Janet Phan: Providing Mentorship to Underserved Girls in STEM


April 7th, 2022

23 mins 43 secs

Your Host

About this Episode

For this month’s episode, Melinda is bringing another incredible role model to the stage, Janet Phan. Janet is a TED speaker, author, and most importantly the founder of Thriving Elements- a non-profit for underserved girls in STEM.

Growing up, Janet’s mother worked as a cashier in dollar stores and goodwills and she remembers dreaming of being a cashier just like her mom. As she grew up, she realized there were other options for her. Janet’s parents were refugees from Vietnam so it was very difficult for them to navigate Janet through the American education system. This affected how Janet viewed the world, including who she could trust, who she would allow in her network, and who she saw as her role models. Janet says through her parents she learned to, "do good work and the people around you will see you and want to help you". She did so by going above and beyond, helping her school and her community. She says, "That has been a key part in how I've been successful, doing more than asked."

Meldina asks, "What was your breakout moment?", the time that Janet saw a whole other path and wanted to take charge. Janet says she remembers the moment very vividly. Leaving her family's house her senior year of high school due to conflict, she started working at KFC and Hollywood Video, trying to get in as many hours as possible. She said one night after work she went to go get gas and didn't have the money to pay for it. She says this was the turning point in her life. She realized then that she did not want to live paycheck to paycheck and this kicked her motivation into high gear. Janet then wrote a book about this experience called, "Boldly You". After holding her story in for so long she realized she needed to share and inspire others.

So what inspired Janet to start Thriving Elements and help underserved girls in STEM? Janet says it came from when she started traveling globally for a previous technology company she used to work for. She says through them she had the opportunity to enroll in business classes, something she was very grateful for. She says she wouldn't have gotten to where she is now if it wasn't for the mentors in her life that put time into her and took those risks for her. She says Thriving Elements started because when she was working and doing technology consulting around the globe she realized that she was often the only woman at the table and the only woman of color. This is why she wanted to help those girls that come from underserved backgrounds and put them on the playing field, like some of her mentors did for her, by providing opportunities and mentoring them.

But how does Thriving Elements overcome the hurdles and challenges of mentorship and how do they build long-lasting relationships with their clients? Janet says the problem with formal mentoring today is that it lacks that one on one connection so, they are not as impactful as they would like to be. The mentoring model Thriving Elements uses is built off the mentoring model that Janet built for herself. The way Thriving Elements works is as a mentee, you get matched with your mentor in High School, and the mentors stay with their mentee throughout college. In the early parts of your career, your mentor makes sure you get into the field you have been striving for. Janet says, there are three concepts to mentoring with Thriving Elements and the key concept is, "always follow up with your mentor". Sharing and following up with your mentor is important because they invest a lot of their time in you, so it is rewarding for them to hear all that you have accomplished with their help and guidance.

Thriving Elements started in 2016, and her roadmap has always been to expand globally. With people from all over the world asking Janet to bring Thriving Elements into their communities, she had built a network. Getting meets set up with people from all over the world was difficult due to a bad internet connection, and this was frustrating for Janet. This created a digital divide. She has been wanting to work with an organization to bridge the digital divide. As of today, Janet is starting her career at Amazon's Project Kuiper, where they will be launching satellites to get reliable broadband to underserved communities. This is helping to bridge together Janet's knowledge in technology and her passion to help these underserved communities together.

Thriving Elements is always looking for more STEM mentors, if you want to be a part of this organization you can go to www.thrivingelements.org. You can also pre-order Janet's book, Boldly You at boldly-you.com. You can also find Janet on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.