"I love learning about young people’s lives -- and convincing them that they have a great story to tell." - Karen, Strive mentor

Karen Sughrue
Strive for College
New York, New York


I love learning about young people’s lives — and convincing them that they have a great story to tell. After 30 years in video storytelling, I know that, inside everyone, there’s a wonderful story waiting to come out. And if you ask the right questions, you’ll find it.

I learned about Strive for College through Encore.org’s Gen2Gen campaign. As an experienced journalist, I wanted to put my writing skills to work. Strive has helped me become an online mentor to high school students who are applying for college and need help with their applications.

Over the past year, I’ve mentored eight students, helping them mainly with their personal essays and other parts of the application that require written statements. I ask the right questions and find the nuggets of amazingness in their lives – very often moments when they overcame big obstacles – and help turn those into a story that will set them apart and get them into college.

I mentored one student, who had excelled in her high school ROTC training program. That alone makes a good start to a story. But in probing her family background, I learned she was the daughter of a single mom who had emigrated from Haiti with great ambitions for her children, and had a brother serving in the U.S. military. We were able to work all that into her essay about how college will help her become the leader she wants to be in the future.

I was drawn to Strive because of the group of students it’s dedicated to helping – those from lower-income families who may not have access to elite mentoring and tutoring services on their own. Many of my mentees are young people of color and children of immigrant families. I’ve been impressed across the board with their zeal to succeed.

While there have been occasions where I speak with a student by phone, most are in touch with me through Strive’s online platform. I like that I can choose to have one mentee or several at a time, and it fits more easily into my schedule than in-person mentoring.

If you haven’t seen a college application in a while, it can feel odd to be advising students on things like essays, what colleges to apply to, and financial aid. I did a bit of online research and learned about the “Common App” that students use today. And Strive provides a lot of help and tutorials as well, so whenever I had questions I took advantage of that.

As for challenges, the one I’ve faced was no surprise. It turns out that nobody, including 18-year olds, likes having their writing critiqued as too wordy or too self-focused. But I’m hyper-aware that these college essays are crucial to their goal of bettering themselves through education, and I’ve learned how to persuade them to think bigger than themselves in what they write.

It’s fun to see the world from a teenager’s perspective again, and it’s so rewarding when a student writes back and says, “You’ve helped me SO much!”

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