Four out of five low-income students fail to attain a bachelor's degree by their mid-20s.

As astounding and scary as the numbers are, they motivated one woman to take action.

Stephanie Bravo, a Mexican American from San Jose,California, is the founder of the StudentMentor.org, a free online student mentorship service determined to reverse the trend. Bravo and her co-founder, Ashkon Jafari, are determined to propel students to success through the power of mentoring.

Bravo was first introduced to the concept of mentoring when she applied to The Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance Medical Mentorship Program (SUMMA MMP) as an undergraduate at San Jose State University.

The SUMMA Medical Mentorship Program accepts close to 30 pre-med students to the program each year; it pairs each undergraduate student with a graduate student in medical school who mentors the undergraduates through their medical school application process.

Stephanie Carr – a current Stanford medical student who was co-chair of the program from 2008-2009, when Bravo was involved - estimates the mentees are “60% Latino, 30% Black, 6% Asian, and 4% Other, though the demographics change yearly.”

The SUMMA mentorship relationship was life changing for Bravo.

“I didn’t have anybody there to really guide me in what I needed to do through college, let alone what I needed to do to get into professional school." she explained. "Latinos account for less than 1% of the entire medical school population – especially Mexican American women."

Bravo thrived in the program and became Mentorship Program chair of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) chapter on campus. In her position as chair, Bravo built a robust mentoring program that modeled SUMMA to help undergraduates at UCI apply to medical school.

Bravo loved her work, but a year and a half into medical school, something changed. She attended the SUMMA Conference at Stanford to recruit more students to her mentorship program with LMSA, and met a student who wanted to join, but couldn’t.

“He was passionate about serving disadvantaged communities and really wanted to apply to medical school but had no idea how. He was a community college student and couldn’t attend our undergraduate mentoring program because it required in-person attendance during times when he had other work and family commitments, similar to many community college students with different life circumstances than 4-year students who live on campus.

“That’s when I saw we were missing a significant portion of students. I wanted to open mentoring up to the masses.”

So Bravo decided to open it up to the nation with StudentMentor.org.

The Latino medical mentorship programs had opened a deep passion for education and advocacy for disadvantaged students.

StudentMentor.org serves students in over 1,000 colleges and counting, and more than 60% of the mentees are minorities. The website is  free, and partners with the White House to emphasize the organization’s work in promoting college completion and educational equity on a national scale.

Bravo and Jafari were recently invited to The White House to meet the President and talk to White House officials about improving college completion and preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow.

Bravo is also a National Hispana Leadership Institute fellow, and continues her advocacy work as the President of StudentMentor.org. 

“Mentoring played a powerful role in changing the course of my life – I want to make mentorship available to everybody so students can achieve their dreams and become the leaders of tomorrow, with their mentors supporting them every step of the way.”

Bravo's Mentor

Bravo’s mentor was Stanford medical student Matthew Goldstein. When Bravo first met Goldstein, she was skeptical.

“I thought all of the mentors were going to be underrepresented minorities and I kind of requested that because I wasn’t too sure what the background of my mentor would be. I wanted someone who was similar to me and could relate," she said. "But Matt was totally the opposite.”

According to Bravo, “Matt was a rich white kid of Jewish descent. I’m a poor Mexican-American girl from San Jose. But he turned out to be just what I needed. Even though he didn’t experience my background, my troubles, or my life, he could sympathize and empathize.”

Goldstein recently graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine with his PhD and is headed to Harvard Medical School for residency training. He has been Bravo’s mentor for five years now, long after Bravo’s formal participation in SUMMA ended.

“My mentor-mentee relationship with Stephanie has been nothing less than remarkable,” Goldstein said. “What I never appreciated was how mentor-mentee relationships are truly mutual. I have learned so much from Stephanie and have been inspired by her approach to the world.”

With Goldstein’s help, Bravo applied to 34 medical schools, received 27 secondary applications, got 11 interviews, and was accepted to five schools – a great success.

"Matt provided knowledge and support that was vital to helping me actualize my dream of becoming a medical doctor,” Bravo said.

Isa Adney is a Fox News Latino Education and Community Columnist and the author of Community College Success (NorLights Press, 2012), available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. She advises students across the country on how to break socio-economic barriers and build positive educational communities. You can connect with Isa on Twitter, Facebook, and www.isaadney.com.

For story ideas e-mail isa at isaadney@gmail.com

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