IBM Mentor Match: Suri and Jamira

By and Jamira Torres-Murphy | 6 minute read | September 27, 2020

Suriana (left) and Jamira (right) celebrate graduation day in 2018

Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset.”–mentoring.org

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Jamira Torres-Murphy, Program Director, z/OS and DFSMS Worldwide Technical Support for IBM Systems, and Suriana Rodriguez, Manufacturing Test Technician, IBM Systems, share their story.

 

Jamira: It’s been 23 years since I joined IBM. I was recruited after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez campus with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering.  When I came to my interview in NY, it was a beautiful sunny day in February, and since I had never seen snow, I convinced myself I could deal with winter.  Even though I didn’t speak perfect English, I was offered a position as a Production control engineer, working with semiconductor technology. As I reflect back, I give that team a lot of credit for hiring me given my language barriers at the time, but I am glad I was given the opportunity.

Having been born and raised in Puerto Rico, I was spared many of the other struggles immigrants face getting to the United States with visas and such. Meeting Suri opened up a new world and offered me a new perspective.  I might have been her mentor, but it was really me who learned so much more from her.

Suriana:  I was a teenager when I met Jamira.  I never had a mentor and didn’t know what to expect.  I was worried we would not get along, but Jamira understood me and some of the struggles of growing up in a Hispanic household, things like language barriers and the culture shock when I first came to the United States. My world was flipped upside down when my parents brought me here from Mexico at the age of six. I was a Dreamer, but had a pretty sheltered upbringing.

When I started out at P-TECH I was out of my element.  No one in my family had gone to college.  Meeting Jamira and hearing how she spoke really made a difference for me.  I wanted to be more like her.  She would tell me to “shoot for the sky, you might end up in the stars.” I already felt like I was giving it my all, but having Jamira around helped me hustle even more in my classes.

Jamira:  This experience has been life changing. Suri was terrified of me when I first met her.  She was quiet and shy, yet persevered.  She always asked very good questions and did wonderfully in school.  She had the grades, yet it was difficult for her as the world sometimes is for underrepresented minorities.  As we got to know each other, I realized my job was to help her build her confidence. She, to her credit, was open to my advice and encouragement, acting on it without wasting time.  My focus always was to help her accomplish her dream of getting a college degree, as this was extremely important to her and her family.

Suriana:  Going into P-TECH, I didn’t like technology but quickly fell in love with the school’s family-focused culture. Eventually I came around to see all the opportunities that being in tech offered, and I started taking more computing classes.  A whole new world opened up.

If I had the chance to help other kids like me, I would tell them that a million windows can open for them too.  Don’t be afraid.  Be open minded and willing to work with others different than yourself.  If you are curious about something, ask lots of questions!  Take the opportunities you are given, and never, ever stop learning.

Let me give you an example.  At the end of my first year at P-TECH, I was feeling discouraged because I had not gotten into the honors program.  I wanted to finish in four years, instead of the five or six years typically required, but was told that would be “impossible.”

This experience was the extra push I needed to do more.

Jamira:  Suri then was given the opportunity to place into college algebra and trigonometry, and she went for it.  While she was discouraged by the previous feedback on graduation expectations, her advisors and I all believed in her, and encouraged her to stay focused on her goals.

Suri:  Jamira helped me see that I could do it.  She pointed out the advisors’ belief in me and encouraged me.  If I believed, then I could.  And the rest is history! I placed into the advanced courses and graduated early from P-TECH Newburgh in 2018 – in just four years – with a high school diploma and an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Cyber Security.

After P-TECH, I started my apprenticeship at IBM Poughkeepsie.  At the time, I was going to college for my bachelors and also helping out with my family’s new restaurant.  For our family, opening the restaurant was a life opportunity – a chance to take a leap of faith to have something of our own.

In the mornings, I would complete my school work and then I’d work at my IBM apprenticeship from 2 to 10:30 p.m.  I studied, went to school, worked at IBM and at the restaurant for four days a week.  It really was a leap of faith, and an opportunity to prove that you can thrive if you put in the hard work.  (Keep reading below the video for more.)

Jamira:  Suri taught me of the very real immigrant struggles and the importance of government programs like DACA.  As an underrepresented minority myself, mentoring Suri has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.  It is a gift to be able to view the world through Suri’s eyes, and I am very proud to see her grow to be so resourceful and work hard to achieve her dreams.

Suri: The particular struggles of being an immigrant became most apparent to me when I began applying to colleges. My friends were applying and getting financial aid, visiting schools and, despite having worked so hard to get good grades, I did not have the same opportunities as they did.  It is a little frustrating to think back on it.  Having worked so hard to get good grades and do things right, I had to work even harder to get my advanced education.  Thankfully P-TECH and IBM opened up so many possibilities and so many resources. The guidance and support these organizations have provided me has been priceless.  I may have had to work ten times harder than others around me to exceed expectations, but it has been worth it.

Jamira:  Needless to say, I am very proud of Suri’s accomplishments and look forward to seeing what is next for her, and I hope to continue to be part of her extended family for years to come.

Hear more inspiring stories from across the P-TECH network here.

 

Get Involved!  IBMers, if you are interested in mentoring a P-TECH student, please sign up here.