Painting and mentoring, with a twist

Written by Sonika Gupta, 2019 MAAP Participant

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 When I first heard about OCA’s Mentoring Asian American Professionals (MAAP) program through Mrs. Amita Ajmera of the India Center of Westchester, I almost dismissed it immediately. It seemed just another professional workshop that I’d attended and quickly forgotten about. But I reconsidered this one upon a gentle nudge, and am so glad I did, because what I had was a most valuable experience among some very inspiring and caring, down-to-earth professionals.

Before starting the program, I'd hoped to gain a clearer understanding of my career goals and the potential steps I could take to reach them. The program coincided perfectly with some of my first steps into the art world—a silent auction of my paintings at a philanthropic foundation’s fundraising gala in NYC, as well as a month-long exhibition in Chappaqua, NY. Applying what I learned through the MAAP program truly helped me get through these two endeavors successfully.

Specifically, I used Erwin’s (our excellent facilitator) guidance on networking, storytelling to promote oneself, varying communication styles and personality types, and putting it all together in order to think about career goals and strategic planning. I learned the importance of relationship building – even getting a coffee for 15 minutes or chatting with a coworker in the hallway, for instance, can make a big difference in making worthwhile connections. And through the in-person sessions, I learned how to tell my story in an engaging and interesting way – this skill can bring many opportunities. I was able to practice these skills firsthand when, in a surprise simulation, Erwin transformed the Greenburgh Public Library multipurpose room into a mock exhibition for me, where I became a pretend gallery owner greeting a crowd of visitors. One week later, at my real-life art opening reception in Chappaqua, my assigned mentor Victor, as well as Robert, the past president of OCA – Westchester Hudson Valley, showed up to support me and check out my artwork. What could be a better way to put my newfound skills to use, and further establish my mentor-mentee relationship?

Getting to meet professionals from all different industries in the large group convenings was also great exposure to the broader world of professional life outside of my own field. I enjoyed hearing everyone's stories and took reassurance in the knowledge that I'm not alone in my struggles to move forward in my career. The MAAP program provided some key tools and knowledge on how to address those struggles, which has been most valuable to me. At the end of one convening, we were asked to sum up our feelings in one word, and they all ring true as I reflect on my experience… the MAAP program was inspiring! Motivational! Exciting! Guiding! Impactful! Illuminating—and an inroad to self-discovery.