Chicago — Some Texas students hope their nonprofit will fill a gap in resources geared toward helping students of color transition to college in El Paso.
The El Paso Leadership Network, which is now in its second year and has over 60 members across the nation, pairs El Paso high school students with a mentor within their age range as they prepare for college, according to The 74 Million.org. The mentors are native El Pasoans and current college students across the country.
“The network is able to explore topics that may not be addressed by high school counselors,” said Eric Diaz, a mathematics senior at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He is also vice president and one of four co-founders.
“As current college students we know what it takes, so there’s specific workshops that we have that actually aren’t really addressed by older generations like mental health,” he said.
Every two weeks, all mentors and mentees meet through Zoom to discuss topics such as how many colleges to apply to, essay writing, filling out applications and financial aid. They also meet separately and develop relationships.
“The junior curriculum is more like, ‘Oh, let’s think about all the high level things about college, like what kind of college you want to go to and meeting recruiters.’ But senior year, we like to get a little bit more personal because we know social life is changing, so we look at college organizations or personal finances,” Diaz said of the network’s approach.
Adriel Bustillos, is a mentee of the program and a first-generation college student. He’s already received an associates degree in business from El Paso Community College and is slated to receive his bachelor’s in political science this fall. His mentor, Anna Rodriguez, currently studies political science at UTEP, which has been beneficial, he said.
“It closes the gap between college readiness and financial aid,” said Bustillos. “I think it also gives you that push to actually do better and find opportunities for yourself.”
Rodriguez said one of the most important things she wanted to provide Bustillos was a support system.
“It’s OK if you don’t need me all the time, but sometimes it’s just about talking to someone and seeing where you’re at and thinking about what’s going on,” she said.
The network is currently expanding to include more opportunities and mentorship programs, Diaz said, noting it’s starting to raise money for scholarships and help pay for application fees and provide vouchers for SAT or ACT tests.