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Asian American Cultural Center mentorship program works to bring together APIDA students at Rutgers

The Rutgers Asian American Cultural Center's (AACC) Mentor and Mentee Program has made certain changes to better adapt to the online environment but plans to hold more in-person opportunities in the fall semester. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) is currently accepting applications for its mentoring program, which pairs first-year and transfer students with current Rutgers students.

The mentorship program was created to further the AACC’s mission of fostering a community for Rutgers Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) identified students and employees, said Donna Tran, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and peer coordinator for the program.

Armeen Khan, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and peer coordinator, said that the annual program recruits upperclassmen students as mentors and incoming students as mentees, as well as aims to go beyond building an academic connection between these individuals.

“A lot of our mentors and mentees are paired up based on their major because that's a big part of their experience at Rutgers, but ... all of the factors that go into it are how they want to get immersed into Rutgers life and Rutgers culture, especially if (they are) APIDA identified and have that sense of wanting to fit in that way as well,” she said.

Brian Huang, a Rutgers Business School junior and mentor for the program, spoke about his growth through his interactions with other members and how they helped him fit in. 

“My experience with the AACC Mentor (and) Mentee Program has allowed me to not only grow as an individual but (also) allowed others to grow,” he said. “The mentoring program allows me to not only interact with first-year students and help them adjust to college, but also fellow mentors who have different insight and backgrounds. These interactions, in my opinion, are some of the valuable parts of the mentoring program as they give one a sense of belonging.”

Khyathi Dadi, a School of Engineering first-year and current mentee, also spoke about what she has learned from being in the program so far. 

“I have learned a lot about how to face certain setbacks or issues,” she said. “I love that my mentors are always eager to help me in certain situations and … although this organization can be relaxing and fun, there is also opportunity to grow in this program."

Over the course of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the program has overcome some challenges such as issues posed by the virtual environment as well as funding cuts, Khan said.

“Our program did start really late ... so it was kind of difficult for us in the beginning, just because we kind of were frantically putting everything together last minute,” she said. “But we are three people … and it's easier with a team to get things started, so now we're running it.”

Feba Kottackakam, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and peer coordinator, said that the program has made changes, such as creating a Discord channel and hosting monthly events, in order to account for the disconnect that may arise between members due to the remote environment.

In the fall, the program hopes to hold more in-person events while planning hybrid options to include students who will not be on-campus for the semester, Tran said.

Additionally, involvement in the mentorship program is not only limited to APIDA students, she said. Students who do not identify as APIDA are welcome to join as mentors, as long as they are willing to give back to the community.

“I feel like that's one fear of students who aren't APIDA identified,” Tran said. “‘They're like, ‘Oh, you know, I'm not Asian, is this okay? Does it seem weird that I'm intruding on a program that is meant for APIDA students?’”

Khan said the community aspect of the program, which strives to check in with mentors as well as create a long-lasting and inclusive relationship with its members, is something the coordinators take pride in.

“I've found a community of fun-loving, caring individuals who are always there to help,” said Hannah Varkey, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and program mentor. “The mentoring coordinators really take the time to be there for you, answer any questions you have and support you in your role. Being able to share resources and wisdom to first-year students and transfers have been really meaningful to me — it's amazing to see them grow and learn and change over time.”

The application process to join the program includes the submission of an online form and interview and will remain open until the end of the day tomorrow. More information can be found on the program’s Instagram or through the AACC’s website.


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