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Surprise! You’ve just been taken seriously.

January 13, 2016

About Me 

Leo Mitchell is a second-year Bioengineering student completing his first co-op at Quanterix in Lexington, MA. He has a work study job at Northeastern’s Center for STEM Education, and he is the Vice President of Enabling Engineering. He enjoys talking about either for longer than you care to listen. 

Surprise! You’ve just been taken seriously.

Enabling Engineering and the Center for STEM Education dominate my free time. Between the two positions, I spend thirty hours per week working. Midway through the semester I started wondering how I was still enjoying the long hours. What was different about these two commitments that made me want to push myself so hard? The answer: Claire Duggan and Waleed Meleis, mentors extraordinaire.

I started working for Claire at the Center for STEM two weeks after moving into my freshman dorm. My first task was to clean and organize the black hole that is our storage closet, and my second was to box and move a wall full of old textbooks and documents. Nothing exciting, but hey—work study isn’t always glamorous.

The next week, when Claire outlined the Center for STEM’s many endeavors for me, she picked up that I was interested in a new program called TRANSFORM. My third task was to write and design a flyer for the program, which we later used as an advertisement and informational handout. My job was getting interesting. In the year and a half since I started, I’ve come to love working with Claire. She gives me engaging work, encourages me to work on my own ideas to develop our programs, and teaches or helps along the way as needed. She was (and is) the perfect kind of boss—one that genuinely cares, but abhors micromanagement. Claire took me seriously. It was a welcome surprise.

Enabling Engineering is the coolest organization at Northeastern. You can try to convince me otherwise, but I’ll only pretend to listen. The underlying concept of organizing students to work on problems faced by people with disabilities can be traced back to Waleed Meleis. Three years ago, Waleed noticed a trend among the Capstone projects he had advised—groups that developed assistive technologies to help people with disabilities were often highly successful. He wondered whether an organization could recreate the conditions to foster similar high-impact achievements outside of Capstone. A group of students took interest, and Enabling Engineering was born.

Two years later, I joined up as a project leader. My amazing group galvanized me—our meetings convinced me of the electrifying potential in both our project and Enabling Engineering at large. I became an officer in May, which is when I started working directly with Waleed. The first thing we discussed was revamping our system for organizing records and communicating with project groups. Though it was a slow starting point, Waleed surprised me (much like Claire) by noticing and embracing the degree of my commitment to Enabling. Before long, he started involving me in meetings with project leaders, professors, mentors, and parents of kids who will use prototypes from our groups. By the end of the semester, I had met one-on-one with the CEO of a potential partner organization and made plans to expand Enabling Engineering to another University. Like Claire, Waleed took me seriously.

In my time at Northeastern, I’ve worked on exciting, important projects that were only tangentially connected to my school work. The people who made these opportunities possible were Waleed and Claire, each of whom has a wealth of experience and took me seriously from the moment we met. Working with them has taught me that undergrads are capable of doing much more than is expected of us during our time as students. Rewarding work awaits us between classes.

I’m a mediocre engineer (at best), and that’s why I’m at Northeastern. In three years, I hope to be a great one. But in the meantime, while I develop my technical skills, I can do much more than learn. Enabling Engineering and the Center for STEM are just two of Northeastern’s incredible organizations. They’re the two things that fought Netflix for my free time and won.

As students, we have unprecedented access to people who are doing amazing work—a level of access that I don’t expect to encounter at any point after graduation. Waleed and Claire are two of those people. They’re doing very different work, but both are eager to involve undergrads. In my case, it has been a mutually beneficial relationship. Working with Waleed and Claire has yielded many opportunities for my own professional development, and the time I have committed to Enabling Engineering and the Center for STEM also supports Waleed and Claire’s respective goals.

My advice as an undergrad for undergrads: find someone who is doing work you care about. If that person takes a serious interest in using your skills, commit and rise to the occasion. Let yourself be taken seriously.

My advice as an undergrad for potential mentors: take us seriously! You’ll surprise us, and we’ll surprise you too.