Van Dang

Saratoga, CA

"Through Strive, I mentored students online from three different states: California, Florida and Iowa."
-- Van, Strive for College Mentor

I retired from the corporate world after almost 30 years of experience in Silicon Valley, including 18 years as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at CISCO.

During my career, and now, I have mentored a lot of professionals and young adults. I was interested in the mentoring opportunities at Strive For College because I believe in its mission to help low-income students, many of whom are first generation in their family to go to college.

I came to the U.S. as a war refugee when I was 14 and I was able to have the life that I have today because I received a great public education, including an almost-tuition free education from a four-year university. I believe that education is a great equalizer in life and kids who want to go to college should be afforded that opportunity.

The college application and financial aid process can be complex and overwhelming, particular for first generation students since their family will most likely not able to guide them and this is where a Strive mentor comes in. Being a technology enthusiast, I also like the fact that it is an online platform and has the ability to match students and mentors from different parts of the country, which allows students broader exposure to diverse choices of mentors. I was matched with three students from three different states:  California, Florida and Iowa.

Having the right mentor can really change the trajectory of a young person’s life. We know that at-risk and low-income students with a positive mentoring relationship (formal or informal) are more likely to aspire to enroll in and graduate from college, than those who do not have a mentor. The right mentor can help students access resources that may not otherwise be available. Youth in the top quartile of socio-economic status have access to great role models (their parents) and are also more likely to have more and high quality informal mentoring from someone outside their family than those in the bottom socioeconomic quartile.

We need to level the playing field by making sure that every student has access to one or more mentors throughout their student life. It is tragic that we don’t emphasize enough the importance of mentoring. I have two sons – one graduated from college last summer and one has two more years to go. They come to me and my husband for advice, which they don’t necessarily follow, but at least they get to hear different perspectives to help them evaluate different options and choices. No doubt that they will make their own mistakes but they won’t end up saying, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this?”

Strive mentors primarily help students with their college applications- making sure they stay on track and don’t miss any deadline, answering questions about financial aids, reviewing essays and college choices. First-generation students often set the bar lower than their true potential. My goal as mentor is to help them have confidence in themselves, explore new frontiers and ideas with them.

Students who feel supported are more likely to graduate. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to squander and we should do everything possible to make sure that students have the support they need.

strive_for_college_logoThis story comes to us from our Generation-to-Generation partner Strive for College, an online mentoring program that connects high school students with a mentor virtually, anywhere, anytime. Strive’s goal is to increase college access by under-served students, giving them assistance with college applications and the financial aid process.

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