Interview with Deborah Heiser
Founder & CEO @ The Mentor Project

Many of the most accomplished, brightest experts in every field of work have a desire to give back to the next generation, but they don't know how to get involved. We believe in the value of mentorship, and passing the torch of knowledge, information, innovation, culture, values and inspiration to the next generation. Not only do we change ourselves when we mentor, but we change the lives of our mentees, and we change the world. Every mentor makes a permanent impression, and the legacy lives on. Check out Deborah's website here.
Hi Deborah! Could you please introduce The Mentor Project and what led to your founding the initiative back in 2016?
Thanks for the question. The Mentor Project was founded in 2017 and it came about from my interest in working with people who are midlife and beyond, and realizing that so many people were who are incredibly smart have so many skills and talents and so much knowledge are not being utilized in ways that we really need to be utilizing people, and the people with this knowledge have been expressing frustration with not being accessed as resources. So when Bill Chiswick, who happens to be one of our mentors came to me and said hey, I want to get into schools and start teaching kids in second grade all about science so they can be inspired, it became a reality, we said hey we can do this, and more and more people wanted to become mentors so they could give back, and so that they could pass on their knowledge and skills and talents to the next generation. So this all took place over the course of time but really took off in 2017 and Bill alone has already mentored hundreds of kids, and we've got many schools lined up, and many many mentors lined up and a platform now where kids can ask questions online and we're continuing to grow, so let's see where it takes us.
What are some of the main success stories to come out of The Mentor Project?
Oh, the success stories that come out of the mentor project are thrilling, there are the obvious success stories like the kids who say wow I can be a rocket scientist? or wow chemical engineering looks actually kind of fun! These are the success stories that we expect because we know the benefits of having a mentor, having someone there to inspire and guide us. But to me, the most exciting success stories are the ones that come from our mentors, those who get a thrill out of seeing kids get excited and inspired by their knowledge and expertise in the classroom like Bill Chiswick when he goes in and the kids run to the front of the classroom to look at when he's doing slow-motion videography with them, or time-lapse or when he's talking about rocketry and the kids are incredibly enthusiastic. Those are the success stories that I'm thrilled about are the ones where someone's leaving a legacy, passing on their information and knowledge to the next generation and getting to see that on the kid's faces. Every time a kid gets excited or inspired by a podcast that we put out, the mentors are absolutely thrilled and that's the success story that I'm most excited about.
How does the Mentor Project intersect with your interest and research into the psychology and processes of aging?
The Mentor Project intersects with my interest in Psychology and Aging because I've been studying how we develop over the lifespan and most of us think about development as physical and expect to get frail or have a physical decline as we get older. What most people don't realize is that we can expect to become happier as we get older and that meaningful connection are really important to us in feeling connected with the world and feeling like our life has purpose and meaning and value. And when our mentors go out and they are giving back to the next generation and sharing their knowledge and skills and values with others, that's the intersection that I find most interesting, it's, of course, interesting to me that kids are getting value out of this, but to me, the excitement is seeing the benefits of our mentors and how as they hold a lifetime of skills that they've honed and a lot and all of their knowledge that they've gathered and been able to pass that on and feel the powerful positive aspects of aging, that to me, is a fabulous way of being able to see all of the studying and research that I've worked on come together in a really powerful way.
How did you decide on the topic of your TedX talk: "Redefining Aging: Mentoring a New Generation?"
For me, the topic of redefining aging, mentoring a new generation was an easy one. I have been trying to help redefine aging for about 20 years now. Trying to get people to see that aging isn't something that we should fear, that aging is something that brings opportunities rather than challenges, each stage offers us something new that we can look forward to. And one of those stages is generative, where we have a desire to give back and care for others without expecting anything in return, it's what we're built to do, and so talking about this, and having the ability to explain from the Ted X stage how we can think of aging in a new way and how we can incorporate something that comes naturally to us mentoring others, it's free it doesn't cost us anything, and we're built to do it, how we can incorporate that just felt really organic, and so the title just came from all of that.
What's next for your work with the Mentor Project? What are the main projects, partnerships, and networks you'll be focusing on in 2019?
We have a lot on our plate for 2019 with the Mentor Project, we're fortunate that we've gotten involved with so many new mentors, we have more schools that we're getting involved with in 2019, we've been fortunate enough to start working with Colgate and they're many of the mentors that we have from the area from the Colgate Women's Network, and we look forward to doing more projects with them, we'd like to get out some product that we're developing for kids to be able to access and hoping to partner with others to provide kits and projects for kids to be able to use in their own homes and on their own time to inspire them in Stem. And we're also going to be putting out more podcasts this year so that people can hear from experts in a variety of Stem fields and how they got into the field that they're in and what they do, and we're also making some videos so that kids can see how things are put together and get inspired by some new ideas, one of our first is the penny batteries so kids can learn how to create a battery that could stay their phone, or do other things that they can create out of pennies and things that they can get very easily. So we're really excited about 2019.