Keeping in mind their struggles to acquire the resources that have aided them to where they are today, good friends Felipe Hernandez and Laura Romo co-founded M.E.N.T.E. (Mentors Empowering and Nurturing Through Education), which became an official organization at the two branches UCI and UCLA in Winter 2011. Because both have worked diligently despite limited resources and are both attending four-year universities, Hernandez and Romo feel that not only do they have the capacity to help high school students carve paths towards higher education but also believe their calling is to aid and counsel students.

They are determined to bridge paths between high school students who might have disadvantaged backgrounds and colleges where dreams will be achieved. Hence, M.E.N.T.E.’s mission is to help students engender a vision of their futures; the organization will present resources that bolster each student’s confidence toward transforming a vision into reality.

The catalyst that motivated Hernandez and Romo to act on their plans to effectively promote higher education is their own success in college. They first-handedly experience the impact of attending college. They know that having an education puts them a step ahead of others who do not. Hernandez and Romo believe that education should be accessible to everyone.

Once they realized that they wanted to create M.E.N.T.E., they establish the foundation of the organization in writing with a program description, proposal, workshop curriculum and constitution. Then they articulated their plans to their networks of support including family members, professors, supervisors, directors, advisors, students, other organizations and principals.

Even though at times both felt intimated and discouraged because the process of creating an organization was challenging and strenuous, they kept going. They had volunteer mentors who supported them and demonstrated so much initiative on their own fronts. After researching the high schools around L.A. County and how the college application process works, they set out time apart from their heavy coursework to meet with principals and directors to prove their dedication to M.E.N.T.E.

Both believe wholeheartedly that their calling is to help guide as many students to cal-states, UCs, vocational schools and four-year/two-year colleges as they can. M.E.N.T.E. has evolved into an organization of student and non-student mentors who have an unfeigned passion to support those students who want to attend college.

This program is unique because it also targets those students who may not want to attend college, who are unaware, or who are on the fence. In doing so, they change the mindset of these students, their parents and school faculty by making them realize that they (the students) have unlimited potential to obtain their dreams but all they need is a new vision.

M.E.N.T.E. is compiled of seven crucial aspects to the process of applying to college: community service, scholarships, tutoring, information sessions and workshops, field trips to college campuses and professional offices, mentorship and support systems. Support systems include parents, teachers, alumni from colleges/respective high school, elected officials and community leaders.

During the Fall quarter, The M.E.N.T.E. at UCLA branch will be working with Animo Locke No. 1 High School, a charter school in Watts. M.E.N.T.E. will host 10/11 Saturday academies (Information session and workshop) for 30 to 50 high school juniors and seniors who are on the track to graduating by the summer. These Academies will be held at various locations: UCI, UCLA, the Mendez Learning Center and Locke High School.

The Saturday Academy consists of three components that will provide students with comprehensive knowledge, skills and training regarding higher education, life and their career. The first section will be an interactive lecture the topics covered that day which range from the California university system to life as a college student. The second component will be dedicated to personal development where guest speakers and/or activities that not only will motivate and encourage them to pursue higher education but will serve as soul enriching activities that stimulate civic engagement, analytical thinking, community involvement, leadership development and that ultimately help the students figure out who they are and what their purpose is. During the last interval, the student, alongside their parent and mentor, will work on a “College Action Plan” which includes, in writing, personal statements, financial budget sheet(s), scholarship application(s), proposed class schedule, major/career time line and other important information. M.E.N.T.E’s vision is to create an army of educated, passionate and caring individuals that together will instill positive change in the world through their own mechanisms.

M.E.N.T.E. also strives to help to the students’ parents acquire a lucid vision of what entails a college education. Parents can participate in the workshops that will explain the process of applying to colleges in addition to the costs and benefits. The availability of bilingual speakers of English and Spanish will increase the number of parents participating. Significantly, M.E.N.T.E. will match up a current undocumented college student with an undocumented high school student to provide as many resources and training available. Upon financial resources of the organization, transportation to the locations of the Saturday Academies will be provided including supplies, food, scholarships and internship opportunities.

Lastly, M.E.N.T.E. will give tours of college campuses and even site visits to places of employment such as engineering, law, medical and research firms. There will be panels of professionals to speak about their experiences in each industry. Interview techniques, resume building, public speaking techniques and leadership strategies will be provided at these workshops as well.

Hernandez and Romo are excited to start the program and aver that their program will expand larger and larger as more students will want to join. Their blithe disposition has helped them go a long way from mapping out a structure of the organization to recruiting enough high school students to put their program into action. Both hold a firm belief that the vision of learning should not be ephemeral but rather a lifelong pursuit.

Hernandez and Romo are very thankful for the amazing work that their executive cabinets have done at UCLA and UCI as well as all of the volunteers, mentors, advisers, program supporters and school site representatives. With the encouragement of these supporters, M.E.N.T.E strives to establish crucial partnerships within the college community, school site community and California to provide the students not only with education resources but also with career and life services and opportunities. Most importantly, M.E.N.T.E.’s vision is to change the mindset entire communities by empowering all students, parents, school faculty and mentors through education.