Azie Aziz was recently featured in the March edition of EMERGE Fellowship Mentor Program newsletter.  EMERGE empowers and prepares high-performing students from underserved communities to attend and graduate from selective colleges across the nation. In the newsletter, Aziz’s background and experience as a mentor are profiled, where she shared her experience as an EMERGE mentor, the inspiration to join the EMERGE Mentor Program, and shared advice with other mentors on connecting with mentees. 

Tell us a little bit about your background, education, and family. 

I grew up in Malaysia in a small town called Teluk Intan. We are a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic community with Malays, Chinese, and South Asians from India and other countries in the mix. I am the first in my family to go to college. I remember understanding quite young that I would have to grow up very fast if I wanted to improve my life. I have worked so hard to even get to the same starting point as many of my peers. We did not have a television at home (pictured left), and I remember that the only entertainment available was a textbook from school. I did not have a professional role model growing up. And the idea of going to college sounded like a foreign concept. That’s the reason EMERGE is so close to my heart.

My life changed when I was selected to enroll in a government funded Boarding School, where I learned about going to college. This Boarding School system was established in Malaysia to nurture outstanding students to excel in academics and extracurricular activities.

A boarding school in Malaysia

After graduating from college, I received a scholarship from the national oil and gas company of Malaysia, PETRONAS, to complete my postgraduate degree at George Washington University. I later transferred to University of Minnesota to study Electrical Engineering. I returned to Malaysia in 2005 and I spent over three years with PETRONAS where I taught Electrical Engineering and performed research. While working for the oil company, I opened and ran a Dutch restaurant during the weekends as a challenging hobby. I moved to Houston in 2008 for a position at an oil service company. I decided to stay in Houston after receiving a scholarship to pursue a PhD in Geophysics at the University of Houston.

Currently, I am working for a law firm, Womble Bond Dickinson US LLP, as a Patent Agent helping technology companies to obtain patents for their inventions in the electrical engineering space. 

Picture of Azie Aziz

All of my family members are back in Malaysia and I am the only one living here. Outside of work, I enjoy trying different restaurants, traveling, playing tennis, and experiencing local cultural activities (I am a patron of the Asia Society of Texas and The Menil).

What inspired you to join the EMERGE Mentor Program? 

I actually discovered EMERGE through a Google search with the keywords "underserved high performing students Houston." There, I found the EMERGE website. I wrote EMERGE an email expressing my interest to volunteer. My first EMERGE event was EMERGE Career Day at Rice University in 2018. I fell in love with EMERGE and the rest is history. To date, I have mentored five talented mentees: Linh Nguyen (Rice), Malika Top (Wellesley), Javier Rodriguez (University of Chicago), Jasmine Zeng (Carnegie Mellon), and Nolan Zeng (Duke).

Through EMERGE Career Day at Rice, I met my current Firm’s Office Managing Partner who introduced me to patent law. EMERGE is very important to my life because it gave me the opportunity to be where I am today.  From my mentees’ passion and intelligence, I have learned just as much from my mentees as I hope they have learned from me

How have you connected with your mentee?

My mentee, Nolan, and I meet every other week over Google Video Chat to catch up on his life. We also meet regularly for dinner. This year, I wanted my mentees to experience different cultures in Houston through the stories behind different ethnic restaurants. As an introduction, I took Nolan and his sister Jasmine, my former mentee, to James Beard-nominated chef Kaiser Lashkari’s restaurant Himalaya in Houston’s Gandhi District. We also tried homemade traditional Argentine food and empanadas at Morfi Argentino. Beyond restaurants, my mentees and I went to see the light sequence during the sunset at the James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace and the symphony at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.

What advice do you have for mentors on how to connect with their students?

Share your story authentically. I feel that the best way to get to know someone new is through honesty. Even if it is a bit daunting at first, establishing a connection where the mentee can feel comfortable is very important. I shared my story of owning a restaurant in Malaysia. My mentee also came from the restaurant business. Thanks to that common interest, we immediately clicked! 

Take initiative. Mentors first. At the beginning of the program, I sent my mentee a Google form with questions. This brilliant idea was suggested by my former mentee, Javier Rodriguez. On the form, questions might include: Meeting Platform, Meeting Frequency, and questions like "What are five words to describe yourself?" If you need a template, you may email me. I also shared my website and Linkedin profile prior to our first meeting so my mentee could find additional information about me.

Be innovative and creative. Come up with something fun and educational for your mentee. Think from their point of view. What would you like to experience if you were a mentee?