Each semester, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering facilitates connections between alumni and current students through the Alumni Student Mentor Program. Students and their mentors meet several times over the course of the semester to discuss professionalism, career advancement and perspectives on engineering.
Sam Goodman (ChemEngr’16) was selected as one of two Outstanding Mentor Award winners for the Spring 2021 semester for his work with sophomore Abigail Hutabarat.
“I found my mentor to be really easy to talk to, and I was comfortable to ask him about more life advice things, like how to navigate college or how to live alone,” Hutabarat said. “I always enjoyed my talks with him and I felt like I learned a lot from him. He was able to give me insight into things that I wasn't aware existed, and I was really interested to hear about all of the other ‘not-engineering’ things he's able to do.”
Goodman answered a few questions about his time as a mentor.
What motivated you to become a mentor for the department?
I've had a string of quality mentors all throughout my life. From high school to graduate school, I wouldn't be where I am now without all the help I've received from others who took the time to work with me. My motivation to flip to the other side of the mentoring equation boils down to wanting to give back and help others in the same way that I've benefited. Plus, it's nice to have some connection to CU Boulder even though I'm thousands of miles away.
What do you hope to impart to the next generation of chemical and biological engineers?
One of the main themes I try to impart on my mentees is the benefit of remaining flexible. It's easy for engineers to almost pigeonhole themselves into one specific industry or path. But that can blind you to other opportunities both in your professional and personal life. There are myriad careers outside of the normal tracks—mine included—that I think students should be open to at least learning about. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to do as many things and live in as many places as possible to figure out what I'm really passionate about, and that's a lesson I'll always try to impart.
How has the engineering and professional world changed since you graduated, and what new challenges do you see up-and-coming engineers facing?
I think the chemical engineering profession might be in the early stages of a pretty fundamental transition. Our field really started and developed along with petrochemicals. With climate change and the need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, a lot of the bedrock chemical industries might not be so relevant in the next decade or two. Engineers will have to be flexible not only to help that transition manifest but adapt to a changing baseline of what is expected of their skill set.
What are some things you’ve learned from your students as a mentor?
Whether it's economic, familial or some other touch point, students are facing different kinds of challenges than my peers and I were back in our school days. It's good to have that information as it keeps you grounded, preventing you from falling into the "back in my day" trap. The world is certainly changing, and it's good both to know how that's impacting the next generation of engineers and to have a person attached to that information instead of just aggregate statistics.
How would you pitch your fellow alumni on becoming mentors?
Beyond the altruistic desire to give back to the university and those coming up behind you, I think there are two ways it really benefits the mentors. The first is that you get to think through the same issues the students are facing, which might impact your own professional life. If your mentee is asking about different career paths and where they can get more information or contacts to learn more about them, you might rethink your own position and where you want to take your career in the next five or ten years. Secondly, mentoring a student coming out of the department means you have another quality person in your network. You never know where they might end up or how having a personal connection with them might benefit you down the line.