Supporting my STEM Scholar mentee

  • Posted on April 28, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Supporting my STEM Scholar mentee

The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Kiley Surma.

While my own college days are many years behind us, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with new, budding talent through Avanade’s STEM Scholar program and our partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Over the course of the past two school years, I have had the privilege of mentoring two of our scholarship winners as they navigate their educational career at NJIT before transitioning into their careers. I’m also proud to share that Avanade recently added Prairie View A&M University in Texas, adding five new scholarships to the growing program, which focuses particularly on underrepresented students.

This year, I’ve been paired with NJIT Sophomore, Lizete Afonso, a chemical engineering student, daughter of immigrant parents, and a first-generation college student. While there are a lot of differences between my world and Lizete’s, there are a few strong common denominators that accelerated our connection and our relationship – one being our similar experiences, challenges and obstacles as a first-generation college student, another being the impact that receiving a scholarship has, as well as the value in finding and connecting with a mentor that supports and guides you. These shared experiences have led to bountiful conversations as well as a connection that has inspired us both. I sat down for a little Q&A session Lizete to talk about our journeys and the path forward.

Kiley: While I am not from an immigrant family, I still distinctly recall the differences I faced from my peers as I attempted to become a first-generation college student. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t support me, it was just that they didn’t know how, and there were things they just simply couldn’t help me with, from writing my essays to completing my FAFSA and college applications. What was your experience like?

Lizete: College was always the big American dream. Like you, there were plenty of challenges: the whole application process is stressful. My parents were and have always been supportive, but it was something they couldn’t fully understand. I was fortunate to have amazing school counselors to guide me throughout applications, applying for the standardized tests, making sure to properly complete the FASFA, as well as applying to scholarships. Without that support system, I would have been lost and overwhelmed.

Kiley: I’m glad that we both found the kindness and support of others to help us through those times. Now, turning to the topic of scholarship. As an overachieving high schooler, with a particular knack for testing, I received a full tuition four-year scholarship to the University of Minnesota. And while I still worked full-time throughout my four years of undergrad, I can only imagine the debt I would carry had I not received that scholarship – or worse, questioning whether I would have continued with my education had I not received it. Avanade has had a strong partnership with NJIT in identifying scholar recipients; I’d love to hear how you experienced the process.

Lizete: Honestly, I was a bit skeptical when I learned that I was being considered for the Avanade scholarship and mentorship. I really couldn’t believe that an opportunity like this even existed, let alone that I was being considered. I had learned early on to take any and every opportunity that came my way, so that is what I did.


The day I found out that I earned one of the scholarships will always hold a special place in my heart. I remember this moment like it was yesterday – I just couldn’t stop smiling. I remember trying to fight back tears while on the videocall. This was a big moment for me; everything that I had done, all the challenges and obstacles I had faced at some point either academically, professionally, or personally were being acknowledged and appreciated and for that, I will forever be grateful.


Kiley: I’m not crying, you’re crying. But seriously, I adore this story. It makes me incredibly proud to work for an organization that supports women in STEM like you and honored to be a part of your journey. On that note, one of the additional benefits of the scholarship program is being matched with a mentor at Avanade, and for you, that has meant me! Tell me about this part of your experience?


Lizete: This mentorship has already changed my life academically, and professionally. This is the type of support I lacked as a first-generation student navigating my first few months of college. It has given me direction and structure to my professional goals.

In addition to your support of my goals, you’ve pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, and our conversations have empowered me. Even as we talk through my goal of obtaining an internship, you’ve been able to provide real world insight, as well as ways to improve my chances, from reviewing my resume to new ways of seeking opportunities in alignment with my goals. Gaining your perspective and knowledge after having been in similar shoes has been rewarding; I am grateful for your support.

Kiley: OK, now I’m blushing. I’m so glad that we were able to forge such a great bond through this program, and I’m excited to see how you grow and where you go on your journey. Before we wrap, let’s end with some inspiration. Who inspires you?

Lizete: I once read a quote that said, “Immigrant parents with their wings cut, still teach their children to fly.” These words have been so powerful for me, and they continue to hold true as my parents are my inspirations to keep on fighting for my dreams no matter how challenging it can be.

Katharine Ilyutovich

Being Kiley's other Avanade Scholarship mentee (and now working for Avanade), I can attest to what a supportive and inspiring person she is. Kiley has been instrumental in my transition to post grad life and I am confident that she will help Lizete immensely. @Kiley Surma 

April 30, 2021

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