25 March 2019

Legos and other life lessons

Posted by Shane Hanlon

Leslie snow shoeing to replace a battery for the solar array of an instrument station in the Santa Catalina mountain range in Arizona

By Leslie Marasco

As an incoming undergraduate student in the Architecture program at the University of Arizona, I naively had zero doubts about my career path. Growing up I had tinkered with Legos to create elaborate architectural structures and used my Etch-a-Sketch for the sole purpose of drawing floor plans. If you have ever tried to draw a curved line on an Etch-a-Sketch, you’ll know just how dedicated I was to perfect my door-swing clearances. I took drafting as an elective in high school and even interned at an architectural firm. Little did I know my career path would greatly change and my lack of having a mentor really hindered my academic and professional growth.

After my first year in the architecture program, I started to lose interest in the subject matter. I trudged along until late during my second year when I took an elective course called Introduction to Environmental Science. While the course sounded interesting, I registered primarily because it satisfied one of the requirements of my liberal arts degree. Once I started the course, however, there was not a single topic covered that didn’t fascinate me. I was smitten and I promptly changed my major to Environmental Science.

While transitioning between programs, I found myself unprepared to navigate the unique requirements of a degree in STEM. An independent study or research assistantship, for example, was not part of the architecture curriculum, but rather was included as work hours when meeting licensure requirements post-graduation. In the geosciences, however, it is critical to have research experience to be a competitive candidate for the workforce or graduate school. By transferring to the department nearly halfway through my degree, I was not privy to some of the foundational exposure students received earlier on in the program. To compound my situation, I was shy and found my professors intimidating outside of the classroom.  I did eventually form a relationship with one of my instructors who was instrumental in helping me navigate finding labs I could work in to gain experience, applying to graduate school, and finding work after graduation.

Having structured programs for mentoring and advising is so crucial for all students, but especially for those like me who are shy and intimidated in asking for help. Academic advisers are a wonderful resource but often have an overwhelming number of students they advise. Mentoring365 is a virtual mentoring program from AGU that could have helped me bridge the gap. Mentors are suggested to mentees based on the skills they are interested in developing. Different skills are necessary at different stages in a geoscientist’s development. While early on, the focus may be getting into graduate school, but can change to science communication later on in one’s career. Mentoring365 allows mentees to find that support based on their evolving needs. With technology, there are more opportunities for student to connect with mentors than ever before. I did not have the benefit of Mentoring365, but I hope current students and early career scientists can benefit from greater exposure and connections to mentors through Mentoring365 or other mentoring programs.

Leslie Marasco is the Student and Diversity Program Manager at AGU