A Tale of Transformation

Returning third-year mentee, Annie He, toyed with her scarf diffidently before offering up a sincere smile. When asked about her Minds Matter experience, Annie took a moment to collect her thoughts. And with an unassuming but audible inhale, along with a fleeting glance at her mentors for silent support, she launched into her story.

Annie moved to San Francisco from China a few years ago, and spoke very little English. Convinced by a high school classmate to apply for Minds Matter, she was selected into the program yet remained markedly timid and reticent during sessions. A few months in, the same friend, who had encouraged Annie to apply, decided to drop out because of the time commitment.

“I was lost,” Annie said, referring to her friend’s departure. “I was unsure at first if I should stay. If my friend quit, she was the only person I knew.”

By that December, Annie had stopped attending sessions. She was intimidated to participate because of the language barrier. “I was so afraid,” Annie recalled.

Her mentors, however, refused to give up on her. They persistently reached out to Annie, and eventually drove to her home to meet with her, in person. After several weeks of conversation, Annie agreed to return to the program.

“Minds Matter came to talk to my family and me, and they reassured me that it would all work out.” Annie said. “I was impressed and touched that everyone cared so much about me.”

When it came time to apply for summer programs during her sophomore year, Annie was hesitant to participate. She was convinced that she would not be admitted anywhere. Annie’s mentors reinforced that applying to summer programs was a mandatory part of the Minds Matter curriculum, and she eventually applied to six schools.

When Annie received her first admission into a summer program, her excitement was effusive. The admissions didn't stop there. She was one of the only students to get admitted to all six of the schools she applied to. As the good news flooded in, Annie’s confidence began to build. For her first summer as a Minds Matter mentee, Annie chose to attend her top choice summer program at Brown University.

“At first, I wanted to try something in the medical field,” Annie said. “But after the first few days of classes, I wondered: Is it really a fit for me? Am I passionate about medicine?”

Given the opportunity to switch courses that summer, Annie decided to take “An Intro to Engineering” instead, and she learned about chemical, biomedical and environmental engineering.

“I felt like I should stick with Neurobiology in the beginning,” Annie said. “But then I felt like I should step up and not stick with something that’s not perfect for me.”

Serendipitously, environmental engineering was perfect for her.

Discovering her passion for engineering transformed Annie’s perspective and interactions with peers. She returned to high school on a mission. Annie started an engineering club and began to take on leadership roles at school. Her English improved, and she became more lively and engaged during Minds Matter sessions.

“Annie is so ambitious and warm,” said Annie’s mentor, Pamela Huang. “She is always excited to talk about her experiences now.”

By her second summer, Annie specifically applied to summer programs that offered engineering courses. She decided on UC Davis.

“I think the summer programs really impacted me,” Annie said. “The program at UC Davis was four weeks, but I knew that this was a place where I wanted to spend the next four years.”

In the fall, Annie will return to Davis; but this time, as a full-time college student. She attributes much of her self-discovery and growth to being a part of Minds Matter. Grateful to have discovered her strong interest in engineering, and for the deep bonds she’s established with her mentors over the past three years, Annie’s voice shook for the first time as she reflected on all that she’s experienced and gained.

“When I grow up, I’d like to help others just like my mentors helped me,” Annie said, nodding at her mentors in acknowledgement.“I want to tell my story." Annie's voice stabilized with unmistakable conviction. "I want to inspire people too.”