The Building Blocks of Courage: How Girls Inc. Transformed me from Mentee to Mentor
Meet Saraf, Girls Inc. of Long Island Alumna
While many factors have contributed to my identity, none have had a greater influence than the cumulative effect of my experiences. My childhood was filled with exposure to the culture and language of my Bengali identity and the connection I had to friends, many of whom were also children of immigrants caught between two worlds. Somewhere between responsibilities and an identity as a Bengali-American, I formed a sense of self as a sister, daughter, lover of science, books and human being deeply interested in art of justice. I found a community among my diverse town of first-generation immigrants, and found more positive than negative experiences in relation to my external identity. I emerged from my town knowing that I had a drive to care for people and interest in the workings of the mind and body, but a sense of confusion as to how I could work towards fulfilling my goals.
Girls Inc. of Long Island introduced me to a community I did not know I had available to me and gave me the courage to pursue the future I imagined. I had continuously found myself in the position of having to validate my interests and aspirations to others, and at first found myself frustrated and alone in the process. Whether it was explaining my love of science to a childhood friend, clarifying my major to family members, or later advocating for myself during a job interview, my identity as a woman seemed to serve as a barrier I would have to resolve. In high school, a friend of mine had suggested a Girls Inc. program for the summer which could potentially be a good fit for me, and unknown to me at the time would serve as my first exposure to the non-profit and its lasting impact on my life. After completing the program, my program leaders approached me with the idea of continuing on as a peer mentor for their STEM-geared annual program at Brookhaven National Lab for middle-school girls later that summer. The role not only inspired me and validated my interest in STEM, but exposed me to the impact of having and being a mentor. In working with younger girls to develop and understand their passions for STEM and their unique identities through Girls Inc. programming, I was able to find my own passion, and with a renewed vigor, learned to advocate for myself.
Being a part of the Girls Inc. of Long Island family in high school, and eventually as a Summer Intern in college, established my passion for advocacy for girls and under-served communities. Empowered by great leaders and mentors, I received scholarships and enrolled at Boston University in Neurobiology, but knew I wanted to continue to be involved in and establish supportive communities driving opportunities such as I had at home. I knew that I had a passion for science and lived in a community of all female STEM majors, becoming a Research Assistant my first year to gain critical laboratory exposure, and knew that I wanted to continue building community outside of my classes and lab position. While at Boston University, I was President of Undergraduate Women in Science and Engineering and the Overarching Council for Hall Associations, became a Resident Assistant and became involved with the non-profit StreetCred which helps pediatric patient families in financial need. The commonality in the experiences I chose and roles I sought was the desire to advocate for and support people in the communities they are a part of, something that Girls Inc. sparked within me. Being able to positively influence community while becoming part of them inspired me and emboldened me to also go after my passions and develop goals my future.
It is due to these experiences that I have developed my current passions, which are to become a public health focused physician and open a clinic in a community which can provide those with lower socio-economic status access to quality mental health care. Through my experiences in the greater Boston community and in my local community on Long Island, I have seen how the associations a person makes with their identity has a larger impact than their self but also is deeply influenced by and effects their family and community. Combining my love of community, people and healthcare, I chose to and am currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health as part of a combined BA/MPH 4+1 program at the Boston University School of Public Health. I found myself most fulfilled when learning how to use STEM to create lasting positive impacts on communities, using advocacy and science to inform my drive aid others. In advocating for others, I have learned to advocate for myself and give back to the very communities which have shaped and uplifted me, and for that I will continue to be indebted to Girls Inc. of Long Island, the family I made there, and the future girls they will help succeed.