By Rachel Levin, Associate Professor of Biology & Neuroscience at Pomona College and Point Mentor to Eli Capello.
Work within the LGBTQ community both here in Claremont, California and nationally is something about which I am passionate. Being a parent and a professor, I am also painfully aware of what happens to kids of any age who are different in any way at both public and private schools and, unfortunately, what happens in some families when someone comes out. I am also aware, as a scientist, of the abuse and marginalization that the LGBTQ community has suffered at the hands of science. I love to use my familiarity with and membership in both communities to change that. I want to provide whatever support, information, and networking I can to encourage our youth, especially in science where so much activism is needed, to bring attitudes and approaches into the 21st century. I feel so lucky that Point Foundation accepted me as a mentor and grateful to Point for having brought Eli and I together.
So many struggles are universal- how to know the best career path for yourself, how to make it through a rough spot in a relationship, how to deal with self-doubt, how to deal with a recalcitrant dog…. One of the best things in life is finding someone that you respect and can trust and nurturing that relationship. I feel that with Eli. I may be the “mentor” and he the “mentee”, because I have had more life experience, but I think that we really learn from each other all the time. I am reminded of this constantly.
One thing that isn’t universal is local culture and ethnicity. I am astounded at the differences in our cultures and thus, how our expectations are shaped. I am humbled by thinking about the obstacles that Eli has overcome in the south (Louisiana); being Eli’s mentor has taught me not to assume anything or take anything for granted.
Because Eli and I are over 1,500 miles apart, almost all of our relationship has been developed by phone. At first, it was a little daunting. Nobody just falls into a warm and trusting relationship on the first phone call! We held regular phone calls at first and simply got to know each other- likes and dislikes, things that were important to each of us, things with which we each struggled…. We also began texting which was a remarkably fun way to get to know each other (“how did the exam go?” “Did you get into the class you wanted?” “My new dog won’t go outside!”). Over time, and I can’t really remember when it was, Eli began to call when he needed advice, feedback, or just a friendly voice in his ear. At the same time, I would see something in my life that was exactly what we had just talked about or that reminded me of him and I would pick up the phone.
I have learned, once again, to trust that relationships develop over time- one can’t “make” them happen- something that I think every new mentor needs to realize. Thus, I have learned to relax, let go and be myself in yet another context!
Because of annual Point leadership programs (RLFs), we get to see each other once a year. We now plot, in advance, as to how we want to spend whatever free time there is and have had some great moments bonding over polar bears or homemade ice cream sandwiches. We also strategize and get together if one of us has any reason to be geographically close to the other.
As a result of being Eli’s mentor, I am more comfortable being me, being imperfect (don’t tell anyone!) and being accessible. I also have an addition to our chosen family, thanks to Point! I can’t imagine life without Eli.
By Point Scholar Eli Capello:
The mentor program has definitely provided benefits for my professional career and well-being. My mentor Rachel and I call each other regularly and she gives me advice about which classes to enroll in, how to apply to internships, contact information of various professionals in scientific research, and even advice about sustaining good relationships with co-workers and friends. My mentor is a part of my family. We talk on every holiday and encourage each other each day. Whenever I am in Los Angeles she takes me on fun trips just to talk about my life goals and how to achieve them. For example, a few weeks ago, I was in San Diego for a Society for Neuroscience conference and we went to the zoo. If I need advice about a class, assignment, community service project, or just how to handle ignorance towards the LGBT community, she puts her day on hold to talk. The most beneficial change I have seen in myself due to my relationship with my mentor is self- confidence. Before meeting Rachel, as a queer youth from a rural town in the south, I viewed the possibility of attending graduate school and conducting research at institutions like Stanford or Cornell as an opportunity that wasn’t accessible. However, my mentor has made me believe that I can achieve success and that I deserve success.