Apr 18, 2014

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Spotlight: Stephanie Bravo, StudentMentor.org Founder

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Today’s New Latina Spotlight is on Stephanie Bravo, CEO and Founder of StudentMentor.Org!

Country of Origin and Family Heritage: I was born and raised in San Jose, CA, USA. My dad’s parents are from Michoacan and Sonora, Mexico. My mom’s family is from Chihuahua, Mexico and Killarney, Ireland. My mom’s been on this genealogy kick for the past few years, so I can trace my Irish side back to the 4th century B.C.! I’m looking into my dad’s side, but I love the stories that have passed down over generations about my great-great-grandmother, a Purepecha curandera, or Tarascan Indian healer native to central Mexico.

Anything else you want to share about your family, cultural heritage, or any immigration stories? I have a rich family history: In the 1940s, my paternal great-grandparents retired their family from a life of migrant farming and settled in the beautiful Silicon Valley. For four generations, my extended family and I have lived on the very same property. With cousins just down the street and my abuelo’s taqueria around the corner, I grew up surrounded by family. I learned the values of hard work when my cousins, sister, and I used to work summers at my abuelo’s taqueria, El Tarasco—the pillar of his success as a Mexican immigrant in the U.S. These family values of hard work and entrepreneurism inspired me to pursue my own dream of attaining an education and creating my nonprofit organization.

Career and Professional Information: Degrees you hold:  I was one of the first in my family to attend a four-year university. It was a struggle to get through college, since I was working part-time at a retail store, and didn’t know what resources were available that could help me out. I attribute a lot of my success to finding a mentor through Stanford University’s Minority Medical Mentorship Program for disadvantaged students interested in pursuing medical careers.  My mentor helped me choose courses, plan out my career, and was hugely supportive in helping me graduate with a B.A. Psychology from San Jose State University in 2009. He also helped me gain entrance into medical school, a feat that very few Latinas accomplish! I got into the program of my dreams that trains physician-leaders to serve the ever-growing and underserved Latino community: Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. I enjoyed my time in the program from 2009-11, but soon realized that medical school was not as fulfilling to me as much as helping students through mentoring. I decided to put my dream of becoming a physician on the backburner and instead pursue my passion for education.

Current occupation and title: Co-Founder, President of StudentMentor.org. If you’re a student, please share with us where you’re pursuing your degree and your area of studies

Career/Professional Bio:  One year after graduating college, I created StudentMentor.org—a nonprofit organization that aims to increase college completion and enhance student career readiness through the power of mentoring. Through its innovative technology platform, StudentMentor.org helps college students collaborate with mentors from diverse professions to help them achieve their academic and career goals. Since launching in October 2010, StudentMentor.org has achieved groundbreaking feats, including motivating students from over 900 universities, creating meaningful mentorships for 5000+ students and mentors throughout the country, and changing people’s lives for the better. Ariana Rojas is a motivated and hard-working college student with big dreams of becoming a doctor and practicing in an underserved Latino community. She is currently one of the many students StudentMentor.org is helping succeed.

Professional/Social Achievements: A little over a year after launching StudentMentor.org, I was invited to meet the President of the United States and speak with White House Officials about my organization’s significant work to build a robust 21st century workforce in December 2011. StudentMentor.org has since partnered with the White House on a number of initiatives to emphasize the important issue of college completion.

In October 2011, I was selected as one of 22 outstanding Latina professionals in the nonprofit sector to participate in the highly competitive Advancing Latina Leaders in Nonprofits Program by the nation’s premier Latina leadership organization, the National Hispana Leadership Institute. The best part of the program so far is getting to be a part of a supportive network of successful Latinas, who inspire me to be the best I can be everyday.

Who Has Always Inspired You to Be Your Best? My mentors are consistently pushing me to be the best I can be, and they are always there to lend a helping hand. When it gets tough, I reach out to them, and they really put things into perspective for me. Through their support, I realize how much I have been blessed in my life, and then I feel compelled to keep on doing what I do promoting the greater good.

25 Million Latinas and Counting! Your thoughts? We are the future of the U.S. and as such we need to shift our values to invest in higher education for a more successful future. It’s already happening in that Latinas are enrolling at higher rates than ever before, but we’re still falling short in graduating from college. In the near future, the majority of new jobs in the U.S. will require post-secondary education, and if we cannot fill them we will be out of work and stuck in the cycle of poverty! That’s why I have made it my mission to help Latina students successfully graduate from college and get ready for the workforce through StudentMentor.org nationally and my volunteer activities at the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley locally. I truly believe that if we help each other, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

Your Favorite Magazine? I love Latina Style Magazine because it’s specifically targeted to promote Latinas in the workforce and highlights our excellence in leadership, education, and specific careers. I also love the new pieces in Latina Magazine called “Inspiring Latinas” that celebrate non-celebrities like you and me who are accomplishing great things in life.

Your Favorite TV show? The Colbert Report is my favorite. I cannot help but laugh uncontrollably at nearly every episode. It is so funny when Mr. Colbert points out the ironies, inconsistencies, and complete hypocrisy of right wing media and political figures. I would love for him to become the next GOP candidate—that would make the campaign worth watching!

Stilettos or Flat shoes? Flats most days, boots and tennies are my favorite, but I rock a mean stiletto for a night out on the town once in a while.

Countries You Have Visited (if any) and Your Favorite One: Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. My absolute favorite place of them all is Iguazu Falls – a massive canyon full of waterfalls cascading between the mountains of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. If heaven had a waterfall, this would be it!

Describe a Perfect Day Off From Work: A perfect day would include spending time with family and friends, and taking time to nourish myself. I like going for walks up and down the hills of San Francisco, and I never pass up an opportunity to explore new cities and terrains. I love to end the day with a lot of laughs watching the Colbert Report, de-stressing with a yoga session and a warm bubble bath, and then getting in a full 8+ hours of sleep.

What Has Been Your Biggest Challenge in Life? The biggest challenge I have faced is creating a balanced life. I tend to do too many things all at once, and then stress out about it later. Living as a medical student where my life was consumed by studying all day everyday and not much time for anything else was very difficult for me. Since leaving medical school, I have been able to re-commit to a life where I make time to do the things I love, like spending time with family, hanging out with friends, writing and reading, promoting social causes, and volunteering for organizations that I care about. It’s definitely an everyday struggle for me and a lot of other women, but if you are diligent about prioritizing the things that are most important in your life, then you will be able to create that balance.

What is Your Next Big Dream? My greatest happiness comes from giving back to others. I want to create a world without poverty, without educational inequities, and without the exploitation of disadvantaged populations. Thus, my next big dream is to inspire others to change the world for the better through education, entrepreneurism, and empowerment. I know that if we invest in these things and take some time to help each other out, we can achieve a better world for ourselves and for the generations to come.

StudentMentor.org  www.StudentMentor.org

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Marlyn Nunez

Marlyn Nuñez is from New York, NY. She is a media professional and early childhood education instructor. She studied Communication Studies at New York University and Early Childhood Education at CUNY-City College.

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