A year from now, Harvard senior Lam Pham plans to be teaching and researching higher education in Vietnam. Senior Qi Yu expects to be in a library engrossed in her first year of med-school studies, and senior Abby Schiff likely will be in a lab conducting HIV research for a vaccine against AIDS. As they pursue different paths, they take with them their shared experiences of serving as mentors to local schoolchildren through the Harvard Allston Education Portal.
Established in 2008, the Ed Portal brings Harvard’s strengths of teaching and research to the Allston-Brighton community. Each year more than 20 undergraduates provide free mentoring in science, math, and writing to more than 100 neighborhood children. The Ed Portal has helped to foster a passion for education, leadership, and public service among the undergraduate mentors. Half of the mentors are graduating this May and are going on to pursue professions as doctors, researchers, and educators, including three who have accepted teaching positions through Teach for America.
Under the leadership of Ed Portal’s faculty director Robert Lue, professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, as well as director of life sciences education, the mentors gain experience practicing teaching methods and serving as role models to the students.
“The Ed Portal provides an opportunity for undergraduates to use their knowledge and experiences to enliven the minds of young people,” said Lue, “to ignite in their mentees a passion and curiosity for learning and to open their eyes to new possibilities.”
Pham’s appreciation for teaching grew through his experiences as a mentor over the past two years. During his time at Harvard, he realized that working in a lab wasn’t what he wanted to do. But he knew he wanted always to have science in his life. As a science mentor, he began to see how versatile and engaging teaching can be. He tailored his mentoring sessions to meet the students’ interests and skill levels and to strike a balance to make learning both informative and fun.
“There is a wealth of ideas that come out of the Ed Portal about different ways to excite kids. I feel like I’m learning a lot,” said Pham. In the future, he could see himself on the administrative side of education or helping to improve how science education is taught in schools. “Working with children and teaching is a puzzle I like to solve,” he said.
Schiff served as an Ed Portal mentor for three-plus years and saw her teaching style improve and become more cohesive from her first semester mentoring to her last this spring. “I’ve learned so much from every student I’ve worked with, from one semester to years of working with the kids,” said Schiff. “They bring a passion and energy that always revitalizes me and reminds me of why I love science.”
Schiff recalled a moment when one of her mentees asked her if you could see science in everything and the awe the student had when she realized that even a light bulb radiates science. “It has helped to instill a sense of wonder in the way that I see things too,” said Schiff.
For mentor Yu, she appreciated the network the Ed Portal provided and the continuity of having a place to go every week to refine her teaching skills. Through the portal, she was able to let her imagination run wild and do a wide range of science experiments with the children. “I hope that whatever the reason they come in, they go out thinking they can do anything, because they can.” said Yu. “I want them to come out learning science and math and thinking, ‘Wow. This is fun. I can do this. I can excel at this.’ ”
Read more about this year’s graduating mentors and their reflections on their mentoring experiences at the Ed Portal website.