Queen’s University student Laura Connolly and Bhawna Sharma from the University of Toronto are just two of a cohort of 36 Ontario female university students selected to enrol in the Dell Technologies SOAR with MENTOR pilot program. The program aims to inspire, educate, and equip female post-secondary students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to succeed in STEM and business fields and, more generally, be successful in life.
“Exceeded my expectations,” “there’s a place for women…in technology,” “people are making an effort to drive up the number of women in this [STEM] industry,” and “mentors genuinely cared about us” are just a few of the comments made by two young women interviewed.
The students’ comments suggested the program indeed opened their minds to STEM and business career opportunities, helped them gain knowledge about various technology topics, and encouraged them to learn job application skills. Interacting with program guest speakers and mentors made them feel valued and supported as women about to begin their careers. One student noted that the program gave her the opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone by talking to professionals, something she had never done before. They both had their eyes opened about different branches at Dell Technologies and the diverse roles women can choose to pursue.
Given the work-and-learn-from-home environment, the SOAR with MENTOR program was conducted virtually from December 2020 to April 2021. The sessions were hosted by program leads, Lisa Gillis, Nikki Matarazzo, and Katina Papulkas, with the goals of offering students the opportunity to gain new knowledge around career readiness and technology, as well as mentor “speed dating” conversations.
Both Laura and Bhawna found the mentor “speed dates” to be the most memorable part of the program. They felt valued by the Dell Technology mentors and comfortable to speak openly with them. The mentors were role models of successful professionals who the students found inspiring. One common piece of feedback received across all participants is that they wished there was more time for the mentoring conversations! Many of the mentors and students stayed after the scheduled time to continue their conversations, and most connected outside of the program via social media.
We interviewed two mentors, Dennis Hofmann and Naz Zehra, both of whom are Dell employees. They wanted to become involved in Soar with MENTOR because they believed in the program’s aims. They lauded the program for reaching out to young women about to enter the fields of IT and business and making a positive impact on their lives. Moreover, being mentors gave them an opportunity to contribute something back to Dell and both mentors found the experience extremely rewarding. They felt excited to be part of the project by being able to connect virtually with the students and were impressed by the students’ talents.
The second aspect that all participants enjoyed were the keynote presentations on a variety of career and technology industry related topics. The career readiness speakers addressed the topics of mentorship, digital branding, effective speaking, and resume building – all very relevant topics as the young ladies prepare for their future career paths. The technology today speakers provided insights into such topics as 5G technology, the cloud, artificial intelligence, and cyber security. Students had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to expand their understanding of these emerging technology fields.
Reactions from the students to the keynotes was very positive. Both Laura and Bhawna found the talk about the cloud particularly enlightening. The energy and enthusiasm of the digital branding speaker was also praised, and a student commented on its value as the topic is one never included in their university program. The talk on resume building had a profound impact on one student who said as a result “I’m going to have a whole new resume for the rest of my life.”
The SOAR with MENTOR program has been a positive experience for all involved. The program gave students an opportunity to learn new skills as they prepare to enter the job market and the Dell mentors expressed their personal satisfaction with the ability to help this future generation of women entering the workforce. The SOAR with MENTOR program will continue to grow nationally in the Fall of 2021.