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  • Writer's pictureJerwin Tiu

Passing the Torch: The Impact of Mentorship in Challenging Environments



Growing up in an Asian immigrant household, I always found it difficult to seek assistance when faced with unfamiliar situations. It was ingrained in me that no matter how confusing or nerve-wracking a challenge might be, I should tackle it independently.


The act of asking for help was regarded as a sign of weakness, having the potential to brand me as inept, uninspiring, and ill-suited for the roles I aspired to. From a young age, I was conditioned to believe that sheer determination and effort would be sufficient to attain my goals. However, my perspective shifted when I entered the realm of Washington D.C. with the National Millennial and Get Z Community.


What had historically been discouraged for me was rebranded as "networking." As someone who held genuine conversations in high regard, I was initially apprehensive. I didn't want to come across as reliant on others to achieve my objectives, and I certainly did not wish to be perceived as exploitative of their assistance. To clarify, this apprehension wasn't due to a lack of skill. I had previously worked at Dutch Bros Coffee, where customer service was paramount. My concern stemmed from the fear of being perceived as insincere, distant, and overly formal. To be perceived as a “businessman.”


However, my experiences during the trip and subsequent endeavors led me to a different realization. Reflecting on the importance of mentorship and its influence on my professional journey, I learned that seemingly inconsequential conversations could evolve into transformative experiences, expanding my horizons far beyond my expectations. While in D.C., I engaged with a diverse array of practitioners making significant strides in their respective fields. These community leaders seamlessly integrated their career aspirations with positive social impact, an approach I had believed required separate paths.


Erika Moritsugu and Daphne Kwok, both Asian American leaders whom I deeply admire, provided insights into effecting change in different industries while leveraging their ethnic backgrounds as assets for social impact. With newfound networking confidence and a proactive attitude toward mentorship, I embarked on a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship in Seattle during the summer of 2024. This experience introduced me to a diverse spectrum of community leaders, accomplished professionals, and individuals surprisingly open to mentoring.


Through these interactions, I discovered a career trajectory that resonated with me deeply – one that unites social impact and public policy with business operations in the tech sector, particularly focusing on accessibility. This realization wasn't the result of a singular connection but rather a culmination of insights from various individuals. Notable figures like Long Dinh, a UX researcher for the City of Seattle; Erika Campos, a leader at Microsoft; and Mellanie Tenada, dedicated to providing student resources at the University of Washington, all provided me with insights into a career path I hadn't previously considered viable. This journey led me to a profound realization: mentorship is pervasive in every aspect of life.


I've been fortunate to have mentors throughout my journey, although I hadn't always recognized them as such. From experienced figures like Bill Imada, who generously shares opportunities and resources, to peers like Cecilia Winchell, offering reality checks when needed; from direct supervisors like Stefani Evans, to educators like Michael Chin, Carrie Johnson, Veronica School, and Karen Taylor. Mentors have emerged from both small organizations, such as Jett Angeles and Kristen Canlas, and broader networks, including Amen Tsegai and Mytoan Nguyen-Akbar.


These incredible individuals have provided me with the time and space to learn, develop, and thrive. To those navigating their own journey amidst the hustle and bustle of life, I encourage you to engage with those you admire. While it's easy to be daunted by their accomplishments, more often than not, they're eager to share advice and support, having once stood in your shoes.


To all mentors, this is a letter of gratitude for your selfless guidance. Paving the way and opening doors for others is a remarkable act that transcends any recognition that I could ever give. My success is simply the culmination of a thousand small acts of kindness from those who gave me a chance.

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