By Medha Raman | LSJ Communications Assistant
While many may think of LSJ as solely a pre-law program, the variety of careers that LSJ alumni pursue proves that the LSJ experience is one that is versatile and valuable in any career path.
For Kevin Truong, LSJ Class of 2016 and first year MPA student at the Evans School of Public Policy, the path from LSJ led to the creation of the college access and mentorship non-profit called “Hey Mentor.”
Hey Mentor is a free online college and career mentorship program that matches underserved high school students with college mentors. By providing supportive and knowledgeable role models for high school students, the program aims to bring college and career guidance to communities with low access to crucial information.
Truong was inspired to create Hey Mentor by his own experience as a child of immigrant background, growing up in low-income public housing in West Seattle.
“I’m a first generation college student,” Truong said. “Both my parents dropped out of elementary school, my mom in 2nd grade and my dad in 5th grade. So education was always something that meant a lot to me.”
As Truong entered UW, he grew more passionate about education and college access. He mentored students at his alma mater, Chief Sealth High School, as part UW Dream Project, a high school outreach program that supports low-income and first generation students in pursuing higher education or other post-secondary plans. During his gap year after graduation, he continued his work in the field with the non-profit, College Access Now, as an Americorps member.
When considering graduate school opportunities, Truong learned more about public policy and the opportunities to use policy to make a difference in education. With support from his own LSJ mentors, like Hayley Edmonston (Class of 2013), Truong decided that creating a non-profit based on mentorship was the best way to combine his experience in LSJ with his interests in policy and education.
“The thing that I took away most from LSJ was the social impact piece,” Truong said. “That’s something that I’ve really taken into consideration when it comes to my career, how to come away with a meaningful job that makes a difference. So I always knew I wanted to do something that combined social impact and policy.”
Truong started Hey Mentor in May of 2017 and since then the program has grown to have over 23 college mentors and 60 high school students from 10 different schools. Many of the college mentors currently in the program were previously Truong’s mentees at Chief Sealth High School.
“One of things that we’re really trying to do with mentorship is to streamline that impact through multi-generational mentorship,” Truong said. “A lot of the students who graduate from our program may end up joining Hey Mentor as mentors to work with the next generation of high school students. I feel like that type of impact can be really meaningful especially since so many of our students come from immigrant and first generation families.”
In order to reach a broader audience and build a stronger sense of community, Truong decided to use an online platform, run exclusively through social media. Mentors can easily chat with their mentees on Facebook or create groups to post important information and resources. Hey Mentor also hosts a YouTube vlog series, with new videos ever 2 weeks on building a career and developing new skills.
“What I want my students to take away is a sense of community and collective impact. That’s what I really value and why I created an online program like Hey Mentor,” Truong said.
While this program has brought many new opportunities, it has also come with its fair share of challenges. With few opportunities for publicity and no government funding, Truong has had to be creative about getting Hey Mentor off the ground with grant writing and strategic partnerships.
Still, Truong is hopeful about the future of Hey Mentor.
“I hope to make Hey Mentor into a national program by partnering with colleges across the country,” Truong said. “We want to host a summer internship program for graduating high school seniors on leadership and college access so that when they attend their own universities in the fall, they can start their own chapters of Hey Mentor and continue to make an impact.”