March 3, 2021
Designed to facilitate a professional development relationship between alumni industry mentors and current students in the Department of Computer Science, the UNC CS Alumni Mentor Program launched in the fall of 2019 with over 80 participants. Since then, the program has continued to grow in number, with both alumni and students eager to participate.
Relying almost entirely on virtual interactions over the past year has made it more challenging to maintain meaningful connections and collaborations with others. But perhaps more than ever, these relationships and interactions provide valuable guidance and camaraderie that can help students learn and grow during this difficult time.
Despite the challenges of building a mentor/mentee relationship virtually, sophomore computer science and economics double-major Tarini Ramesh and alumna Katherine Griffin (B.S. 2020) have forged a bond through this experience that will extend beyond their year-long structured mentoring relationship.
Having graduated only months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Griffin experienced an abrupt end to her final semester at UNC. For the Class of 2020, everything moved online in a few weeks. To make things even more difficult, Griffin and her peers also had to adapt to an all-online environment as they began their professional careers. After departing under such unusual circumstances, Griffin sought out opportunities to give back to the department and stay connected. The Alumni Mentor Program seemed like a great fit. As a woman in tech and a software engineer at GitHub, she was eager to connect with an undergraduate student who could benefit from her experiences.
Ramesh, a sophomore double-major interning at Lenovo, has never shied away from opportunities to get involved and network across industry. After reading about the opportunity to join the mentorship program in a student newsletter, she decided to apply.
Coincidentally, upon being paired, Griffin and Ramesh realized that Griffin had served as a teaching assistant for one of Ramesh’s courses in the spring. Having a previous connection has served them well in developing a trusting and supportive mentoring relationship. After a semester and a half in the mentoring program, both look back with incredible fondness regarding their experiences.
Ramesh admitted jokingly, “I came hoping at-minimum I’d find a future reference, but now I’ve found a friend.”
The two meet weekly via Zoom, where Griffin shares real-world experiences of a software engineer and Ramesh shares about her future goals and classroom experiences and asks questions. Ramesh appreciates that she is “learning all the little things that I’d be doing, including some of the not-so-glamorous tiny details.”
Reflecting on the importance of technology and careers in the field, Griffin always reminds Ramesh that through all aspects of this journey, no matter how minimal, this work impacts millions of people around the world.
As a mentor, Griffin reflects on all the ways she’s grown and learned from the experience and what it means to be able to share it with Ramesh.
“It is so hard to find women in computer science, let alone women in computer science that are willing to sit and talk with you about the real experience,” Griffin said. “I have enjoyed sharing all I’m learning professionally, and while I never want to discourage her from following her dreams, I want to share the realities of the experience.”
Griffin has also enjoyed watching Ramesh learn and grow. From sharing advice on college courses to recounting day-to-day challenges on the job, Griffin finds mentorship to be an incredibly rewarding experience. After Ramesh secured an internship with Microsoft Explore this summer, both relished the opportunity to celebrate her success together. It was exciting for both to see all of Ramesh’s hard work come to fruition. In these moments, the two say that they are grateful to be a part of this type of program.
Acknowledging that building a mentoring relationship takes a lot of dedication and effort, particularly in a virtual environment, both are proud of the work they have put in over the last two semesters and encourage others to make the decision to go all-in and invest in the experience.
“Mentoring is a big mix of rewards,” Griffin said. “I’ve learned that if you give it your all, you get out what you put in. If willing to give it a chance and lean in to the experience, the additional work is worth it.”
If you are interested in serving as an Alumni Mentor in the UNC CS Alumni Mentor Program, learn more here on the program website.