- American Express and a nonprofit called Strive for College have helped more than 4,000 students navigate the complicated college admissions and financial aid process through their program UStrive.
- The program pairs students from marginalized backgrounds with American Express employees and cardholders who volunteer as mentors.
- With the help of his mentor, Alexander-Joseph Silva, 18, was able to apply to college, secure financial aid, and navigate the process of coming out as transgender.
- American Express global president Doug Buckminster says mentorship programs are a key part of addressing inequality.
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Alexander-Joseph Silva, 18, is a freshman studying computer science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. His freshman year has been great so far. He’s enjoying his classes and making new friends. On top of that, he’s proud to have secured more than $30,000 in scholarships.
It’s all a success he wasn’t sure was in his future just one year ago. When he was a senior in high school, he was “overwhelmed” and “intimidated” by the college and financial aid process. The staff at his high school was too busy to help him, he said.
“I really didn’t know what to do with college applications,” Silva told Business Insider.
That is, until he met John Fedor-Cunningham, a 54-year-old social impact investor, business owner, and organic farmer who lives in the southern Champlain Valley of Vermont, and Pernambuco, Brazil. Fedor-Cunningham guided Silva through the process of applying to college, securing scholarships, and navigating financial aid.
Fedor-Cunningham, who is gay, also helped Silva navigate the process of coming out as transgender.
The two connected through a program called UStrive, a virtual mentorship run by the nonprofit Strive for College. The program pairs high school seniors from marginalized backgrounds with executives and cardholders from American Express who volunteer as mentors.
Silva (who is Hispanic) is one of approximately 4,000 students that American Express and Strive for College have served since launching their partnership in 2018. Some 85% of the student participants are people of color.
Mentorship programs like UStrive provide young people access to social capital they might not normally have access to. Whether it’s career or financial advice, industry expertise, or connections in a field, or just someone to offer guidance, mentors can give mentees a range of positive benefits. On a macro level, they cut through social circles and networks to give people from under-served backgrounds access to valuable resources.
A 2009 meta analysis of research found that mentorship can greatly boost the mentee’s attitudes of themselves and their abilities, and is associated with better career and workplace outcomes. It’s also beneficial for mentors. People who mentor are more likely to report feeling engaged at work and feeling a sense of purpose, per a report from software company SAP.