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Cyber-nonprofit pairs college students, mentors

Entrepreneur's program popular at Foothill College

As a young entrepreneur, Ashkon Jafari says he's learned that "you get 100 'nos' for every 'yes.'"

But the cofounder of a web-based nonprofit aimed at building mentorships said things are getting easier now that his group has gained some momentum.

Jafari's 11-month-old StudentMentor.org aims to link college students with volunteer mentors and has found advisers for several students at Foothill College.

The mentorships -– one-shot meetings or long-term relationships -- then can be pursued through e-mail, phone calls or face to face, according to the schedules and preferences of each pair.

Jafari said he and his cofounder, Stephanie Bravo, were inspired to launch their start-up after getting life-changing guidance from mentors of their own.

In the case of Bravo, the first in her family to go to college, it was the Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance that helped her land a spot as a medical student at the University of California, Irvine. Bravo was mentored through the alliance during her undergraduate years at San Jose State University.

For Jafari, who grew up in Saratoga, his mentor was his boss during a college internship at NVIDIA. The mentor helped Jafari, then a finance major at Santa Clara University, choose electives and comment on trends in the industry.

"We're still working with these people as mentors, and now they're friends," Jafari said.

Jafari, a 2008 Santa Clara graduate who plans to enter business school at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall, said he also was inspired by "the social justice theme and focus" of Santa Clara University's undergraduate program.

He resigned from a job with a tech company to work full time on building up the mentorship program, with the goal that foundation grants and corporate sponsorships ultimately will support the group's work, which is free to student and mentor participants.

"There are so many students like us who don't have anyone to help guide them along," he said.

"We can help any and every college student, and it's completely free and volunteer-based."

Jafari said he has worked to build strong ties with students at Foothill College.

East Palo Alto resident David Guzman, a 2004 graduate of Menlo-Atherton High School who attended Foothill, said he got some "helpful advice" after meeting with a mentor found through StudentMentor.org.

"We met at Starbucks and he offered to buy me some hot chocolate, and we talked about what I can do," Guzman said.

"I have a lot of options since I graduated with (an associate's degree) in business administration, and I'm trying to transfer to a four-year university right now."

Jafari said he's somewhat surprised that he's so far recruited about twice as many mentors -- 1,050 -- than students -- 485.

"We've been busy working on outreach at colleges locally in talking with students, as well as nationally through student newspaper articles," he said.

He said he has recruited mentors through VolunteerMatch.org as well as by other means.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity out there to make an impact," Jafari said. "At the end of the day we want to help students achieve their goals and hopefully make a meaningful impact at this time in their lives."

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