1. Why did you decide to be a part of the advisory board?
Almost five years ago, Fran Melmed, our founder, asked if I would like to be part of a conversation about starting an award for “girls with grit.” I said I would like to be involved because of our long friendship, and because I wanted to help honor her mother, Jill Melmed-Buzzeo. I didn’t know exactly what we would be doing, but I was intrigued with the potential of the award.
Within a couple months we were ready to present our first award! I remember how excited the board members were when we arrived at Science Leadership Academy to honor Amy Chen, our first awardee, and welcome her into the brand-new JMB Award community. That day I felt proud to call myself a founding board member.
2. What has been your favorite experience?
I have two! Some of the advisory board members also volunteer as mentors. One of my favorite experiences has been getting to know my mentee, Momo. I met her right before she graduated from high school, and now she is a junior at Saint Joseph’s University where she’s an Interdisciplinary Health Services major. Being a mentor enhances the way I approach my role as a board member.
Another amazing part of serving on the board is reading the annual nominations and student applications. Every board member reads all of the nominees’ stories about navigating challenging situations and planning for the future. Although we do not get to meet all of the nominees in person, their words inform they way we design our mentoring program.
3. What important lessons has the board learned since the award was founded?
Every year the board thinks about ways to improve the award, reflecting on what went well and what could be enhanced. For example, this year we improved the questions on the student application, held group orientations for mentors and new awardees, and adjusted the method we use to check in monthly with mentors.
In addition to creating systems to help us function better, we remain open to new and creative ideas. When we can, we act on suggestions provided by our awardees. The toiletry kits we gave to awardees in December, the travel stipend that helps fund college visits and trips home over break, and our adorable cactus sweatshirts, all of these ideas came from students or were inspired by their needs.
4. How have you seen the award grow?
Every fall we send care packages to our awardees. These care packages include items that represent our support for all of our students at the midpoint of their fall semester. When you’re away from home for the first time or you have a cold and are facing a week of midterm exams, receiving homemade cookies, a box of tea, fuzzy socks, and a gift card for a coffee shop can really help! What's fun is that we ask donors who give exclusively in support of the care packages what item they wish included. That way our care packages are curated by all of us, mentors and donors.
This past year we used the care packages as a way to touch base with our mentors, too. As mentors, we had a fun evening together, getting to know each other better, sharing ideas about mentoring, and remembering our own college days.
5. What are your dreams for the award?
I initially thought the main component of our support would be the financial award and the mentoring would be a nice add-on. Now I know the mentoring is more important than the financial award, especially if the mentor and mentee both commit to it. As more women enter the JMB Award community, we’re focusing on bringing the mentors, mentees, and board members together in various ways to build community. We celebrate five years in March 2021. I predict in the next five we’ll undertake various activities to deepen and expand our work. And five years from now, I wonder if we’ll look back at where we are today and think of our group as small.