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(Me)ntor Loop: Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium (IRC) students receive Changemaker Challenge pitch funding

First-year graduate students Clarissa Abidog, Areej Mawasi, Esther Pretti, Monica Hernandez and Alonzo Silavong have identified a problem in higher education: underrepresented pre-college female students lack the mentorship needed to successfully pursue college careers, and those that do make it into college often struggle to complete their undergraduate degrees.

The graduate students won a project startup grant during Changemaker Challenge Pitch Day for their proposed solution to this problem. The idea — develop (Me)ntor Loop, a platform for virtual mentorship that strives to connect female students to college students excited to empower younger generations in their quest for higher education. By creating a space for virtual mentorship with a low barrier to access, underrepresented female students can invest in their educational passions, guide each other in navigating their academic experience, support retention and create long-lasting pathways toward completion of higher education, all while building lasting friendships along the way.

This feedback loop of community support aims to ensure that high school students receive the appropriate, helpful, and inspiring guidance they seek, while college students develop their own leadership and investment in their continued success.

“Talking about our graduate programs and what motivated us personally and professionally to get to ASU, we realized that all of us wanted to empower women,” said Esther Pretti, a first-year doctoral student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College’s Educational Policy and Evaluation program.

“It may have been the influence of strong women in our lives that brought us here,” Pretti continued, “Or the need to make a difference in women’s lives in our communities, but we were all interested in helping women, especially underrepresented women, achieve their full potential.”

Clarissa Abidog, graduate student in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, also saw the need for change. “We were able to refine our collective experience to tackle common issues of belonging that we’ve each experienced in one way or another,” Abidog said.

As participants in the Graduate College’s Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium (IRC) students were required to submit a proposal for funding in the annual Changemaker Challenge Pitch Day. “IRC is all about students coming together from diverse disciplines,” said Dr. Jennifer Cason, co-facilitator and director of graduate student support resources. “Real-world applicability and solution-driven learning is an important career-development tool to graduate students, and this project collaboration is a perfect example of students coming together from disparate disciplines to find common solutions.”

IRC students worked in groups to identify common challenges that interdisciplinary cooperation might help solve. Once this team realized the potential of their work, they submitted a proposal to Changemaker Challenge Pitch Day, a competition in which undergraduate and graduate student groups compete for funding toward innovative solutions to problems faced by communities locally and globally.

“It was an amazing opportunity,’ said Areej Mawasi, a first-year student in Learning, Literacies and Technology. “Taking part in this challenge made us, as a group, value innovative solutions that are grounded and supported by research.”

“I enrolled in IRC to develop my academic skills as an interdisciplinary scholar, to find collaboration opportunities with colleagues from other departments and be part of a multicultural academic community,” Mawasi added.

Now that they have been awarded a $500 seed funding grant, they will spend the spring semester getting (Me)ntor Loop off the ground. The next steps are to identify initial collaborators who could help in scaling the first stage of the project, then move forward with concrete long-term plans for implementation.

“These are some talented scholars with ambitious goals,” said Zachary Reeves-Blurton, IRC co-facilitator, noting that the students have until the end of July to use the funds. “The interdisciplinary collaborations and transferable skills students are focusing on in IRC – forging a community of scholars and taking a solutions-based approach to actionable research – will provide a strong foundation for the rest of their academic and professional careers.”