When I first talked to my mentor on the phone, I was a little nervous.

I had whitening strips in my mouth and was embarrassed that she would think that I had some kind of weird lisp. (I imagined her being like, good luck in radio, kid.) The conversation was a little awkward at times. And let’s be real, my mentor, Reema Khrais, is a bit monotone.

We first met in real life when I got off the plane at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. We found each other on the same shuttle headed to our hotel. I asked her what she was going to do with her only free day in Phoenix. She said she’d probably nap. That’s when I knew we were going to get along.

I’d never worked on a project with someone readily available to help me through every step along the way. On Monday, Reema helped me prep for a chat with my subject, Emma-Li Thompson, a young Chinese student who was adopted by white parents when she was three. I was nervous. How was I going to ask this young woman to share the deepest and most painful aspects of her life with a complete stranger? Reema shared her “what I usually do’s” before almost everything I did.

I nervously called Emma-Li to set up an interview. Reema was there when I excitedly walked back into the room with an interview set for 3 p.m. the next day.

Emma-Li picked us up from our conference center to take us to her parent’s house. I recorded the entire 40 minute trip. Reema was in the back seat, occasionally reaching forward to adjust my record levels, move my shotgun mic closer to Emma-Li’s face, or remind me to get ambience before the end of the car ride. She was pushing me, in real time, to be a bolder and better radio reporter.

Before the project started, I couldn’t really picture what it would be like to do this really tense, sometimes awkward interview with Emma-Li and her parents with my mentor watching and listening to my every move. Very quickly, I realized that I couldn’t imagine doing it without her.

There were also the not-so-intense moments, like when the Thompsons took Reema and I into their backyard to experience the sounds of coyotes yelling. We wreaked havoc at the front of the room in the conference center all week, laughing, singing (horribly), blowing bubbles, and learning.

Reema challenged me, filled in the blanks, guided me through an intense interview, taught me some new tricks, elbowed my head, ate my chips, allowed me to enjoy the ride — a mentorship I will treasure beyond Next Gen.

Ericka Guevarra

Ericka Guevarra

Ericka considers herself a “front seat listener.” She stumbled upon public radio on her own in high school and heard, for the first time, hers and other diverse voices truly represented in media. Ericka is  the daughter of immigrant parents and attended a school  where diversity was very much celebrated. “I’ve grown in my love and appreciation for different voices and storytelling that makes a difference and creates visibility. My enthusiasm for storytelling and critical thinking is reflected in my choice of after school activity: intercollegiate speech and debate.” A native of the California bay area, naturally, she says “hella.”