By: Cecilia Prado
Whenever I talk to people about PROJECT ENGAGE they don’t seem to understand the magnitude of the project. Examples of the typical questions that people ask me are: What exactly does a mentor do? How is having a mentor going to help a kid? Why would you waste an entire Thursday volunteering when you can work and get paid? Well, since the only perspective I have to explain the importance of the project is my own, this is the one I am going to share.
I became interested in science without really knowing it at the age of 5. This was the first time my grandfather, the bright man that raised me, let me hold one of his precious plants and said, “Cecilia, you, me and this plant, we are all connected. You depend on it and it depends on you”. Of course I was 5 and the only thing I wanted to do was to play with it, but years later this became something more than just a hobby.
When I was thirteen years old I was extremely involved in gymnastics and ballet, which was great but one of the sacrifices that you had to make in order to succeed in these two disciplines was your feet. One day I had the idea of making disposable shoes that could help prevent the consequences of these two disciplines: athlete’s feet, bad odor, pain, blisters and cuts, between others and using plants as the main ingredients of the product. I became obsessed with the idea and I decided to present it in the science fair, but there was only one problem. My school being fancy and elitist didn’t participate in the regular science fair but it rather makes its own every year. I really wanted to participate in the big one because it looked more appealing, and honestly, they offered a big amount of money for the winner.
The project I intended to make had a difficulty level higher than what an 8th grader had to offer and I found myself in the necessity of getting a mentor. I went to all of my science teachers at school, but they would not help me. Maybe they did not want to spend time and energy in something they didn’t have to. Maybe they considered this something too foolish for a girl my age to aspire, but the help wasn’t there from teachers that claimed to teach science in one of the best schools a Mexican teenager could attend. I was about to give up on my goal when I thought about a “plan b.”
My mother was a principal at a public school; maybe one of the science teachers in the school would be willing to help me. I asked her if I could go to work with her one day and talk to her teachers and she was not entirely thrilled with the idea for the reason that I may distract them from doing their job, but in the end I convinced her.
The first teacher I approached was the biology teacher, Roberto. The first thing I said was, “ I need you to teach me how to do a distillation, please”. He looked at me like I was crazy for a couple of seconds, but he knew my mother was the principal, so he agreed. My mother let us use the laboratory of her school for a couple of hours after school and he gave me advice on the best ways to take the extracts of each of the plants I was planning on using. I don’t know what I would have I done without him. He was the little bit of hope I needed to know that I could do it. That this project was not something ridiculous to aspire for someone like me.
Finally, the science fair arrived. I presented my project with all the passion I had for it. I felt so strong about it, but I was nervous of the fact that I was competing against high school students and I was only thirteen. When the time arrived to announce the winner of the local competition I froze for a little bit when the announcer said, “Santa Cecilia Prado Guerrero.” I went on stage with a face that lacked expression…I was in shock. Months after the state and the final competition came along. During the final competition I couldn’t contain myself when I heard those four words again, “Santa…Cecilia…Prado…Guerrero, first place.”
Why is being mentor important? Sometimes they make the difference. In a world when most people couldn’t care less about your dreams, they are there to give you that encouragement you so desperately need. Sometimes, knowing that there are people that care is just what you need in order to not give up. This is why being a mentor is something so important to me. I want to be able to give kids like me what I never had. I strongly believe in this cause, and strongly believe this is going to make a difference in science education.