Early mentoring experiences solidified Sunidhi Ramesh’s desire to pursue a career in medicine.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explains. That was the age when she started accompanying her favorite uncle on visits to his medical practice in a small, rural village in India. Her uncle’s clinic “was so different from any clinic or hospital that you would see here. It was quiet, and he was often the only person working there.” In that small space, she saw her uncle having a big impact.
“He used to give out free medicine. If he had patients who were homeless, he wouldn’t charge them. It was a very humbling process. He would be tired at the end of the day, but he’d be happy. I noticed that really quickly.”
Sunidhi’s interest in medicine eventually led her to the strong STEM programs at Emory. As a first year student, she struggled with time management—understandable considering she was involved in an array of activities, from writing for The Wheel to performing on a Bollywood dance team. Attending Chem Mentor tutoring sessions helped her to slow down and learn to budget her time.
“Chem Mentors kind of forced me to sit down and say, ‘Okay, these two hours are just for chemistry problems.’ I could figure out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn’t comfortable with and study from there. It gave me a baseline,” says Sunidhi.
Now, Sunidhi—a double major in Neuroscience and Sociology—is a Chem Mentor, helping other students to enhance their experience in Chem 141 and 142.
Chem Mentors are upper level students who provide weekly tutoring sessions to students enrolled in “Gen Chem.” Students who apply to be mentors must have completed Gen Chem classes at Emory with a grade of A- or better and are required to submit a reference from an Emory professor. Selected students undergo training and are also required to attend Gen Chem class sessions—helping to refresh their content knowledge and allowing them to serve as an in-class resource to students taking the class for the first time.
The tutoring sessions are the heart of the program, giving Chem Mentors responsibility for their peers’ learning. Mentors must develop their own approach to the material and lead sessions independently. Sunidhi says that one of the challenges is finding ways to help students who have different levels of comfort with the material under review. She’s learned not to make assumptions about what students already know; when students do show mastery, she will often keep them engaged by asking them to teach the material to others who are struggling. Her own experience with Chem Mentors has showed her that teaching material can help to solidify complex concepts even for students who have a firm grasp on course content.
“You benefit from teaching someone and learning how to explain the problem and someone else benefits from hearing it from another person,” she says.
The challenges from the program have given her a new respect for the professors who deal with these kinds of issues every day. “I’m a lot more sympathetic with professors now!”
At the same time, Sunidhi and her fellow Chem Mentors are able to use their role to help other students feel more comfortable with their professors. “Sometimes students aren’t as comfortable going to [the faculty] with questions. During our sessions, they come to us and we try to refer them to their professors to make them more comfortable with going to office hours; first years, especially, are very anxious. They think they can’t go to office hours unless they have a good question to ask.”
Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Doug Mulford praises Sunidhi’s commitment. “Sunidhi has been a model mentor helping countless students understand the material in Chemistry 141 and 142. She relates to them as one who has been there herself.” Dr. Tracy McGill adds: “The Chem Mentors themselves are what make the program so outstanding. Having a peer who has succeeded in the course earlier and can model tenacity, patience, and a methodical approach to breaking down a complex problem is invaluable to our students’ success.”
Sunidhi’s commitment to mentoring extends beyond chemistry. She mentors high school students through Emory Pipeline, a program that seeks to build awareness of STEM careers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has also served as an Orientation Leader twice. “I think it’s a rewarding experience to be a mentor in general,” she says. “You get to see things from a different perspective.”
With Chem Mentors, Sunidhi is often pleasantly surprised by what she has retained from Gen Chem. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I still remember how to do the problem! I think those kinds of surprises combined with the reward of having to teach a class and seeing students have that ‘a-ha’ moment where they realize how a concept works—those are the rewards that line up and make it a good program.”
Maybe some of Sunidhi’s drive to mentor others comes from her own experience finding her way. “We kind of had to Guinea pig our way through everything,” she says, describing the way that she and her family have approached her goal of being a doctor. Both of her parents are immigrants from India and she is the oldest child, trying to forge a path through a very different educational system. As she’s progressed—and continued to teach others—that path has become more and more clear.
“I don’t know anything else I can do,” she says. “Medicine is what I love.”
Interested in being a ChemMentor? Applications for the 2016-2017 school year will be accepted this coming Spring. Students who have earned an A or A- in their chemistry courses are eligible to apply. Selected mentors are required to enroll in Chem 392R, the Chem Mentor training course. Dr. Tracy McGill says: “Chem Mentors is an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to develop their leadership skills, work with their peers, deepen their understanding of chemistry concepts, and build relationships with faculty mentors.” Contact Dr. McGill or Dr. Mulford with questions.