Illinois I-mark

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Students forge friendships, develop professional skills with the Illinois AIChE mentor program

Practicing interviewing skills. Sharing tips on study habits. Learning to ice skate.

This academic year, students with the Illinois student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers have had the opportunity to build relationships with other Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students and sharpen their professional skills.

In the past, about 20 students in ChBE participated in Illinois AIChE’s mentor program each year. Program organizer and ChBE senior Hannah Chait, wanting to boost participation, revamped the mentor program to include more professional development components. As a result, this year the number of participants doubled.

“It’s often hard for freshmen and sophomores to get involved in AIChE or other organizations while balancing their academic demands. I felt the mentor program was an underutilized resource in previous years, so I was looking at ways to make the program more meaningful for everyone,” Chait said.

Freshman Erik Pintoy wanted to get involved with AIChE but did not have a lot of time to attend many events or serve as an officer. The mentor program appealed to him because he wanted to meet fellow Chemical Engineering majors and learn more about the degree.

“I recommend the mentor program to a lot of students,” Pintoy said. “There are so many students like me who do not have a lot of time, but they still want to be involved. The mentoring group is definitely my favorite part of college right now,” he said.

Junior Jennifer Behrens, who’s been a mentee and a mentor, said Chait gave mentors the freedom and responsibility this year to lead their own monthly meetings with their mentee group while still supplying mentors with resources and training from School of Chemical Sciences Career Services. Her favorite part of the program was the addition of professional development.

Working with Patricia Simpson, director of the school’s career services, Chait organized three different training sessions. During those sessions, mentors received training in a variety of topics in which they could offer guidance to mentees. One topic focused on career fairs and included tips for preparing resumes and “elevator” pitches. Another centered on developing interview skills among their peers in a safe environment. During the third session, participants received tips on time management and study habits. This spring, organizers added technical workshops. During those sessions, mentors helped mentees with presentation skills and data analysis tools.

Participants have still found time to build relationships and have fun. This year they visited Curtis Orchard and Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, they’ve gone ice skating at the U of I Ice Arena, and participated in an Easter egg hunt in Noyes Laboratory. This spring mentors made care packages for freshmen for when they wrote their longest lab report of freshman year.

“I know what it’s like to feel lost in the major (I transferred into ChBE), so I wanted to prevent underclassmen from feeling that way by striving to be a helpful, proactive mentor, especially my mentees who were planning on transferring into ChBE,” Behrens said.

Like Pintoy, she wanted to be a mentee to make friends in the major and learn the “ins and outs” of Chemical Engineering, such as when to take certain classes and how to secure an internship. This year she was a mentor, something she wanted to do because she loves helping and inspiring others to be their best.

“I think [the mentor program] can help students have the confidence and inside knowledge they need to jumpstart their academics and career,” Behrens said.