Biological sciences grad uses volunteer involvement to jumpstart a career in education

June 05, 2023

Biological sciences student Ritu Mehra embarked on her degree at Simon Fraser University determined to make every moment count, and after five years of volunteer and community involvement, she has the leadership skills she needs for next step of her journey.

Fascinated by cells, human bodies, and microscope work, Mehra developed a strong interest in biology in high school. “I think my parents were really surprised,” she says. “They thought I would become a lawyer.” She knew she wanted to be a biology teacher instead.

With a clear goal in mind, Mehra strived to take opportunities available at SFU and build the knowledge and skills essential to become a teacher. This meant joining many clubs and student societies that took her beyond her comfort zone. “I’d always been involved since high school, but when I came to SFU, I wanted to try out new leadership roles to challenge myself,” she says.

“One thing that really helped me was being a Welcome Leader and a Peer Mentor together,” Mehra says. “It was a great experience for me because I got to gain a lot of experience working with people my own age and mentoring them,” she says.

“Science Peer Mentorship was my first step – the door to new opportunities,” she adds. “When I came to SFU I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have anyone to guide me. I decided I wanted to be that leader, be that friend to somebody that I wish I had.” Through the program she has successfully guided many students to overcome academic and life challenges while creating fond memories as well as long-lasting friendships.

“One of my mentees came straight out of high school and was struggling, but he was able to overcome his challenges, and he’s signed up to become a Peer Mentor now. I’m really proud of him.”

A key achievement during Mehra’s time at SFU has been the launch of the Let's Do Breakfast program with her friends Muskan Jammu (Health Sciences) and Harbir Dhaliwal (Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology). The program engages elementary school students with healthy foods and evidence-based information meant to help kids develop a healthy relationship with food.

“We are the children of immigrant parents, and we all saw the challenges growing up with students not being able to have a healthy breakfast in the morning,” she says. “We wanted to give back in a meaningful way.”

“COVID set us back a bit because we weren’t able to volunteer in schools in person, but that motivated us even more because we saw how COVID affected so many families. Our parents weren’t able to give us breakfast when we were growing up so it’s close to our heart,” she says.

The Let’s Do Breakfast team was finally able to launch the program in 2021, and in 2022 they won a Student-Community Engaged Competition Award. They hope to continue on with the project in the future.

Looking back on her experiences at SFU, Mehra credits the many club and volunteer experiences she was able to participate in as helping her develop confidence as a leader. “You don’t have to always do things in your niche. You can do things that are out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Do things that you love.”