Op-ed: Mentors matter

Enhanced knowledge. An impressive resume. A high paying job. All these things come up time and time again when talking about what someone gets out of a college degree. But what about mentors? Taking advice from someone with more knowledge and experience than you may seem terrifying for many college students. But for some, finding teachers who serve as mentors are the single most valuable aspect of an undergraduate degree. According to a Gallup study, students who had professors that inspired and motivated them to achieve their goals were more likely to thrive.

Take it from me — only a year and a half into college (in a pandemic) and some of my most valuable relationships with teachers-turned-informal-mentors have allowed me to do better in my classes, receive recommendations to special programs and opportunities and even accelerate my startup company, GlutenFreedomForAll. GlutenFreedomForAll delivers THE Gluten-Free Experience — where gluten-free is the norm — through subscription boxes, themed boxes, an online grocery, and our own GlutenFreedomCircle to connect those who are gluten-free. All of our boxes come with educational materials written by an expert celiac-registered dietitian. And, a portion of all profits is donated to GlutenFreedomFoundation which directly supports celiac disease research and projects that improve the lives of those who need to be gluten-free. GlutenFreedomForAll was born out of an effort to eliminate the restrictions and insecurities many face while on a gluten-free diet and make eating a positive experience. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I searched endlessly for the best gluten-free products and dreamed of having them all in one place — a completely gluten-free experience where eating felt safe and healthy, and I could feel normal. And it was important to me to make a difference by raising funds to support anyone who needs to be gluten-free. With the support of my mentors, I was able to turn my dream into a reality. 

Even Melinda Gates would agree with the importance of college mentors — and she would add that teachers before college are impactful too. She credits her high school math teacher, Susan Bauer, as the one who wanted to get girls coding back when Melinda was young, and she feels lucky that Bauer taught at her high school. Bauer also left her with another gift — the advice of finding mentors who are not only encouraging, but are also strategic and act as a coach. Some of my best mentors have been constructive in their feedback and, therefore, have empowered me to adapt in ways that allow for more success in the long run. Melinda also mentions that key mentoring moments have not always been formal, and more often are about finding time to talk with people you admire and want to learn from. Finding informal mentors in my sister, parents and friends has been indispensable as their suggestions are influenced by their unique perspectives and backgrounds, enabling me to receive advice from diverse perspectives. 

As I have touched on, it is more than just educational professionals who can become meaningful mentors. As I work on GlutenFreedomForAll, it is mentors in the corporate space such as retail buyers, industry experts and serial entrepreneurs who help me through some of my most difficult questions. How much inventory should I buy? Is it worth it to trademark my logo? What is the best way to do a test run of my product? Some of the best advice I received was to just get started and put your brand out there, and then let the customer tell you when to adjust your business model. Without mentors, it’s highly unlikely that I would be at the point I am now — packing hundreds of Gluten-Free Travel Snack Packs to refill our displays in the gift shops at some of the biggest hotels on the Las Vegas strip. And as a woman entrepreneur among many male dominated industries, I have found it even more beneficial to find mentors who encourage me to push myself and fight for my passions and ideas. 

At Tufts, I am part of the Women Entrepreneurs club. It is a space I use to gain advice and feedback from my peers, many of whom I would consider mentors. They help me navigate being a woman in entrepreneurship and introduce me to new learning opportunities. Mentors have the ability not only to provide guidance and support with something you are working on, but can help you branch out and extend your talents beyond what you thought was possible. From college students to Melinda Gates, everyone can benefit from the direction and encouragement that mentorship provides. Whether it be college, the workplace or elsewhere, mentors can be found anywhere. Therefore I implore you to build meaningful connections with those around you — you never know where they may lead.