A New Model for Mentoring: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Awardee

At the start of 2016, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) awarded grants to eight young Bay Area residents with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties. Below is an interview with one of these awardees, Dante Alvarado-Leon, who is using his award to launch a mentoring app called MentorRoom that connects college students with professional mentors via text messaging.

PVF: Tell us about your project. What inspired you to launch it?

Dante: Imagine a world where access to mentors is universal – that is what we are working on at MentorRoom. We are providing students around the Bay Area the opportunity to connect and engage with employees, recruiters, and companies for career advice, job opportunities, and support at the click of a button.

MentorRoom will be the first mobile app connecting college students with professional mentors via text messaging. Our mobile platform will allow students to find the right mentor for their needs, whether it is to get more information about a specific career or job position, or to simply receive personal advice and support.

This will be the most convenient platform for both mentors and mentees. Mentors will no longer have to commute to meet with their mentees, with MentorRoom they will be able to do it at the click of a button on their phones. MentorRoom will also eliminate the back and forth email conversations of setting a date to meet between mentees and mentors.

Our mission is centered around providing a supportive community by engaging mentors and mentees through technology. We are in the process of completing our mobile mentoring platform, which will allow college students to connect with engineers, managers, and professionals across several industries from their mobile phones.

Now, here’s the story behind MentorRoom:

I grew up in what people commonly refer to as “La Frontera,” the border, in the cities of Chula Vista and Tijuana. When I was in elementary school, my mother decided to enroll my sisters and I in a school in the U.S. We had to make many sacrifices, such as crossing the border every morning at 5:00am to go to school. I am grateful for this decision because it opened many doors of opportunity for my family. However, I have not seen many people from “La Frontera” rise to positions of influence and prominence and that is what I want to bring to this programthe best of both worlds– the American conception of freedom and opportunity, of innovation, and global influence, but from my upbringing, the values that my immigrant abuelitos have inculcated in me of resourcefulness, family, and to always pay it forward.

Growing up, I had a lot of mentors who made a positive impact in my life and my career as a student. From my soccer coach throughout middle school and high school, to my academic counselors, teachers, role models, managers, and advisors who constantly continue to open new opportunities for me to continue growing professionally and personally. I want to do the same for others, and provide students in my community access to mentors who will positively impact their lives.

Dante introducing the MentorRoom concept to students

MentorRoom celebrates diversity by bringing together students and mentors from a broad range of cultural backgrounds to explore their interests and passions, discover new academic and professional pursuits, and learn from each other. We are aware that there is a growing population of underrepresented minorities and first generation college students at UC Berkeley (where we are launching the app) that are in need of strong mentors to support them in building paths to success in their education, careers, and personal lives.

Despite Berkeley’s proximity to Silicon Valley, there is currently no way for students to engage with employees from top companies for advice. I believe that this is what we need. We need to provide students from all backgrounds with mentors who care about them and can provide students with resources and guidance so that they can realize their full potential. I have always dreamed of increasing access to opportunities to low-income and diverse communities, and guiding students on their quest to education and success. With MentorRoom, not only will we be able to achieve this, but also provide more students with a strong support system that will open opportunities for them to succeed, and prepare them for their future careers.

PVF: Tell us about some of your project accomplishments to date. 

Dante: MentorRoom has come a long way since the beginning of this year. Being a recipient of the Bay Area Inspire Awards in January was a blessing for us, as it allowed us to expand our team, to speed up the process of building our mentoring platform, to begin approaching companies, and to dedicate our energy, talents, and efforts to make our dream a reality.

In April, we were invited to speak at the TeenTech SF Global STEM Panel. The event was held at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation in Berkeley. In May, we were invited to participate in the Startups Pitch Competition at the LOFT Coder Summit, which was held at Stanford University. We presented our product and idea for MentorRoom in front of over 250 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, students, and developers. This summer we have been working on a collaboration with Google to launch a mentorship program at Berkeley for low-income, first-generation students of diverse backgrounds. We have a total of 50 amazing Google mentors from all over the nation, who will be mentoring 50 undergrads at Berkeley. We are in the process of opening the applications for students to sign up for our program.

PVF: What are the next steps for your project?

Dante: Beginning the fall semester of 2016, we are launching a four-month mentorship pilot program at UC Berkeley by pairing mentors and mentees through our mobile app. The MentorRoom platform eliminates the need for back and forth emails, and long commutes to meet with your mentee. MentorRoom provides a quick and convenient way of connecting and advising your mentees via text-messaging. Not only will students grow professionally by engaging with Googlers, but this will also build a closer community between students and companies in the Bay Area.

Every month, we are going to have certain themes that will drive the mentor-student engagement, such as resume and interview advice, career prep and discovering your ideal job, and personal development. We are kicking off the program at Google’s HQ in Mountain View in Mid-September and the program will run until December of 2016. We are very excited to start a strong and diverse community of wonderful mentors at UC Berkeley and Google this year.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change in the community?

Dante: I strongly believe that the Google MentorRoom program at UC Berkeley will positively impact the students and mentors who will be part of it. My hope is to form a strong, united, and supportive community of mentors and students by the end of this year at UC Berkeley. There are a lot of students in the community who can positively benefit from having a mentor that can help guide them through their professional careers and personal journeys, and I want to use technology to make that happen in a scalable and sustainable way.

We also hope to start building more bridges with companies and local organizations that are interested in mentoring and supporting diverse students around the Bay Area. By creating a closer bond between students and organizations, we hope to open more doors of opportunities for students to succeed and grow, while at the same time, encouraging them to mentor and pave the way for younger generations in the near future.

MentorRoom's team at the LOFT Coder Summit's Startups Pitch Competition

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects led by young people like yourself?

Dante: It is very important to empower and invest in the young minds and courageous leaders of today, who are working to build and create a better tomorrow for all of us. I think that is exactly what the Bay Area Inspire Awards do, they help accelerate the projects of young social entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. I am really honored and grateful to have been one of the award recipients this year, because this has allowed me to make my dream a reality of providing support and advice to students by connecting them with mentors at the click of a button.

There is no shortage of innovative ideas amongst young people today. With the support, guidance, and mentorship from donors we can develop more impactful community projects, and drive positive change for the people around us. I strongly believe that having a diverse community of people working together on social-driven projects can inspire the leaders of tomorrow to be proactive about solving the problems currently affecting our society, and uplift younger and older generations to collaborate on making the world a better place.

We invite you to join us on our journey to build an online community of mentors and support for students by staying in touch with us via our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MentorRoom/.

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