September 29, 2020

Mentor Spotlight: How mentorship led to global impact

What can one person do to change the world? That is a tough question. Many people ask themselves this question. I would venture to guess that most answer it with pessimism. How could the actions of one person actually change the world?  Unless you are Bill Gates or Elon Musk or someone with unlimited means and influence, you probably feel that your efforts would be a drop in the ocean.

If you think about that analogy one drop creates a wave that goes out in a circular motion and creates other waves that emanate out. No matter how small that drop it has an effect on all the other molecules around it.

Now embrace this thought and put it to use in your efforts. The more drops you put in your ocean of life, the more waves you create. Each action you take creates a circular wave that emanates out from you.

As I pondered this idea and embraced it for myself, I started to think about what I could do. I thought if I can help one person, that person can possibly help other people and those people will carry the wave further out in concentric circles.

With this in mind a year and half ago, I volunteered with TGR Foundation to be a mentor.

I was assigned a mentee, Dejie Zhen, who came from a diametrically opposed background quite the opposite of mine. However, his parents and I had a common denominator in that we wanted to help create a better life for Dejie. I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with his parents before he went off to Bowdoin College. His parents do not speak English. That terrified me. How was I going to be able to communicate and relate to them?

It turned out that my wife and I were able to have the most enjoyable meal with them and got to learn a bit about each other. Dejie was able to translate where needed and our body language and actions spoke the rest. We were brought together by the common goal of helping their child get an education and a start on a path in America that would hopefully lead to a better life for his family.

Dejie and I touch base about once a month and I was occasionally able to share some insights and advice about his schooling and education. When COVID-19 hit, he was forced to return home from school. It was during this time that he had started looking for a summer internship and had a few leads, which unfortunately dried up due to the pandemic. We spent some time trying to find other opportunities, but the world had already changed and there wasn’t much we could do about it.

My advice to Dejie was this: ‘if you can’t find a job somewhere, create your own.’ I learned early on in my career that the best way to be of value to someone is to be able to help solve their problems. A mentor of mine told me to always ask the question, ‘What is the problem to which I can be the solution?’ We started asking that question and exploring together what problems existed today that he/we might be the solution to.

In our research, I suggested that we look at things we were passionate about and that helped the largest number of people possible. We started looking at global issues. As we created our lists it became apparent that there were a lot of problems in the world that were possibly beyond our ability to have an impact on.

With that realization, I suggested a mantra of “Big Problems, Little Steps.”  My belief was that you can never get where you are going if you don’t leave where you are.  The journey then begins by simply putting one foot in front of the other and starting in a direction, not knowing what may come up along the way. We embraced the idea of “Accidental Discovery.” Many discoveries happen when you least expect them. Dejie and I chose a few ideas to pursue and started our journey together.

The first thing we did was establish a foundation to help us put our ideas and solutions into action. Our nonprofit, Global Solution Partners, is focused on helping students plan, discover and explore what they can do to change the world. This “job” was his summer internship.

We began by establishing Dejie’s goals for the summer, which were:

  1. To be of service to others
  2. To find a paying summer job in a field he was interested in or passionate about
  3. To ensure the work we did was helpful, applicable and referenceable as he pursued his academic and professional career
Dejie and his classmates in the Earl Woods Scholar Program’s Los Angeles cohort gather for a photo during their pre-college retreat.

I shared what we were doing with the Earl Woods Scholar team at TGR Foundation and not only received great support but their suggestion to have other Earl Woods Scholars join our internship program. We accepted two outstanding and motivated individuals into our developing foundation, Rodrigo Martinez and Ivy Phan. This provided a well-rounded, multi-faceted team that brought different perspectives and experiences.

We collectively decided on several projects to undertake for the summer. I never believed that one single action could generate such a large effect. These are a few of our projects:

  • The Virtual Treehouse – A Facebook group and a YouTube Channel with a community of people from all walks of life and all over the world, on a journey together to find serenity in their lives. It’s now more than 900 members strong.
  • The Telehealth Research Project – A research study in the changing landscape of healthcare delivery.
  • Chemo Brain – Resources for cancer treatment-related cognitive impairment.
  • Project Kind2Mind – A project to normalize the idea of mental health and increasing the utilization of support and resources.

It’s easy to look at the challenges our world faces and think we can’t have an impact, but as mentors, it’s on us to give the next generation the tools to leave this world better than they found it. The three steps below are a great way to start the journey.

  1. Ask Questions.

There are no easy answers to any global problems, conditions or illnesses. Think about the impact a group of likeminded people could have by focusing their minds collectively on matters they are passionate about.

  1. Generate Ideas.

What could you do as a community? Add the mantra of “Big Problems | Little Steps”. Put one foot in front of the other. Figure out the next steps to take as a group and in what direction you should go.

  1. Take Action.

If you get 500+ plus people taking one step together in 500+ right directions, the chances of having an impact globally on any issues increases exponentially.

If there was ever a time in our lives that required us to act, now is that time. Whatever it may be. Who knows where it will lead, but we need to take that next step.

Do something. Do it today. Do it now!


Redefining what it means to be a champion.

The Earl Woods Scholar Program is funded through support from TGR Live Events, State Street, Farmers Insurance, Aptive Environmental and Bank of the West. Join us to support more students like Dejie on their path to college and career success. Click here to learn more about the mentorship program.