Erasing Borders: The Mexican-American Connecting Students and Mentors

Erasing Borders: The Mexican-American Connecting Students and Mentors
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Why you should care

Because “falling into” a career can be so unfulfilling. 

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?

Dante Alvarado Leon,
2017 OZY Genius Award Winner

As a young student, I’d wake up around 4 a.m. in Tijuana, Mexico, hustle into the car with my mom and two sisters and spend up to three hours waiting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. We lived only 15 minutes from the border, but it was a process. Since we were born in San Diego, we could attend a private elementary and middle school in the U.S., which my parents believed would provide more economic opportunity later in life. My dad, who works for the Mexican government, stayed local. My mom is a manager of a health center in San Diego. For her, our school was just a stop on her way to work.

Those bustling mornings — along with the spicy aroma of the home-cooked Mexican dishes made by our grandmother, who lived with us — stand out in my childhood. I was also very involved in after-school activities, especially since we had to wait for my mom to finish work before she’d pick us up and traverse the border. During those activities, I learned the value of mentors. My soccer coach stressed that teamwork equates with success. My academic decathlon coach in middle school gave me the confidence to think on my feet. These people were contributing to the person I’d become.

The summer before I started high school, we moved to San Diego. I continued competing in academic decathlons and loved being immersed in these intense competitions. By senior year, I was captain. It was essentially a big academic match against all other high schools in the U.S., based on a battery of tests in art, math, science, economics, language and literature, social science and communications. My high school decathlon coach — along with my calculus teacher — expressed genuine interest in where I’d attend college and really helped me carve my path.

Dante Alvarado Leon

Dante Alvarado Leon

Source Mark Madeo/OZY

When studying business administration at the University of California, Berkeley, many of my friends were first-generation college students. We’d talk about the careers we wanted to pursue, and the majority were undecided. Oftentimes, one great professor or one internship that happened by chance would dictate the career path they’d follow. Sometimes, this worked out for their benefit. But it made me wonder why there weren’t more resources available to help students identify the best career paths for themselves.

So I started thinking about MentorRoom, an online platform that would let students connect with mentors and watch two- or three-minute videos of various professionals across different industries. Want to know what it’s like to live a day in the shoes of a software engineer, a product manager of a major corporation or even a CEO? I want to break down this barrier and show students, so they don’t have unanswered questions and can make informed choices. Maybe they don’t personally know a software engineer in their own social circle, but through MentorRoom, that circle will open up, and they’ll meet one.

My parents always pushed me to choose the harder path if it meant the potential for greater rewards down the road.

 

This summer, my two student volunteers, Itzel Martinez and Hubert Pham, and I will dive into bringing this platform to life. Thanks to OZY’s Genius Award prize, I can provide a stipend to my two volunteers to help with their daily costs of living. They’ve been instrumental throughout this process. We’ll also apply what we learned from our pilot program with Google, in which we matched 50 Google employees and 50 Berkeley students for three months to gather feedback and better understand the idea of virtual mentorship.

We’re in the midst of reaching out to nonprofits like Girls Who Code and Mentoring.org to potentially help them build out platforms for their mentorship programs. We want to make it easier on them so that students who participate in these types of programs can find mentors and have easy and long-term access to these role models.

My parents always pushed me to choose the harder path if it meant the potential for greater rewards down the road. It would have been easier to go to school in Mexico, skip the three-hour wait in the car every morning and afternoon and hang with friends in my own neighborhood. But they encouraged me to transcend limitation to reach my full potential.

With MentorRoom, I hope to build a bridge that provides access into the lives of successful mentors and resources for students to better navigate their future careers.