In Real Life Blog Series: Mentors Connecting Dreams to Careers

Saif Zihiri, Development and Communications Intern, America Needs You
July 26th, 2017
Posted In: Mentoring Stories

Mentors can play an instrumental part in preparing young people for college and career. America Needs You (ANY) shares how their program empowers first-generation college students to represent their authentic selves and translate their skills, goals, and dreams to opportunity.

America Needs You (ANY) was founded in 2009 on the belief that socio-economic status should not be a barrier to college persistence and career success. ANY’s mission – to fight for economic mobility for ambitious, first-generation college students – is carried out by providing transformative mentorship and intensive career development to students who are the first generation in their families to attend college.  Each year, ANY’s Fellows Program helps hundreds of students, like Shifa, connect their personal and professional ambitions with opportunity.

Shifa emigrated from China to Chicago in 2012, facing significant language barriers and challenges adapting to a new culture. A naturally bright young man, he struggled to articulate that his communication skills were not indicative of his intelligence. He was aware that as a first-generation college student and immigrant, he lacked the professional connections to enter the career of his dreams, marketing. So he applied to the ANY Fellows Program in Chicago.

Through a series of 28, full-day workshops offered over two years, the Fellows Program provides students with instruction and hands-on activities to master the soft and hard skills necessary to prepare for meaningful careers. In addition, each Fellow is provided with over 200 hours of one-on-one mentorship, one of the most critical components of the program. ANY’s volunteer mentors, known as Mentor Coaches, provide industry insight, helping Fellows set goals and stay on track academically and professionally. For Shifa, his Mentor Coach Marina, provided the type of support he needed.

Having emigrated from Russia 16 years ago, Marina had special insight into what it meant to be a non-English speaker in the United States. She worked hard to perfect her English, developing ties in digital marketing along the way. Today, Marina works as a Digital Sales Manager at CBS. As a way to give back to her community and someone facing similar struggles to her own, Marina applied to be a Mentor Coach through ANY’s Illinois Fellows Program.  

Shifa and Marina hit it off immediately. They bonded over their passion for marketing and the day to day struggles of learning English as an immigrant. Marina saw in Shifa a young man with drive. Shifa saw someone who could see beyond his language barriers. Outside of the workshops, they meet weekly to talk about everything from TedTalks to Hip Hop in Chinatown, an event Shifa is helping to host.

For Shifa, the support he received from Marina and the entire ANY community has made a significant difference in his life. Today, Shifa is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. With one internship in the marketing department at Dell already under his belt, he is well on his way to achieving his dreams.


About America Needs You:

ANY is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that fights for the economic mobility of ambitious, first-generation college students by providing transformative mentorship and intensive career development. On average, 96% of students served by ANY graduate from college and 91% of graduates secure employment or enroll in graduate school. ANY was founded in 2009 and has served over 1,000 students. The non-profit operates in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California and was a 2015 New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award winner. The nonprofit’s first school-based pilot will launch in September at LaGuardia Community College. Visit to learn more.

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