Becoming the Mentor

As a first-generation college graduate, role models were difficult to come by. Most of my life decisions were a series of trial and error.

Figuring it all out on a touch-and-go trial definitely resulted in a fair share of otherwise avoidable missteps along the way, but it eventually accumulated as a collection of experiences. Today, those experiences serve to provide me with the tools to help the next generation of future scientists find their true potential.


I barely made it through high school. Living with elderly parents with chronic illnesses, I was forced to balance my scholastic education with the learning experience of providing for my family. I worked hard to balance my schoolwork with the work required to earn an income and balance a checkbook, but struggled to accomplish the seemingly overwhelming task of keeping everything in working order. Add in the fact that I didn’t have a mentor to turn to in my times of need, and I’m proud to have made it through at all.

After years of searching, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Rino Dizon, an Air Force family medicine physician. Dr. Dizon encouraged me to continue learning about the gift of medical care, as well as the importance of empathy in medicine. Through Dr. Dizon’s lessons, I’ve learned to never deny anyone the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.

I grew up in poverty. To this day I’m humbled by my early experiences, and I channel my memories of hungry nights spent huddling together for warmth into a hunger for more knowledge. With every instructor that helped me along the way, my desire to learn continued. Reaching my goal of becoming a medical student has been a unique privilege, and allows me to educate both youths and patients about bettering themselves so they can be healthy and free to live their best lives.

Poverty is an endless cycle of reaction and inaction that can cause children and young adults to miss out on opportunities to pursue their aspirations and goals.

A young mind is a clean slate, similar to piece of coal that will eventually become a diamond under the right circumstances. Poverty is an endless cycle of reaction and inaction that can cause children and young adults to miss out on opportunities to pursue their aspirations and goals. Shouldering the burden of extenuating circumstances at home becomes a disadvantage that takes away time needed to complete assignments or participate in extracurricular activities. Financial instability can lead to a restless student and negligence of one’s wellbeing. It is important for those who have the opportunity to work with children to be aware of signs that they are in need of mentorship and guidance.

At Pacific Northwest University, I’ve had the privilege of becoming a mentor for the Roots to Wings Program.

Every month, students from the Yakama Nation Native American reservation are invited to come to PNWU to learn about medicine and the cultural differences in Native American, Mexican American, and conventional care in the U.S.  The schools invited to participate in the program are severely underfunded and do not have access to science labs as a part of their curriculum, so all of the hands-on exposure to the sciences that these students receive comes directly from the Roots to Wings mentorship program.


Many of these students experience first-hand some of the most unique and meaningful aspects of being a medical student, like handling a human heart for the first time, or observing the fast-paced decision making of the simulation lab. The goal of Roots to Wings is to inspire these students to continue their education as university students and beyond, in the hopes that they will one day return to their communities as role models for aspiring physicians and scientists. Historically, less than 50% of students in these schools graduate high school. That trend has steadily improved since the creation of the Roots to Wings program.

As we share our knowledge as co-mentors with these students, we also learn of the generational trauma that they endure and the history of addiction, violence, and poverty that they face at home. As a Roots to Wings mentor, I learn from the children affected by alcohol and substance abuse on a daily basis.

I’m grateful to the Roots to Wings program for allowing me the opportunity to continue the tradition of mentorship that Dr. Dizon taught me. I’m proud to inspire future physicians, carrying on the torch of service and mentorship and, hopefully, serving as the mentor I had longed for not so long ago. 

Jonathan Mai (Square).jpg

Jonathan Mai

Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st year (OMS I)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Jonathan Mai