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Interview: Founders of Green Light Mentorship

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of social and physical barriers. Yet it has inspired many youth and individuals to come together and help high school students transition from high school to university through mentorship programs and other online events. I’m glad to have a virtual meeting with two of the three founders of Green Light Mentorship - Hayley and Sachi!

Interview with Hayley and Sachi

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Hayley: I’m currently going into my third year at McMaster health science child health specialization program. I’m one of the co-founders and admins of Green Light Mentorship and this year I am in charge of marketing and web coordinator.

Sachi: I am also going into my third year of the McMaster health science program. I am one of the co-founders and admins of Green Light Mentorship and this year I am leading the promotions team and first-year representatives. I am in charge of anything related to social media and high school ambassadors.

Unfortunately, Rowan is not able to be at the meeting. He is going into his third year at McMaster health science. He is also one of the co-founders and he is the admin for internal and finance this year.

What is Green Light Mentorship? When and why did you start?

We started Green Light Mentorship in mid to late March 2020 around the start of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, we noticed a lot of high school students asking questions about our program, grades, and university updates with COVID happening. During the lockdown, open houses are cancelled and people could not visit the campus to know about the residence or campus. People also had questions about what universities would do, even though we had no idea. We are willing to help people; we love mentorship; we love answering questions and giving back to high school students as we’ve been in their position. At the same time, we noticed a lot of our peers and university students post on their Instagram stories to offer help. We think this is not the most efficient way to connect high school students and university students. Eventually we came up with Green Light Mentorship which is an easier way to connect the two parties. We created a platform with mentors and mentees and our job is to match them based on their interests and the questions they have.

Hayley: Mentorship specifically was a big part of my high school experience as I really appreciated having upper-year students to talk to and just chat with. I also enjoyed talking to my friends at high school at that time by just answering their questions or just supporting them. I have always been really passionate about the idea of mentorship.

Sachi: I notice the gesture of being someone to go to, like us being someone that high school friends go to when they have questions about universities. How can we harness that power? How can we connect them with the right people?

What initiatives have you carried out before?

Images courtesy of Green Light Mentorship.

The main initiative we began was the general mentorship program. We matched over 600 students last year. We recently rebranded our mentorship program to better suit each phase or period high school students might be going through as their post-secondary school plans may change drastically. Where you think you want to go in November is not the same as the choices you have in March or April. We realize that we should allow people to have another match or create specific periods that are targeted towards specific needs of the questions students might have.

In September 2020, we ran a virtual Ontario University Fair (OUF). The idea came when we found out the actual Ontario University Fair was canceled. This is something we really want to do online and reach both parents and students in a more accessible way.

Hayley: I remember how helpful the university fair really was and realizing how many schools are out there and how many options you do have as well as learning about programs you might not have heard of before.

We ran the whole event through an online medium. It was quite challenging at first to organize because we’ve never run a two full-day online conference before. We definitely have a lot of things to figure out such as: how to send out the links, ensuring we can fit the number of people attending one google meet/ Zoom call, etc. after the virtual OUF, our outreach increased significantly and we got a lot of new mentorship sign-ups.

Overall, we think the virtual OUF ran pretty well. Many people appreciated that our mentors were not paid to talk about the universities they attend as they are here for their own free will. They get to hear honest opinions about the university and the program they are in. This makes Green Light so special because we are not paying the speakers to say nice things about their programs or universities. They are just talking about their own experiences.

We also have a lot of panel discussions whether they are university or program specifics. We may have 10 students from the university and have them talk on a Google Meet or Zoom call to answer questions about their program, how they go in, anything special about their experience, or even what program to pursue. They are like tiny workshops from the virtual OUF throughout the year.

In addition, we have an elective review document which is for incoming first-year students who are trying to decide their courses. It is a big document where people share what courses and electives they took and their reviews of them. This reaches a lot of people and we even partner with different organizations to share it. We even talk to McMaster, McMaster engineering, and McMaster Welcome Week Department which is a first-year conference called Horizons.

Sachi: It is great to see that even though this document is made for people as part of Green Light, we can still reach a lot more people by collaborating with other organizations.

Our social media campaigns have spotlights and hot topics where we educate people on the transition to university.

We try a lot of different initiatives and it is very experimental.

How’s the journey of building Green Light?

Image is courtesy of Green Light Mentorship.

Sachi: It’s been very rewarding to see how it’s just started from me, Hayley, and Rowan who just had this idea of matching mentors and mentees. It feels like months after months, we keep having new ideas and try to execute a lot of things. Some of them went well while some of them are not as what we expected. From only a little mentorship initiative to having all these events and creating resources for first-year students and having people message us that the things we are doing are helping their transition. At the same time, it requires learning. We have to learn how to operate online, how to collaborate with other people, how to maintain our presence online and how to constantly reach out to people and try to reiterate our organization to match the needs of high school students.

Hayley: When we just started Green Light, we emphasized not worrying about the numbers, not caring about the number of matches, the number of events, or the number of attendees coming to our events. At some point, I forgot that and it was frustrating to see that the entire executive team’s effort put into did not pay off based on the number of attendees. The event that changed my mind is the mental health event we ran. It was upsetting at first as there were over 50 sign-ups with only 6 attendees. The executive team was very frustrated about what went wrong with the promotion or the execution of the event. The breakout rooms ended up with 1-2 students with 3 mentees. After that, I realize that it’s okay if we are not reaching a lot of people but at least we are reaching the students who want to be here, creating an impact on them, and supporting and helping them. A lot of attendees sent messages of appreciation for this event. What makes Green Light so special is that we don’t just focus on academics and extracurricular activities, we also focus on student life and how to thrive in university in all aspects academically, mentally, and emotionally.

How do you grow the audience base?

At first, we mainly used word of mouth. We posted our organization on different social platforms or Facebook groups using our personal network. At that time, we were only first-year students, we still knew some people from high school which really helped to reach out to high school students.

What’s your main motivation?

Sachi: There are a few different things that keep me going. One, I know that this is always a constant need when you are in grade 11 or 12. You do not know everything and you always need someone to go to when you have questions. Even if you have older siblings or other people you know, there are lots of other people who cannot access those kinds of people. There’s always a constant need for this and that’s where we come in to help people.

Secondly, the way people have responded to our events and our initiatives definitely keeps us going. Knowing that whatever we created is not going to a void. People are actually impacted by it and gaining something out of it. As for mentors, it is also very rewarding. They get to learn how to be a better speaker, how to get back to people, and experiencing that feeling knowing you get to help others. It’s just a different type of rewarding experience when you know that whatever you say or whatever your experiences are, it’s able to help someone else.

Thirdly, it’s fun to see the ideas from our executive team and admins. From having the ideas to planning to organizing and executing each month, it is very exciting and fun to be experimental. I like to be an idea person and put a lot of creativity into things we do.

Hayley: One of the things is that I enjoy doing it. I would be doing Green Light stuff instead of studying and procrastinating other things. Moreover, I love meeting so many different people. I have learned so many different perspectives and programs of universities that I didn't even know existed. Thirdly, I like seeing the connections between mentors and mentees. At our buddy night event, even though there were not a lot of people, the people who were there, who chose to be there, who wanted to get to know their mentors or mentees better, it was really cute to see them actually meet online. We are really hands-off as once they are matched, we will usually not know how they connect. It’s nice to see the actual match together in the same space. About the number issue, when we see the same mentor or mentee come back to our events, even though I did not interact with them, I know that they enjoyed our last event so they came back. Even though the numbers are not super high, it is really exciting to see that people are actually enjoying what we are putting out that is helping somebody.

How did you balance between school, extracurriculars, and Green Light Mentorship?

Sachi: Google Calendar and Notion are lifesavers. I have a special calendar just for Green Light and extracurriculars. On my Notion, I always make a to-do list every day or every week. I just plan everything out on both platforms.

Hayley: I also use those platforms. However, as I have mentioned, procrastination is a real problem. When I was writing the meeting agenda or creating slideshows, it might only take a short time but I ended up doing it for hours to make it look nice. Someone told me to set an estimated time for a task. I use a timer called Forest to grow a little tree. It helps me a lot because it will remind me how long I have spent on that task. With all my extracurriculars, I try to allocate time for it and also alternate between days so that I am not prioritizing one over the other. Some days I still ignore the timer but I have learned how to say enough is enough.

What advice would you give to those who want to start their organization?

Hayley: One essential piece of advice is that you have to be sustainable with your goal. A lot of people may be really passionate when they start but they may not be able to carry through. Setting realistic goals that can continue when school starts or when things get hectic in your life. It is really important when you first think of starting your organization. Remember once you have an idea, you have to take action to bring the idea to light. Also, find ways to motivate yourself. One thing it helps is knowing that I would let down a lot of people if I do not keep my responsibilities. The things that happen on my plate don’t just affect me but also other people. That helps me to stay on top of everything but at the same time, it does stress me out sometimes. A good amount of stress is more helpful.

Sachi: It helps to have very good co-founders. I, Hayley, and Rowan are really good friends in first year and that’s how we get together. We have learned a lot about each other and how our work ethics complement each other and how we can fill in each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Also, make sure your co-founders check in with each other to see if things go well or fall behind. When you are starting something, make sure to find a mission that you are passionate about. Find one problem that you want to solve and dive into it. Even if other people are doing the same thing or something similar, just focus on your core and mission and think about what you can build around to solve the problem one by one.

Any final tips for high school students starting university this fall?

Sachi: Take care of your health -- Don’t neglect your sleep, stay active, and eat properly. It can be tempting, especially if you live in residence as the food is not healthy which is completely fine. Just remember not to completely neglect your health. Secondly, don’t be afraid to do things you are passionate about. I think you will enjoy your university experience more if you do things you are interested in and things you want to learn more about rather than things like other people are doing or things you think you ‘should’ be doing for graduate school or credibility. These things will come on their own if you do things you are passionate about and you will enjoy your university experience a lot more. Also, you can find more great people and friends through these interests.

Hayley: I saw a quote on Instagram “It’s okay if you are not your most productive or motivated for a while. Be kind to yourself. It happens to all of us.” Here is a reminder that you do not always have to be on your A-game. If you are not feeling your best, don’t be hard on yourself. Just be kind to yourself. Everything is gonna work out. Secondly, you don’t have to be at your lowest to ask for help. A lot of first years are afraid of asking a therapist, professor, or even an upper-year student because they don’t think they are at their lowest or don’t want to bother other people. Even upper-year students, a lot of people are going through the same thing as you are and thinking the exact same thing. When you reach out, you are also encouraging them to do the same thing. The last thing is to enjoy your first year. Time flies. I cannot believe that I am going to my third year. It’s going to be over soon so just enjoy every moment of it and savor the living-on campus experience.

What’s your next step?

We have a whole year's plan ahead of us. Our fall mentorship program is coming up next as it is the core of the entire organization. We will try to increase our outreach and pass the baton on. We are trying to expand the team and include more first-year or high school students so that we get to know what the current needs are.

Is there anything else you want to share?

We will be launching the ambassador program soon. It is for high school students to get involved with Green Light Mentorship if mentorship is something they are passionate about or just to learn more about being involved in an organization or meet other upper-years and new peers. Look out for the application on our social media pages in September/October. If you are a high school student who is interested, stay tuned!

If you do not want to commit to being an ambassador but still want to learn more about the university application or our whole program incentives, we highly encourage you to sign up for our mentorship program because you will gain a lot from it. Not only will you receive a lot of guidance, but also it will be really fun to learn what university is like from a student’s perspective when they talk about their fun experiences and the hidden side of the school. If you are at university, it is really fun to give back to high school students. There are a lot of ways you can get involved and we really want you to join our team and help to reach more people.

Where can they find you?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/greenlightmentorship/

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2756758987775148

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/green-light-mentorship/

Email: greenlightmentorship@gmail.com

Closing Remarks

Thank you Hayley and Sachi for taking the time to sit down with me and share their experience as university students and founders of Green Light. We also cannot forget about Rowan who also put a lot of effort into it. I wish them an amazing new school year with a variety of exciting initiatives and events.

Green Light Mentorship hopes to bridge the gap between high school and university by providing mentorship programs and free resources. If you need guidance or would like to help others, make sure to follow their social media pages for their upcoming mentorship programs and events!

Article Author: Michelle Lam

Article Editors: Valerie Shirobokov, Edie Whittington