President Obama and Young Americans

The Power to Program

“Tales of Excellence, Achievement and Mentorship” or “TEAM” is a weekly series partnered with StudentMentor.org where we feature college students and young Americans from diverse backgrounds across the country who are using mentorships to move their career and educational goals forward. You will hear in their own words how mentors have helped them succeed and transform into the leaders of tomorrow.

Through StudentMentor.org, college students can conveniently find and collaborate with mentors to successfully graduate from college and embark on their desired careers.

As a young boy, Gabriel’s mother brought him to the US seeking new opportunities and a better life. His childhood was tough, but his family was strong and with their dedication to his education he was able to complete his GED and get into college. Gabriel always worked full-time while attending college and now is reaping the benefits of his labor and is just one course away from completing his AAS in Web Graphic Design with a bright future ahead. Hear how his mentorship helped him focus his online portfolio work and improve his job seeking prospects.

My name is Gabriel Valdivia and when I was 6 years old my mother brought us to the US. Growing up we didn’t have much of anything. In fact, I remember weeks on end when our only meals were varied combinations of beans, potatoes, eggs, powdered milk and Kool Aid. As an adult I’ve never had much financial success and I’ve always had low paying jobs that I didn’t like. Some years ago I remember reading a study that concluded that people with a GED earn the least and those with higher levels of education earn progressively more money. Earning more money has been one of my motivating factors but the most important reason for enrolling in college was that I wanted to set an example for my teen daughter. Financially speaking it’s been a real challenge. Fortunately, government loans covered most of my education. I’ve had to work full-time and attend college full-time. I remember many evenings where I would’ve like nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed, however I had several hours of coursework and looming deadlines. Now I’m just one Algebra class away from getting my AAS in Web Graphic Design. I would have loved to continue on towards my bachelor’s degree, but I ran out of college loans. That’s another challenge I’ll need to overcome in the near future.

When I joined StudentMentor.org I was looking to learn from professionals in the field. I wanted to know what skills I needed to develop. I wanted to know how I could get some practice in the programs, mark-up, styling and programming languages commonly used in my industry. I was lucky enough to have 3 mentors. My first mentor helped me to focus on my on-line portfolio of work. She helped me see my portfolio from the perspective a potential employer. She helped me focus on how I could best demonstrate my skills. My second mentor helped me see the importance of learning the different CMSs (Content Management Systems) used in my industry. He also encouraged me a lot. I had a third mentor that helped me realize that I wanted to be much more than a front end web developer. I’ve also always wanted to write computer programs, primarily programs that teach people. He taught me a lot about IDE’s and Java. He didn’t teach me Java or how to use and IDE, but he gave me a wealth of resources that have helped me understand programming.

I would definitely recommend StudentMentor.org to anyone and when I have enough skills I would love to mentor anyone looking to break into web development and programming.

Check out previous TEAM blog posts:


Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.

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