a volunteer with them.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been volunteering with Thriving Elements (TE) and gained more than I would ever imagine on that one beach in Portugal. I got the chance to learn new systems and programs to streamline the mentoring process as well as contribute as a website developer. But most importantly, I could meet other volunteers – incredible people from all over the world that are spending their free time on bringing more opportunities to young people in their local communities that need it the most.


As the months of my involvement with TE went by, I started to think more and more about the importance of mentoring. I interviewed potential mentees and realized the universal need for guidance. Whether I was talking to highschoolers from Washington state in the U.S., Switzerland, or Botswana, they showed clear ambitions and perseverance, yet they lacked the network to get support and a push in the right direction.

It’s also interesting to see the other side. Besides potential mentees, I also interview potential mentors in the program which is a very humbling yet amazing experience. I get to meet professionals from different areas of STEM and see their passion in helping young people. They realize the importance of this guidance, usually from their own experience and having had someone help them along their journey.

I started thinking about those on my journey that gave me the right support and guidance, despite not being formal “mentors”, and how I would be completely lost without them. My story is all based on meeting the right people at the right time as well as constantly being curious to learn from their experiences. After all, Janet is a mentor that I’d never dreamed of.

As I was at her book, Boldly You, launch party in Seattle, chatting with some interesting people, I realized that Janet is a leader and mentor I aspire to be. She trusts me – whether it is with website management, stepping in for her at Thriving Elements meetings with potential partners or organizing and leading a meet up for all TE members, I know I have her trust. Moreover, she gives me the exact support I need at this point of my life and career development – I get everything from encouragement and connections with other people in the industry to mock interviews. I see the value of all of this and want to pass it onto others.

So here are a couple of takeaways from my experience with volunteering for an international mentoring NGO so far:
  • If you’re a student or a young professional, seek mentorship (formal or informal) – there are a lot of opportunities out there, people that are more experienced than you can always give you a gentle push in the right direction (see Janet’s HBR article and a TED talk on mentorship)

  • If you’re a professional, share your experience with those less experienced - provide guidance to those that seek it and help young people grow and develop (see how you can become the best mentor)

  • If you’re given trust by someone, show them that they can count on you

  • Appreciate the people you meet and embrace their stories and experiences – everyone has things to saydý má co říct.

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