February 25, 2020

Scholar Voices: How mentorship shaped my career trajectory

Chris finds Bill for a photo after delivering his speech at the annual graduation luncheon celebrating graduating seniors during Winter Workshop.

I was next in line to speak at the Earl Woods Scholar Winter Workshop graduation luncheon, celebrating my cohort, the class of 2020. Nervous yet excited, I repeatedly ran through my lines in my head in anticipation. Yet, when the time came to deliver my speech, thanking the people who had shaped my journey with TGR Foundation, as I began to thank my mentor, I was surprised to hear my words deviate from the script. “Bill, we are a match made in heaven.” This impromptu phrase easily became my favorite.

My first contact with my mentor William (Bill) Borges hadn’t been as an Earl Woods Scholar. Bill was there from the very beginning, participating in my group interview for the scholar program back in high school. It was humbling to reflect on how much time had passed since then, and I felt satisfied that I could verbalize it with such an appropriate phrase, as though it were the natural culmination of our time together.

Bill and his wife celebrate with Chris at the Earl Woods Scholar High School Graduation luncheon.

As any freshman will come to experience, the dramatic personal growth and development associated with going off to college is due not only to the vast wealth of new experiences but also, the rapid pace at which these are thrown at you. Each year, new roommates and living situations; each quarter, new classes and off-campus experiences; each step outside, faces both familiar and unfamiliar. I found myself continuously remarking that each quarter felt as though it were its own self-contained year.

I was fortunate that Bill was only an hour drive away back home in Orange County. About every month or so, we would meet to catch up over a meal in what became coined our “Breakfast Club” outings. Filling each other in on what we had been up to and being able to look forward to the next meeting, these opportunities to debrief became a form of stability amidst the hectic noise of student life. Bill had plenty of insight to share not only because of his general know-how but also because we had been paired very logically. I was an environmental science major at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and Bill was a seasoned sustainability professional.

Early on, when I mentioned my friend Noah who was the same year as me studying environmental science at UC Riverside, Bill invited him to join us at our next meeting. From that point on, Bill took Noah under his wing as well and our Breakfast Club became much more fruitful as a result. It is a testament to Bill’s aptitude for mentorship. One of my favorite experiences together was our trip down to the lovely gardens and museums of San Diego’s Balboa Park. It served as a much-appreciated change of pace in the middle of the winter academic quarter, complete with photographs taken by Bill, our avid photographer.

Photographed by mentor Bill, mentees Chris and his friend Noah spend the day at Balboa Park in San Diego.

Keen on looking ahead to the future, when I began my college journey I had a good sense of the path I wanted to go down, but it was Bill who illuminated the way forward. I had chosen to be an environmental science major with an environmental health concentration because of my interest in toxicology and the long-term harm that contaminants were so often discovered to cause after having been released into communities for years. As we discussed the direction I could take, Bill was pivotal in introducing me to a niche and practical application of the Industrial Hygiene (IH) field. In short, IH is an applied science that measures and controls against occupational hazards, such as chemical exposure. Bill arranged a phone call for me with a former colleague of his who worked in Arizona doing IH consulting on the side. I remember finishing the call with the impression that this was a field that not only aligned superbly with my interests but would also let me do meaningful work that I could get excited about.

As I came to discover, the significance of this exchange had a snowball effect. When I first interviewed for my current job at the UCLA Office of Environment, Health & Safety (UCLA EH&S), I expressed my interest in the IH field, which led to a job offer for a separate position that better aligned with my goals. This role later blossomed into my summer internship at the biotech company Phenomenex, which in turn led to my internship the following summer at the Aerospace Corporation. Each experience played off one another and introduced me to an array of professionals in the field who offered their own guidance and mentorship along the way.

I’m incredibly grateful for the doors that have opened for me as a result, and I owe it to Bill for setting it all in motion by introducing me to a field I would have otherwise never known existed. As I wrap up my undergraduate experience, I’m looking forward to continuing on to graduate school to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Industrial Hygiene and Environmental Health Science, potentially at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. My time as an undergraduate student may be reaching its finale, but my mentor/mentee relationship with Bill is far from over. As always, I look forward to the next meeting of the Breakfast Club.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.