Polina Zabelina - Supportive mentors
I am Polina Zabelina. Currently, I am the Production Team Lead on BP’s West Nile Delta Project in Egypt, where we are building a gas plant to provide energy to the people of the country. I previously worked for about eight years as a corrosion engineer, building on my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and an MSc in corrosion engineering.
My path into the engineering industry sounds straightforward, but I can promise you, it did not feel like that at the time. I grew up in Russia, where the engineering profession is well regarded and considered a great career, but I still had only a very remote idea of what it would be like to be one, even when I was applying to study engineering at university. I wish that, when I was back at school, I could have spoken to someone who was actually working as an engineer. For girls in other countries, where engineering is a less popular career choice and the shortage of diverse engineers is greater, having relatable examples is even more important.
It is because of this that I chose ‘supportive mentors’ as my word for this 2020 INWED campaign, and see it as a key ingredient to help create an equal future in engineering. Only with the right people, and the right attitudes, can we encourage people of all genders into engineering careers, and beyond.
I am fortunate to have had many opportunities to act as a mentor and role model in my career so far, but the one that I am going to talk about today is my experience as a STEMettes mentor.
STEMettes is a mentoring programme for girls that shows the next generation “that girls do Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) too” at their “free, fun, food-filled experiences”. I was so excited when I first heard about this – what a great idea!
A core aim of STEMettes is to show young women and non-binary people the diversity of people already in STEM via a series of cohort programmes, impactful events, and inspirational content platforms. These visible role models and supportive events empower attendees to be able to make informed decisions about careers in STEM, so that eventually women can be proportionally represented in the field. For the UK, their current aim is to increase the UK STEM workforce from 21% women to above 30%.
My work with STEMettes has been one of my first extended period mentoring experiences. Previously, I hosted school students at the BP office for a week as part of their work experience. I also did short presentations about engineering and my career at different schools, but this was relatively short-term. What makes a good and supportive mentor is the fact that – wherever possible – they stay with their mentee over time and have plenty of follow-ups to watch them grow.
The experience consisted of a number of meetings over several months, most of which were face to face. It was great to follow through and share my experiences in engineering with my mentee. I was also able to introduce her to some of my engineering colleagues working in different fields, highlighting what their day to day work consists of and discussing the lessons we all learned along the way.
When I was first paired with my mentee, I could tell straight away that it was a great match and we were able to establish trust fairly quickly. She has amazing potential and has already accomplished things that I never thought of when I was in school – running STEM clubs for younger students as well as summer STEM activities.
During the graduation event, mentees were sharing what they thought was the best part of this mentoring program and my mentee said that her favourite thing was that I treated her like an adult. If I am honest, I had hoped for something like ‘helped to develop structured approach’ or ‘understand strengths and weaknesses better’ (I do, after all, enjoy my tangible results and checkboxes!). However, I soon realised that this was a chance to connect as two people, and for her to relate to me and feel heard and supported was what was most important to her at the time. I was happy with that.
We are still in touch and she is doing really well… and she did go on to study engineering! Needless to say, I am very proud of her and I am so glad that I was able to fuel her already existing passion for STEM.
If you would like to be a mentor for a potential future engineer, you can apply to STEMettes mentoring cohort here: https://stemettes.org/company/volunteer/
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