What an uplifting and inspiring Saturday morning we experienced last week! 

Very few things are more motivating than people gathering in one room to share their dreams and aspirations for their future. That’s what some Los Angeles community college students did during the first session of our Community College Mentorship Program, launched by United Way of Greater Los Angeles (UWGLA) this spring semester.

Dozens of students from Los Angeles Community College (LACC) and Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) kicked off the semester with the fantastic opportunity of having a mentor to support them along their college journey and help them make those dreams a reality. 

Kristina Kehyeyan is the Human Resources Program Manager at NASA JPL who volunteered for the program and was matched as a mentor with Norma Lathan, a LACC computer science student.

Kristina Kehyeyan (left) and Norma Lathan at the first session of the Community College Mentorship Program.

“I joined this program because JPL is actually a partner of United Way and my team spearheads the administration of our partnership. Being here was everything I could have imagined and more,”  Kehyeyan said. I really appreciate the work that United Way is doing to bring different members of the community together to just share different resources. And actually, JPLl’s mission is to dare mighty things together. And I feel like that’s what we did here today.”

Having met Kristina for just a few hours during the kick-off session of the program didn’t hold Norma from sharing her gratitude and excitement to have Kristina as her mentor.

“She has a lot of emotional intelligence. She has a great personality, she seems like a great person. She is very intelligent and I appreciate that she came to volunteer here and that she is my mentor,” Lathan said.

Kristina was also very excited to work with Norma.  “She’s incredibly capable, and I’m really excited to see what we accomplish together!” 

During the first session, students and mentors connected on goals for the program, learned about resources offered at LACC and LATTC, and engaged in setting “smart goals” together. Some of the mentees also won raffle prizes. Those who complete the program of five-monthly sessions will also have the opportunity to win a $500 scholarship, laptops, and other gift cards.

This mentorship program is part of UWGLA’s Community College Success Initiative. CCSI is a combination of direct support and systems change strategies to provide immediate relief for students, paving the way for future students to get through community college efficiently and effectively.

In California, the graduation rates for Latino and Black students stand at 14% and 9%, respectively, within four years of community college completion. In contrast, 17% of white and 21% of Asian students achieve this milestone in the same timeframe. 

Chris Ko, Vice President of Community Impact & Strategy at United Way L.A., explained the mission of this initiative as community college is a critical place for people who are starting their higher education journey for the first time, but also for folks who are starting a new career journey or coming back to community college to do it.

“Community college is a critical place, and right now, we don’t realize 90% of some of our BIPOC students, lot of our Black and Brown students never make it out to the other side of community college,” Ko said. “So I think this is a critical initiative to change that story. That is the difference between our region thriving or being stuck in the cycle of poverty. And so this effort is an initiative to join us and change that trajectory, and we feel like we can make that difference together.”

Erin Morton, VP of Strategic Partnerships at UWGLA, said she felt excited and thankful to our corporate partners that stepped up to support the mentorship program without whom it wouldn’t be possible, including Bank of America, EY, JPL, Black & Veatch, and PNC as almost 60 percent of the volunteer mentors in the room are employees at these companies. KPMG will also facilitate some of the next sessions of the program.

“I think mentorship has been transformational for a lot of folks. And so to be able to connect our corporate partners, individual investors, and different just volunteers with people who want mentors who have big dreams and who are looking for some help getting there, feels really powerful,” Morton said.

Alejandra Rodriguez and her daughter Destinee Rivera attend LACC and participate in the mentorship program. Alejandra participated in a panel at another UWGLA Community College Success event, where she learned about the program and wanted her daughter to have such valuable support in her college journey.

Alejandra Rodriguez (left) and her daughter Destinee Rivera.

“I wanted my daughter who was just starting up college at a younger age to learn what it is to be mentored and what steps to take because we’re going through this together,” Rodriguez said. 

James Ingram, a Los Angeles City employee, is Alejandra’s mentor. He was also a community college student and understands the difference it makes to have someone who helps you navigate the system.

“The difference would have been not taking some of the wrong classes that I took in the beginning, that’s just one of the things a mentor can help with, and then also just navigating the resources not knowing what resources were available on campus, especially at the time being a homeless student. I didn’t know where I could turn to.”

“After speaking with my mentor, I, you know, I found someone that I can relate to and who has gone through this journey. James has been very successful at it. And I just want my daughter and my daughters to see the impact education can have on our own needs to point on each other because we’re not like in the best living situation right now. But I know that will change when I do finish my schooling and they’ll be able to notice the difference, you know, and how important education is to succeed [in life].”

Learn more about our Community College Success Initiative and find resources here. And don’t forget to download the Way2Success Resource Toolkit, now available in Español. Download it now!

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