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 spotlight series, we share with you their personal stories, passions and motivations.

Let’s meet TJ

TJ was a Close the Gap mentor during the 2022 fellowship program. She is currently a product manager at a non-profit called One Degree. She is also a co-founder of a non-profit in her hometown which strengthened her passion to help communities. She is passionate about helping non-profits in the best way she can. Outside of work, TJ is passionate about baking and cooking, yoga and pilates, fashion and clothing design, finding the best desserts, and building communities wherever she goes.

In an interview, TJ opened up about her experience as a mentor and how CtG has changed her perspective on the high school experience.

What does supporting FGLI students mean to you?

TJ: I am not originally from the United States so I was born and raised in Serbia. I came to the United States four or five years ago with my partner. For me, I know how it was to be an immigrant that moved to another country with a different culture.

As I mentioned, I didn’t grow up here, and I am seeing the gap between the immigrants and those who grew up in the United States. I really wanted to help bridge the gap as much as I can to support other immigrants or children because I feel like I understand. I am not saying I have been in the same situation, but I feel like I have had similar experiences and potentially similar challenges. I hope with mentorship, we can help each other and support each other to have a better life in the United States.

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

TJ: At One Degree, there was a senior engineer and he actually applied for Close the Gap to be a mentor. He told me about how much he loved and enjoyed the program. I became interested in learning more about Close the Gap and learned more by looking at the Close the Gap Instagram page. I decided to apply and liked what I read online with a recommendation from my friend.

My experience with the fellowship was great! It gave me insight into the life of a first generation low-income student, or a student whose parent is an immigrant. It also made me reflect on what it is like going through high school in the United States, since I did not have that experience. I only know things about high-school from the movies, which I am sure aren’t always right.

How have you grown from the Fellowship?

TJ: I would say that I was looking for additional material on how I can be a better mentor every week for my fellow. By nature I am a patient person, but I learned that my fellow was doing several activities throughout the summer. My fellow was volunteering with two organizations, going to school, and was a leader in one of her school clubs, alongside personal issues. I am sure it was stressful for her to have her commitments along with the fellowship and the social impact project.

Trying to remain patient, especially with her missing some deadlines, but also making sure she is aware so that she doesn’t forget. The fellowship really helped me develop and improve my mentorship skills. I have always wanted to become better at supporting younger adults. I feel like there is an immense amount of stress placed on young adults. In my home country and other European countries, the process of going to college is not as stressful as the United States’ process is.

How has the Fellowship changed your world-view on education?

TJ: I feel like there is an immense amount of stress placed on young adults. In my home country and other European countries, the process of going to college is not as stressful as the United States’ process is. In Europe, no one really cares what university/college you go to. I learned in the US, there are fifteen year-olds strategizing about how to get into certain colleges. This must be insanely stressful. I am mind-blown that we are expecting 15 and 16 year olds to make such big life decisions.

On a personal level, I was reflecting and trying to think about parental styles and how to help children cope with societal pressures.  I’ve talked to my partner about how we would decrease these stressors with our kids in the future.  I want to create an environment where it is not important which school you go to.

Any advice for future mentors?

TJ: I would definitely advise future mentors to focus on their individual fellow, their situation, and what they need at that moment. I think it is more important to make sure that your fellow has what they want to discuss as priority. If they just want to talk and you can listen, this is vital.  Also, being patient and providing the right space and time is something I would recommend.arketi

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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