Sunnyvale, CALIFORNIA This weekend a record 35 first generation, low-income high school student Fellows will meet their mentors for the first time and begin Close the Gap Foundation’s third annual, 12-week, all-expenses-paid Social Impact Fellowship.

Three years ago, armed mostly with a sense of purpose and the shared lived experience of being first-generation and low-income, co-founders Tai Tran and Jessie Salas launched the first Social Impact Fellowship program (formerly Spark) with three high school students. Last year’s program grew to nine students. This year, Close the Gap Foundation is serving 35 students across California.

“We have accepted over three times the students, but we are also providing each Fellow with more than three times the amount of care.” – Tai Tran, co-founder and president of Close the Gap Foundation.

All of this year’s 35 Fellows identify as low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), with 70% from historically underrepresented groups. One in two Fellows’ families were impacted by COVID-19 lay-offs.

Similarly, 100% of this year’s mentors identify as BIPOC and together hail from 8 states, 24 colleges and universities, and 27 companies.

Close the Gap Foundation’s innovative approach to mentorship as a vehicle for closing the opportunity and network gaps has taken on added importance as the impacts of the pandemic and school closures persist, particularly for those from low-income communities.

After establishing and recruiting its inaugural Board of Educators, awarding microgrants to students in need of digital learning tools, and recruiting the largest and most diverse class to date in early 2021, attention turned to preparing for this summer’s Fellowship Program.

An essential component of the Social Impact Fellowship is the mentor-Fellow relationship. While students are encouraged to lean on the broader network of adults, it is their mentor who facilitates their project-based learning experience.

“Every year we have iterated on how to create the best mentor-Fellow pairings. We have experimented with indexing on identity, career aspirations, and personality, but none of those seemed quite right,” said Jessie Salas, co-founder and executive director at Close the Gap Foundation.

After applying everything from surveys to UX research to try and make the perfect match, it was eventually the newly installed Board of Educators that informed this year’s approach.

“They opened our eyes to the fact that a perfect mentorship pair likely doesn’t exist - that the real key to building a successful student-mentor relationship is often having a conversation starter, a spark. And in our own special way, that is how we have built our mentorship pairings this year,” added Salas.

Enter the DoorDash Community Credit program. Close the Gap Foundation was fortunate to receive a $5,000 Community Credit donation in early 2021 that will allow them to bring every Fellow and mentor pair together over food and coffees – offering a simple and more organic way to connect and begin to build their relationship.

These credits create more than just opportunity for connection, they fulfill an essential need that unlocks a sense of safety, belonging, and confidence. To kick off their first mentorship session in early June, both Fellows and mentors will receive DoorDash credits to participate in a "virtual" coffee chat. Throughout the summer, Fellows will also receive credits for attending and participating in weekly cohort-based learning workshops and events.

“With the DoorDash credit I was given as one of last year’s Fellows, I was able to buy a nice meal for my parents – something we had been unable to do as a family since the onset of COVID-19." – Janet Y., 2020 Fellow and current Close the Gap Intern.

Mentors and Fellows have even more than thoughtful matches and conversation starters to look forward to this summer. Close the Gap Foundation has fully embraced the opportunity created by virtual programming including offering online mental health services through Thrive with Kiki via Zoom and Calendly, hosting curriculum entirely on Notion, and running community engagement through Slack.

Close the Gap Foundation’s 3rd annual Social Impact Fellowship will run from June 6 - September 12, 2021. Fellows will present their final social impact project to a panel of industry leaders during Pitch Day with the top project receiving the coveted $1,000 Growth-Mindset Scholarship.

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 like 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

To learn more about their annual Social Impact Fellowship Program, visit

To learn more about our Summer Fellowship, hosted on Notion:

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Susie Morales, learning systems design program manager, and the Close the Gap Foundation team welcome 2021 Fellows and mentors to the 3rd annual Social Impact Fellowship. (Credit: CTG Foundation)