Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Alumnus Adam Kalawi ’14 was a star undergraduate student in Schmid College. He was recognized for 10 honors and awards, was a part of four clubs, and was a member of the University Honors Program. Three years ago, we sat down with Adam, where he shared with us his Secrets to Success. He went to medical school at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and has conducted research focused on new treatments for neuroblastoma (a particularly devastating type of pediatric cancer). Today, Adam is a medical resident at the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
Adam’s connection to Chapman hasn’t ended, even as he pursues a busy schedule as a medical resident. Currently, he mentors Schmid students and alums as they navigate the medical field. One of his mentees was Emily Frisch ‘16, who won Chapman’s prestigious Cheverton Award and is currently a medical student at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. He spoke with us about his passion for mentorship, the importance of mentor relationships, and the other ways he has stayed involved as an alum.
Q&A with Adam:
Schmid College: What sparked your interest in being a mentor to our Schmid students?
Adam Kalawi: I am the fourth of my siblings to graduate from Chapman and have seen the university change and grow so much since my childhood. Chapman has always been a part of my community and provided me with the foundation from which I have built my medical career. I have a soft spot for guiding adult learners on their path in life and feel that this is a meaningful and tangible way to give back to Chapman for all that it has done for myself and my family.
SC: Reflecting back to your time as a student, what guidance would you have wanted from a mentor?
AK: As a student, I had access to recent medical school graduates and recent Chapman graduates for advising, but I had limited access to individuals that fit both of those roles. Having more mentors that both understood the medical school application process (and medical school itself, because getting in is only the first step), as well as the unique skill set that Chapman students develop, would have been very helpful in avoiding common pitfalls. I made it through the process with a few bumps and scrapes, so I’d like to save other students that trouble. Now that I am on the other side, I am happy to help students with everything from their big picture questions (Is medicine right for me?) to the little details (How many schools should I apply to? Which ones? Does this sentence in my personal statement need a semicolon?).
SC: What is the time commitment? I’m sure you have a busy schedule; how do you make the time?
AK: I currently mentor 4-5 Chapman students/recent alumni fairly closely and try to provide informal mentorship at any possible opportunity. Life is very busy on a medical resident’s schedule, but one of my close mentors Dr. Anthony C. Chang once taught me to always place people before projects, and I try my best to stick to that mantra. I find that a half-hour to an hour per mentee every month or two, with occasional periods of more intensive advising, is really all it takes for someone to feel supported and know that they have someone to go to when they need help or are facing their next big career decision. Maintaining 4-5 mentorships really only comes down to an hour a week on average… and Netflix would certainly agree that we all have an hour a week to spare.
SC: What modalities do you use to mentor students? (E-mail, 1:1 meetups, check-ins, etc.)
AK: My favorite mentorship tool is talking on the phone during commutes as I feel I can give mentees all the time and thought they need without feeling rushed to get on to my next scheduled activity for the day. If students have a more exhaustive question list or have a written work that they would like me to review, then I have them email my personal email address and find time between clinic patients to sit down and provide a thoughtful response or feedback. In an ideal world, I would have more one on one in-person meetups, but this has become more challenging as my mentees travel for school, research, or jobs, and I have moved to San Diego. For students going through a particularly eventful life period, I try to keep reminders to check in with them on my calendar or whiteboard at home. I find mentees are pleasantly surprised when they get help before they’ve even asked for it. For group meetings (like the Grand Challenges Initiatives group that I am currently mentoring), I try to do facetime or skype so I can get to know each person by face and name.
SC: What advice or tools do you typically give to students you are mentoring?
AK: The best mentoring I have received has been tailored to my unique circumstances, so I try to provide individualized advice to every mentee I take on. This process involves a combination of active listening, reflecting on personal experience when I was at their stage, and reflecting on the experience of my peers whose situations best align with the mentees. Common themes are: Is medicine right for me? Should I pursue an M.D. vs. other options of practicing clinical medicine? What’s a research-based career look like? etc… and for these questions, there really is no one size fits all. My general advice is to 1) recognize that there are many ways to practice clinical medicine and make a difference in people’s lives and 2) recognize that it is becoming increasingly common for people to take years off between undergraduate studies and medical school to prepare their application and make sure they know what they are getting into. Accepting these two pearls helps significantly in relieving some of the anxiety of the medical school admissions process.
SC: What do you find rewarding and challenging about mentoring?
AK: It is incredibly rewarding to see your mentees thrive. The goal of every mentor should be to see their mentees accomplish things that they themselves could never do, and I am proud to say several of my mentees have and continue to do awe-inspiring things. The most challenging part of mentoring is that the medical field is incredibly competitive, and many students do ultimately transition to a different career path. But with great challenges also comes great opportunity, and some of the most critical mentoring can occur when someone’s career is pivoting.
SC: Aside from mentoring individual students, how else are you involved? (GCI mentoring, events, etc.)
AK: I feel as though the biggest impacts are made with attention at the individual level, however, group mentorship is still a powerful tool and can be very meaningful. In the past, I have hosted sessions for Chapman AMSA on the medical school admissions process and spoken to high school and college students in CHOC’s medical intelligence and innovations (MI3) internship. More recently, I have been involved in mentoring a group for Chapman’s Grand Challenges Initiative which has proved to be an interesting opportunity to have continuity with students that are early in their undergraduate years. I find these types of group mentorship sessions are great times to pinpoint students that could benefit from more individual guidance, especially as my peer group has all graduated from Chapman.
SC: What continues to inspire you to be an active alum?
AK: As I mentioned before, Chapman has done a great deal for my family and the foundation of my career and for that I feel a debt of gratitude. Being able to help Chapman students achieve their goals is a powerful way to give back, and the reward of being part of your mentee’s success is reward in and of itself.
If you are a Chapman alum and are interested in becoming more involved with Schmid College like Adam, send us an email!