PEER Senior Spotlight – Mark Allen
My name is Mark Allen and I am a senior in mechanical engineering from Columbia, South Carolina
For me I was always good at Math and Science. More specifically, I was really good at physics. At the time I didn’t want to major in just physics or just math simply because I didn’t see a career path that wasn’t really deep in the theory behind physics. Engineering seemed like the practical application of physics and I really liked that.
As far as choosing engineering/science, my biggest motivator would have to be my high school physics teacher, Mr. Chet Frye. He was the first mechanical engineer I had ever met. He always would relate the concepts we were learning in class to real life engineering examples. For example, he showed the importance of static stability through showing how the Arthur Ravenel bridge was supported. This helped me understand the concepts better as well as helped me draw connections to how I could apply what I was learning to the real world. This was the first time this happened to me in high school. Often times it is hard to see the real life purpose for what you are learning. In physics, it is very clear how you could apply and use these concepts in everyday life.
As far as staying in engineering, that person would have to be Dr. Fredrick Paige, or as I know him, Freddy. Freddy was my PEER mentor back when I was a freshman. He would constantly give me study tips, life advice, and in the case of my chemistry class, he would personally help me study. No matter what I needed, Freddy was always there. This was especially important when I began noticing how I was often times the only black male in my classes. It is feeling that I was not used to and Freddy helped a lot in helping me understand how to cope with that. I would have never thought that we would become such good friends once he was no longer my official mentor. I still talk to Freddy pretty regularly now that he is a faculty member at Virginia Tech. He is one of the people in my life that has influenced my success the most.
The best part in being a PEER mentor is the feeling of truly helping someone. Sometimes my mentees call me crying about a homework problem or just from being overwhelmed. It’s a nice feeling being that person that helps them get through the tough times. It is also nice to have someone look up to you. In some ways it helps push me to be the best that I can because I know that I am setting the example for people. I am most proud of the fact my mentees are happy. Attending a PWI (primarily white institution) can have a serious effect on mental health and cause a lot of stress. Though my mentees are experiencing the growing pains of learning how to study and not getting all A’s like they did in high school, I am glad that I can get their minds off the stress of college and simply make them happy. I am proud of my ability to do that for them. Most of the time when minorities switch from engineering, it is for reasons other than the difficulty of the course work. I know that if my mentees are at least happy, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. With hard work, I know they can succeed.
One challenge I felt as a mentor was having my mentees fail tests. Being a senior, I have a protocol ingrained in me on what to do if a test doesn’t go so well. I honestly forgot what I felt like for me to fail my first test. When one of my mentees told me they failed their first test, I thought the best thing I could do for them was tell them what I do when I have a bad test (go over the test, see where the gaps in knowledge were, fill in the gaps, change up study methods). I found that telling them these things isn’t what they need to hear the first time. For a lot of them, this is the first time they have ever failed a test in their life. I found that just being there for them and guiding their own personal thoughts on what happened is the most helpful.
I am in the Clemson Symphony Orchestra as principal cellist, I am a tutor and mentor for PEER and WISE, I served as the Vice President for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and also served as a Senator for the organization afterwards.
These activities helped me realize my passion for helping people. Through being a part of PEER and NSBE I have learned how important it is to help my people rise. Being a part of Orchestra helps me stay in touch with my love for music.
The one thing I wish people told me as a freshman is just a small variation of what people already tell freshmen: it only gets harder. While this statement is true often time’s people forget to add a detail I feel it goes hand in hand with that statement. Yes, it does only get harder, but, you also get smarter. College is about growing and learning. I wish that someone would have told me how much I was going to improve as I went through college. Having your brain constantly stretched and challenged is how you become smarter. I think freshmen feel that because they may not have quite perfected their study habits, or they still don’t understand a concept from a class, that they never will. It is simply not true. You will get smarter, you will learn, you will grow. You just have to be patient.