Get to Know an Alumni Mentorship Team
Brian Woo (Exp ’20) and Minh-An Cao ’12
Why did you want to be a mentor and what encouraged you to accept Brian’s request for mentorship?
Minh-An: Throughout my undergraduate years at UCLA, I was fortunate to have two wonderful UCLA alums as my mentors and they guided me through preparing myself for the real world and achieving higher educations. I knew that once I achieved my career goals, I would want to give back to the younger generations. I wanted to share my own experience and thoughts to students who are in the same similar situation as me (being first generation Asian Americans and are first in their families to go to university and pursue higher education). After reading Brian’s request for mentorship, I knew we would be a great match since we had a lot of those similarities. I wanted to share my knowledge and experience with him to help him achieve his career goals and strengthen his applications for higher education.
Why did you request your mentor?
Brian: When looking through UCLA ONE, I wanted to find a mentor who seemed relatable in addition to being a pharmacist or a pharmacy student. Thus, I was extremely excited when I found Minh-An – she was also a first-generation college student who had to navigate her way through undergraduate and pharmacy school on her own. When I saw this, I knew that we could connect and bond over the uncertainties that we both faced throughout our journey and I looked forward to hearing her story to success.
What has been your favorite part of the mentorship so far?
Minh-An: My favorite part of the mentorship so far was the welcoming banquet/orientation the program hosted back in fall quarter. I got to meet my two mentees in person, and it provided us the opportunity to solidify the mentorship bond by interacting in person with each other. It was great to see my two mentees getting along so well and we had a lot of fun getting to know each other and our goals/passions in life. It also allowed me to take a walk down memory lane as I shared with my mentees my undergraduate experiences and hearing how some of my undergraduate professors are still teaching!
Brian: My favorite part of this mentorship would be the relationship I have established with my mentor and other mentee. Sometimes my mentor will send me updates about her day at work and this gives me insight into the everyday life of a pharmacist. Every quarter, we try to meet up in person to catch up and talk about our progress towards our careers and this helps me greatly – instead of feeling lost and in doubt, I can receive feedback and guidance from both my mentor and my co-mentee. I think it really helps to have to a co-mentee as well because it allows me to meet other students interested in pharmacy and have more people to rely on for help.
What surprised you the most about being a mentor?
Minh- An: The thing that surprised me the most about being a mentor is how easy it is. I thought it would require a lot of time and effort, but I enjoy it when I meet quarterly with my mentees and catch up and check in on how their progress is in the school year. We all have busy lives so it is a bit difficult to find a good time for everyone but when we do get to meet up, it is very productive and I try to engage my mentees and motivate them in the short time that we have together. Time flies when we meet up and what was supposed to be an hour session can sometimes run longer since there are so much to talk about.
What surprised you the most about your mentorship?
Brian: The most surprising thing about my mentorship is probably the accessibility that my mentor has provided for me. We now follow each other on social media, so I am able to get insight on her daily life outside of work, and this helps me build a connection beyond a mentorship; I get to know her beyond a professional setting. Sometimes I feel that I am simply asking a friend for advice due to the common ground she has established with me.
Describe the discussions or activities that have been most productive
Brian: The most helpful discussions would stem from our quarterly meetings as it helps to talk about our goals for the quarter and what we’ve been up to individually. It is personally reassuring to me to know that Minh-An went through similar steps to get to where she is now, and it’s extremely helpful to hear about classes we have taken or must take. Having these things in common makes it so much easier to connect with my mentor. In addition, hearing tips for interviews and job applications and what worked for my mentor and what didn’t was also helpful because these are obstacles that I myself would need to face in the near future.
Minh-An: I always like to hear what my mentees are doing each quarter and what their goals are for this quarter and the next quarter. And I would give them feedback on what classes to take (or not take together). It’s been awhile since I’ve gone through the similar curriculum but there are some classes that you just remember forever…I try to make recommendation of what they can do to be more proactive and build their resume to be stronger candidates.
How did your mentor help you further your academic, professional, or personal goals?
Brian: Meeting with my mentor and going over my academic, professional, and personal goals really helped a lot as she would provide advice for what steps I should be taking to reach these goals. She would go over the different fields of pharmacy, which allowed me to understand what the field truly entails beyond retail. When she talked about her experience with applying to pharmacy school and jobs, I was able to get a better idea of what steps to take to prepare myself for the process and how to get myself more experience with the field.
What is your greatest takeaway from your mentor experience?
Minh-An: It reminds me a lot of my own experience going through UCLA and worrying about what comes next after graduation. I enjoy giving insights and advices on what I wish I knew when I was going through the same experiences and just hope that I can help my mentees in any way possible. I look forward to seeing my mentees grow even more and achieve greater things as they progress towards their last year of undergrad and start applying for jobs/grad school.
Brian: I think the greatest takeaway from my mentorship experience is that I am not alone, and that I don’t have to go through my academic or professional journey alone. It taught me that there are other people in similar situations as I am, and it highlighted the significance of having someone to reach out to for help or advice. Personally, I think having a first-generation mentor really helped because I am in a similar position as she was in during her undergraduate years. Hearing the process she went through to achieve her goals inspires me to aim for my goals without hesitance or doubt that I am taking the wrong steps or not doing enough for my professional goals.
What advice would you give other students or mentors in order to have a successful mentorship?
Brian: I think the most important thing to do is to reach out and ask questions for both parties. Although I asked my mentor many questions and she provided many answers, I think I would not have done so as much if my mentor had not reached out to me first every once in a while to check up on me or to tell me about her workday. I think this mutual effort from both parties showed that we both cared about this mentorship and encouraged me to continue seeking help from her.