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Scholarship Story

New SME Education Foundation Community of Scholars Initiative Features Bright Minds Student Mentorship Program

Abraham “Abe” Francis of Sacramento, California, is one of the first SME Education Foundation scholarship recipients to benefit from the SME Bright Minds Student Mentorship Program. Part of the Foundation’s new Community of Scholars initiative, the program matches up interested scholarship awardees with professional members of SME.

An 18-year-old freshman majoring in mechanical engineering at Sacramento City College, Francis received a Dr. Irving Pressley McPhail Endowed Scholarship — for $5,000, split over two years — in 2023. Since October of that year, he has been mentored by Erica Bell, who is vice president of the SME Education Foundation Board of Directors and the vice president of regulatory compliance and sustainability at Harman International, a Samsung subsidiary with global headquarters in Michigan.

Bright Minds Student Mentorship ProgramThe two meet weekly or more frequently, as needed, usually through 30-minute phone calls or video conference sessions. As SME’s Fall Gala was held in Long Beach, California, Francis was able to attend the event and meet with Bell in person after driving 10 hours with his mother from their home in northern California.

 In addition to helping Francis build his professional network, Bell assists him with academics as he works to transition from Sacramento City College to a four-year university. Specifically, Bell helps him build a study plan to ensure mastery of his subject areas and the attainment of good grades.

“I am a lawyer with no background in engineering, so I can’t help him with his engineering classes; however, as a law student and in studying for the bar exam, I have a wealth of knowledge on how to effectuate a successful study plan — so I can help him with prioritizing,” says Bell.

Bell became a mentor because, as she puts it, “I would not have achieved the level of success I have today without others’ guidance, support, and, quite frankly, sponsorship. A big piece of my development was people showing me the roadmap to where I am today.” She says she chose to mentor an engineering student rather than a law student because “America needs more manufacturing engineers, and the need will only be met by more women and minorities choosing engineering.

” In addition, says Bell — who has firsthand knowledge of working with engineers in the automotive manufacturing industry — there will always be a need for the methodical problemsolving skills held by engineers, even with artificial intelligence advancements.

“I recognize the importance of mentoring and I enjoy the process of mentoring,” she says. “The most well-rounded professional is someone who has mentors. The mentor unlocks the vault of information that you can’t learn in a book. The mentor provides a peek behind a curtain that one may not have access to.” In her opinion, minority students seeking engineering careers are especially vulnerable when they lack access to experienced engineering professionals in their social and familial circles.

From Francis’ perspective, being mentored by Bell has been a huge help. “We’ve talked about internships, time management, how to move through the industry, and about communication, especially with engineers — that’s never been a skill of mine. Most of my friends aren’t in STEM, so I need to get used to talking and networking.”

In addition to his scheduled meetings with Bell, Francis also contacts her between meetings if he has an urgent question or would like her to review a school- or career-related email before sending it out.

“She’s super smart and has accomplished so much, and being able to learn from her is awesome,” he says. “I’m still pretty raw, but she really helps me understand the scope of what I can do — and to make a plan versus when I was younger and just going through the motions.”

In addition to offering mentorships, the SME Education Foundation Bright Minds Community of Scholars initiative provides select scholarship recipients with an introduction to SME and helps facilitate utilization of associated benefits. Those benefits include, but are not limited to, complimentary membership in SME, access to SME Membership Career Services, complimentary access to Tooling U-SME, and various other promotional and educational opportunities.