Plotting a Path to College—and Beyond

Maria signed up as a mentor not long after moving to the Bay Area from Tennessee. Now a program manager at Cisco, Maria was a first-generation college student from a rural community who went on to attain an advanced degree.

“I moved to Silicon Valley for my job, and it was eye-opening to realize that beyond the tech industry and the Maseratis and the Teslas is this entire community that doesn’t have access to all the opportunities this place represents,” said Maria.

Maria was matched with Vanessa, then a junior at James Lick High School in San Jose. Their conversations centered around Vanessa’s myriad interests and how they might translate to careers.

“We talked about things like the difference in pay for someone with a certification versus a four-year degree, or if Vanessa could combine her interests in physical therapy and special needs,” Maria said. “I tried hard to model the idea that it’s OK not to know all the answers— it’s really about finding the person who does know and asking them."

When Maria and Vanessa next meet, it will be at De Anza College in San Jose, where Vanessa is completing her core classes with the goal of transferring to a four-year college in the University of California system.