Courtesy of YURA

The Yale Undergraduate Research Association and Graduate Student Assembly have launched a new Graduate-Undergraduate Mentorship Initiative meant to curate relationships between Yale College students and graduate students in their fields.

The initiative involves an online database that lists graduate students along with their area of study, a short bio and contact information. The database also allows undergraduates to find mentors by identity, such as first-generation, international or LGBTQ+, or by mentorship topics, such as research or professional networking.

“I’m a couple months away from getting a Ph.D, and I could only do that with the mentors I’ve had in my life,” said Javier Portillo GRD ’22, a co-founder of GUMI. “For me, what GUMI means is a way to streamline the connection between mentors and mentees.”

Sami Elrazky ’22 has led the development of the initiative alongside Portillo, who said he came up with the idea over three years ago. Since then, those involved have worked with various deans, GSA presidents and boards within YURA to jumpstart the program. Elrazky and Portillo have worked with several other graduate and college students as members of GUMI’s board.

After years in meetings, Elrazky and Portillo have registered many mentors and mentees. This summer, they hoped to enroll 50 mentors by Sept. 1, but ended up tripling that figure to 150 mentors. That number has since doubled, and now GUMI boasts 317 mentors across all graduate schools except the School of Architecture and the School of Art. 

“We have an incredible response from the graduate and professional schools,” Elrazky told the News. “It really does look like this is something that students from all areas of study are excited about and happy to give back through.”

With 4.5 percent of the entire graduate student population participating, GUMI is evenly split between STEM and humanities. Both Elrazky and Portillo were worried from the beginning that the program would slant heavily towards the sciences.

In addition to resources on GUMI’s website, the initiative will soon publish a newsletter providing mentors and mentees with conversation starters, as well as timeline-relevant pointers like the onset of MCAT season. But Elrazky said he also wants the mentorship relationships to be “fully genuine,” so the organization is trying to take a hands-off approach. 

“We want the mentors and the mentees to drive the connection,” Portillo said. “It should be organic and authentic. This has happened before to other student mentorships that have faded because the cost of having someone managing the matching becomes overwhelming. And who’s to say that we’re good arbiters of what a good match would be?”

Mentors don’t need to have experience with managing undergraduates, but some, like Asaf Lubin LAW ’20, do. 

Lubin used to be a student at Yale Law School, where he taught a residential college seminar called Espionage and International Law. 

“While doing that, I slowly realized that one thing that was missing for a lot of undergraduate students was a possibility to interact with graduate students, especially in my case, where many of the students who apply for my course wanted to go into law school,” Lubin said.

As he taught the course, Lubin said he began to fulfill this role, writing recommendations, making connections and providing his students with guidance on the law school admissions process. 

Lubin added that after his course ended and he became an associate professor at Indiana University, he saw the announcement of GUMI as an opportunity to continue developing these relationships. 

“Breaking those divides between the graduate and undergraduate communities is insanely pivotal,” Lubin said. 

When mentors like Lubin sign up, they must comply with a set of agreements listed on GUMI’s website. Mentors are required to respond to interested mentees’ emails within three days and meet with their mentee at least three to four times a semester. The relationship requires a one-semester commitment.

One student hoping to take advantage of the initiative is Vivian Zhao ’24.

Zhao said the prospect of the graduate school application process can seem intimidating, and she is glad for the opportunity to have guidance. 

“I think GUMI is a great opportunity to explore possible options after undergrad, especially because there are so many mentors with a variety of interests and experiences,” she said. “It is nice to have guidance from people who’ve already gone through these application processes after undergrad.”

So far, 23.5 percent of the mentors have been in contact with mentees, a much higher rate than Elrazky and Portillo anticipated. They hope to bring this number to 40 or 50 percent by the end of the semester.

The initiative is meant to curate relationships beyond purely school-based ones according to Portillo, who also stressed the importance of identity in these connections.

“My parents were immigrants, with zero education, and born into poverty,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here today without good mentors in my life. GUMI is a way to connect undergraduates from any background, even if it’s just because it’s their first time not in their hometown. It’s not just academics.”

The GUMI database went live Sept. 3.

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu