The team at Close the Gap (CTG), spoke with the many talented fellows and mentors about their experience with the Close the Gap Social Impact Fellowship program, as well as their support for the first generation, low income (FGLI) community. In this case study series, we share with you their personal stories, passions and motivations.

Let's Meet Lydia

Lydia has been a mentor with CTG for two consecutive years. She is currently a software engineer at Lincoln Labs. Outside of her job, she is passionate about creative writing and robotics.

In an interview, Lydia opened up about her experience as a mentor and how CTG has helped her give back in her community.

What does supporting FGLI mean to you?

Lydia: When I was applying for college, I felt like I was going through the process blind in a sense. I didn’t really have strong mentors and my school counselor had limited capacity since they were also helping 200+ students. Students at my high school didn’t have a lot of individual attention and so I made a lot of obvious mistakes in hindsight (such as asking my orchestra teacher to write a letter of recommendation for the engineering program I was applying for).

I feel like there’s a lot of points in the process where I could have sort of fallen through the cracks, you know, if my parents weren’t involved in my education. For me, I think it’s important to pay back the help that I did get throughout this process when I went to college and a professor supported me a lot in my growth in robotics and to provide that sort of support for others.

What drew you to CTG? How was the program for you?

Lydia: I originally found out about CTG when I was working at Amazon Robotics just because a coworker posted it in the Women in Engineering chat and figured people would be interested. I was mentoring summer interns at Amazon during that time so I was familiar with mentorship. I thought that CTG would be a really fun opportunity to get involved and give back to my community.

The fellowship has been great. It has been exciting to see the new projects that the students bring each year. I feel like the social impact projects have gotten better and better every year.

How have you grown from the fellowship?

Lydia: I think I have gotten better at condensing my thoughts about some topics. I found that the questions in the weekly agendas were really helpful for driving discussions and my fellow had some really great insights. My fellow in this past fellowship felt passionately about the unhoused people in her community. In particular, she noticed that in the summer the weather is inhospitable and there were hundreds of people outside without shelter or supplies to deal with the heat. She decided for her social impact project that she would make kits with basic supplies like sunscreen and water to hang out. It really inspired me since I care deeply about homelessness in cities and find that the problem has only gotten worse with the way the economy is going right now.

My fellow saw the problem and decided that she was going to try to fix the problem even if it was a little thing they were doing. That is really inspiring, and because of her I went out and made similar kits for my area. I made kits like my fellow did filled with food, water, hand warmers, and more. I actually felt a bit better being able to do something and help the people around me directly.

Any advice for future fellows/mentors?

Lydia: I think one of the biggest learning curves for me is understanding that your fellows are coming from all different places. I know one summer my fellow had to evacuate from the forest fires in California. In the summer before, one of my fellows didn’t have a stable place to work and they were always being interrupted. I have become more understanding as well.

About Close the Gap Foundation

Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. Founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income youths, Close the Gap Foundation works to empower first-gen, low-income students to build lifelong confidence and reach their fullest potential. Close the Gap Foundation Close the Gap Foundation's President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.

Close the Gap Foundation's flagship program, the Social Impact Fellowship, is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps first-generation, low-income high school students find mentors, grow their confidence, and give back. Through structured mentorship and project-based learning, fellows work with mentors from renowned organizations such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and UCSF to tackle a self-directed social impact project to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.‌‌

To learn more about Close the Gap Foundation, visit:‌‌

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