Archived Alumni Spotlight

    Karla Mendez

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    Hello!~ I'm Karla! As my Instagram notes, I'm a Silicon Valley management consultant focused on customer centricity for tech companies. I'm also a hobbyist in Crossfit, Paleo, cooking, diversity & education. I'm in midst of a transition back to school after working for the past 3 years to pursue my MBA at Harvard Business School.

    How have you transitioned into working in a meaningful career?

    I graduated from UC Berkeley with a dual degree in Business Administration and Operations Research Management Science in 2013. I decided to begin my career in consulting to be able to gain a wide variety of knowledge in many different industries and groups. It was the perfect choice to really try to figure out what career I wanted to truly pursue by getting to try different projects!


    How has GMS impacted your life?

    GMS enabled me to be the leader and person I am today! GMS truly opened the doors for me to do absolutely anything that I want to do. GMS showed me that if I want something, I can achieve it through persistent and dedication. I hope every scholar feels empowered to pursue their dreams and be anything they want to do, like I've been able to.

    What are you most excited for in 2016

    I am most excited about starting my MBA at Harvard Business School in August! I am being sponsored by my company to get my MBA and I could not be more thrilled for this opportunity!

    Is there anything else you would like to share or want the GMS Scholars/Alumni community to know?

    I'd love to be a resource for any scholar interested in learning more about consulting, pursuing an MBA, or anything in between! I focus a lot of my efforts at my company on professional development, diversity in the workforce, volunteering, and youth education. I hope to focus on improving these areas through my MBA. Anyone who wants to get in contact with me can find me on linkedin.




    Jesenia Gallegos

    My name is Jesenia Gallegos and I'm a 2000 GMS Scholar alumni hailing from Caldwell, Idaho. I graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science degree in the Music Industry from USC. I was always passionate about music as an art form and even though I was never taught an instrument, I knew I wanted to be involved in the process even if it was just on the business side. As a result, I have been working in the music business for the last ten years. I started my career at an indie music publisher protecting and advising indie songwriters on how to monetize their music so they could make a living and keep making the music I loved. Soon after I was recruited by worldwide multi-media/conglomerate NBC Universal to manage their film music catalog.

    GMS was incredibly instrumental in allowing me to break the cycle of a lack of education in my family. I'm the first in my family to attend college, and also the first to obtain an advanced degree. After six years of working professionally in the music industry, I went back to school again to obtain my law degree--proof that knowledge is power and it's never too late to go back to school.


    What I am most excited for in 2016 is transitioning into my new legal career by working for a law firm or starting my own law practice. I am also looking forward to more travel outside of the US.

    Some advice for the newest GMS Scholars, and stuff I wish someone had told me: "Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear". Some of us are very shy, but don't be afraid to talk to people, ask people questions or for informational interviews; and talk to important people. They are the key to your success. Also, it is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice. Remember to pay it forward the more successful you become. And travel more now since most of you don't have the responsibilities of a spouse, or kids, or a mortgage yet. Bridge those gaps in culture and geography so you're a more well-rounded human being.



    Daniel Edeza

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    I am originally from Inglewood, CA, a predominantly working-class neighborhood southwest of Los Angeles proper. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were born and raised in rural villages without access to running water and electricity. My father moved to the U.S. at the age of 19, with only a few pesos in his pocket, and my mother emigrated from Sinaloa, Mexico at the age of 22 to join my father.

    Looking back at my time as a child, I can unequivocally state that I had a beautiful childhood. While there were times when money was short, I will always be grateful to my parents for providing me with a lifestyle that never left me wanting for anything. With my family’s support, I was able to excel in school and graduated from Hawthorne High School in 2006.

    After high school, I attended Yale University, where I earned a B.A. in History. While there, I took on several leadership roles and in 2009 received the Seton Elm-Ivy Award from the President of Yale and the Mayor of New Haven, Connecticut for my contributions to strengthening relations between the university and the surrounding community.

    After Yale, I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I earned an Ed.M. in International Education Policy, and then worked in Mexico City as a Fulbright Garcia-Robles Scholar. Most recently, I worked as a Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale and am currently employed as the Talent Scout at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, where I work on several initiatives that support the best and brightest Latino students.


    How has GMS impacted your life?

    I still remember the day I was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship. It was towards the end of my senior year and I was nervous about my next steps. At that point, I had been accepted to several University of California institutions and Yale, but I was still worried about financing my education. When I saw that thin envelope (I know, how deceiving!) on my kitchen table my heart stopped for a second. I really thought it was bad news. I cautiously opened the envelope, bracing myself for terrible news. And sure enough, I couldn’t believe it….I was selected!

    The Gates Millennium Scholarship freed me from financial worry and empowered me as a student through connections with other GMS Scholars. In thinking back to my experience in college, I strongly believe that this sense of empowerment is what pushed me to challenge myself academically, every step of the way.

    What are you most excited for in 2016?

    While I am a born and raised Angeleno, I moved to the east coast in 2006 and just returned to Los Angeles at the end of 2015. The city has changed a lot in the past ten years, so I am really looking forward to exploring new restaurants, meeting new friends, and reestablishing myself as an adult.


    Is there anything else you would like to share or want the GMS Scholars/Alumni community to know?

    Yes, sign up to be a mentor! I have had the privilege of working with a few mentees since leaving college—some of whom are current Gates Scholars—and have nothing but positive things to say about my experiences so far. From speaking to other GMS alumni, it’s become clear to me that a lot of the struggles and uncertainty I faced as a first-generation college student were also faced by other GMS Scholars. By taking on one, two, or even a few mentees, you will provide invaluable insight that can have a noticeable impact on a student’s life.




    Keisha Mabry

    I grew up attending predominately white, traditional schooling in my early years. I would return home to a single mother surrounded by an older sibling, cousins and neighbors who had all dropped out of high school for various reasons. This caused me to, at an early age, have constructed mental binaries of the world in which I lived. I believed and had internalized that to be white meant to have education and to be minority meant to have not. Around age ten, I was excited and somewhat shocked to see for the first time Spike Lee’s School Daze. Combining African-American urban issues with college issues, this film allowed me to conceptualize how college could be for a person like me. Although this vision was not even reality for my older sibling, cousins and neighbors at that time, I had my mind set on education.

    My education journey began at that moment and has not stopped since. Education has taught me that I can advance my social and intellectual position, and I have vowed to help others do the same. Many opportunities, such as Teach For America, Kipp and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentucky’s Education Roundtable Initiative, have allowed me to join the movement to close the achievement gap and end education inequality one student at a time. I know that all children, regardless of race and economic background, can achieve at a high level because I witness it daily. I’ve witnessed a 16 year old eight grader raise her grade from a F to a B in less than one trimester, I’ve witnessed my after-school tutoring session grow from five students to more than thirty in the matter of a few weeks, and I’ve witnessed average exam scores go from 74% to 92%.

    Currently I oversee the development of an education technology software designed to decrease ‘summer melt’ – each year between 10-20% of the college-intending population “melt” and do not begin their postsecondary careers the fall after high school. The phenomenon of summer melt further impacts low-income, first-generation aspiring college students; 30-40% of low-income, first generation college-intending students do not begin their postsecondary careers the fall after high school. The software will help more than 10,000 students navigate the college matriculation process this summer to overcome summer melt. Because I move with the momentum of my dreams I am going to do my best to change the world for one child or the entire population.




    Adan Gonzalez

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    My name is Adan Gonzalez. I am a son of two immigrants. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. I’m a dedicated organizer, a boxer, a coach and a future lawyer.

    I was raised in inner city Dallas. My parents migrated to this country from Mexico. Rarely have things come easy for our family. Struggle is common, and while I love my hometown, it was often a tough place to grow up.

    I was 10 years old when I had my first job, selling movies and snacks at the local flea market to earn my own money for a school uniform. Now, I am accomplished a dream of obtaining a higher education from Georgetown, and I know its my duty to make sure other students who have dreams like I do, obtain an opportunity to reach their potential. Four years ago, I founded my non-profit organization “Puede Network!” I gave words to the feelings in my heart.

    The Puede Network includes conferences with C-Suite executives who commit to helping provide comprehensive college services, volunteer opportunities, and mentorship to underprivileged students in Dallas public schools. We have engaged 170,000 students and parents in 15 states through presentations, a blog, and a radio show advocating the importance of higher education, parental support, and community involvement. Currently, Puede Network is directly involved with over 530 families. Different programs are targeted at different audiences. Our soccer academy is made up of 167 kids who meet daily at our local park. To participate, my scholars are required to maintain an 85/100 GPA, 30 hours/semester of community service and attend 8 community events annually. Our boxing academy works with 85 kids that show up weekly to my backyard for boxing lessons. Following a similar model to the soccer program, students write weekly essays as their entrance fee, and are also required to earn community service hours. The Zumba Academy is made for the parents, and requires parents to keep a reading log of what they read to their kids.


    What is your field of study and have you transitioned into working a meaningful career?

    My upbringing did not put me in a position to learn about theories and statistics. But I had memorized faces. Faces filled with despair and pain. With those familiar faces in mind, I knew then I could lend my own unique perspective to the conversations. I learned that “Education” is a field of practice. I observed an academic disconnect of understanding the reality of our achievement gap. Sitting with my peers and professors, I spoke of these issues with a passion that surprised my own self. I have discovered the more I help others, the more I help myself.

    How has GMS impacted your life?

    GMS allowed me to earn the privilege to dream through my higher education. GMS invested in my future, which allowed me embrace the idea that education is my freedom.


    Why did you choose to share in your interview with the GMS Alumni?

    GMS allowed me to earn the privilege to dream through my higher education. GMS invested in my future, which allowed me embrace the idea that education is my freedom.


    What are you most excited for in 2016?

    Starting my Education Management and Policy Masters program that will be funded by GMS!


    Anything else?

    We need to build lifelong scholars. This means teaching our students about social inequities and the importance of morals and values. We must instruct our students in effective methods of communication and teamwork, and teach them to prioritize learning. We need to teach diversity, health, and how to explore personal interests. In any community and in every zip code, community service, leadership, and academic success should help students to understand their role in the economy and their global community. I became a scholar by accident. I was lucky to earn the chance of a higher education but I will fight until all kids can have that same privilege to dream. This is our GMS responsibility.




    Chau Dang

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    I was born in Vietnam, but because of the war, my family escaped when I was 11 months old. We lived in refugee camps in the Philippines before relocating to Seattle. I grew up in White Center, a suburb of Seattle, and went to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where I studied astronomy and math. After college, I worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland as a solar physics researcher. The following year, I started a PhD program at the University of Oklahoma, where I used data-mining techniques to study exploding stars called Type Ia Supernovae. I left my program with a master's degree, returned to Seattle, and did a lot of community work, volunteering and teaching, and comics. Today I'm an R&D associate principal at Accenture Technology Lab in Silicon Valley.

    Tell us about the program you work with and how it has made an impact in the larger community


    This year I'm Co-Chairing GMSAA's National Volunteer Initiative with Lawrence Smith. The initiative's mission is to create a platform for scholars to give back to the community. We partnered with American Cancer Society to develop four strategic engagement channels we call Pillars of Engagement: Direct Patient, ACS-CAN, Relay for Life, and Health Equity. Each of these pillars is very focused and strives to impact in distinct ways.

    The Direct Patient program allows our scholars to plan ice cream socials, dinners, or entertainment at a patient treatment community home. This type of volunteering makes the lives of cancer patients better through fostering relationships. Another type of impact that is equally important is at the bureaucratic level. Being part of a marginalized community, I think a lot of times we want to fight the system, but ACS-CAN is really great at giving our scholars exposure to how to effectively work within the system to make improvements for those who might not have the luxury to lobby for themselves. Last year, ACS sent six scholars to Lobbying Day in Washington, DC. They learn about the lobbying process, gain professional training, and get opportunities to practice these skills on the Hill. The impact is a lasting one for the scholars who get this unique experience, and they can pass on the knowledge or inspire others to get involved in our government. Relay for Life is about creating a sense of community and service for our scholars in college, and helps them build management and event planning skills. For the Health Equity piece, we're giving our Public Health scholars an opportunity to work with ACS on a research project called a capstone project later this year. I'm very excited about this program. The opportunity to work with a well-established organization like ACS will be great for the scholar and our communities.

    I highly recommend volunteering because it touches on three components of success. I believe success is a combination of skills, hard work, and luck. When you volunteer, you get to learn and develop critical skills, while of course working hard. Luck is difficult to create but when you do community work you increase your luck because volunteering could open up unexpected opportunities as well as expand your network, and luck is all about opportunities. You never know how you’ll meet your next dream employer, so I encourage scholars who are interested in giving back to reach out to Lawrence or me. ACS is a great partner and we’ll work to find something that suits you.

    Why did you choose to share in your interview with the GMS Alumni?

    I always learn so much from other GMS scholars, especially at conferences, that whenever I get an opportunity to give back to the pool of knowledge, I feel like it's only fair that I do what I wish others do as well.

    What are you most excited about for the GMSAA in 2015?

    I'm very excited about our public health capstone project collaboration with ACS. It's a concrete way in which GMSAA is answering our alumni need for career development opportunities. There's a lot of potential in an opportunity like this and I'm very excited to see how our scholars will take advantage of such resources.

    Anything else you'd like to share or what Scholars/Alumni to know?

    I recently got some great news. ACS has elected me to its Board of Directors. It's a two-year term, with quarterly meetings in Atlanta. It's a huge opportunity for me to learn a ton, so I'm super excited. But as the youngest board member, I'm honestly nervous and intimidated as well. I've been reading, asking people a lot of questions, and calling my dad a lot for advice. I'm currently reading Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World, and she has a great line I'm taking to heart: "Don't be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing." So to my very wise fellow scholars, I’m all ears.



    Alumni Spotlight

    Syrine Joubert

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    My name is Syrine Joubert I am a Visionary for Growth, and this is my GMS Legacy!

    The type of legacy that I choose to create and leave behind will depict my character and how I lived. But, leaving a GMS Legacy behind reveals an additional layer of how I am carrying out my legacy of creating and manifesting growth within myself, my career and others. The GMS scholarship transformed my educational endeavors because not only did it provide funding to pursue my studies, but it also fueled my passion to be a well-rounded individual. It aided me in my ability to recognize and develop my talents that would allow me to help others envision and develop their careers.


    As a blossoming tech-savvy mathematician, I choose to always be challenged in my work environment because that is where I can find maximum growth. I am creating my legacy through my passion for technology and numbers by pursuing a career in data and metrics in one of the top medical centers in the country. I work for the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and I am responsible for completing any data and analytic requests for the Human Resources department. I analyze data using a variety of software programs and then prepare the data for university executives for their review. I am living out one of my dreams. GMS gave me the ability to be able to focus more on the task at hand of obtaining my degrees that otherwise seemed distant. Now, I am able to use what I have learned and grow it forward to others.

    My legacy of growth is also shown in the uniqueness of my educational background. I am not what society would stereotype as a typical mathematician or instructional technologist because I hold certifications as an advanced personal trainer and an indoor cycling instructor. Not only do I love technology and numbers, but I also love motivating and inspiring people to grow in all areas of their lives.

    One of the main inspirations that I want others to learn from my legacy is to not be afraid to grow into your passion. Everyone is destined to develop into someone that can make a difference in our world today. It is up to each of us to recognize our personal areas of growth and push through the rough patches. Consistency, patience, integrity and resilience play a substantial role in shaping our futures. We can only control how we react and how hard we work to be the best version of ourselves. It is important to remember that we should always strive to be that person who leaves behind a legacy of positive impact.

    Syrine is an alumna of McNeese State University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Master of Science in Instructional Technology.



    Tehreem Rehman

    Tell us about yourself including your professional background.

    I grew up in Queens, New York but moved around quite a bit during middle and high school. In 5th grade, I was accepted to Prep for Prep, a leadership development and scholarship program for low-income minority students in NYC. The program funds a private school education for middle and high school but before you can enroll you go through somewhat of a bootcamp. While I ultimately was unable to finish the program because of a family move, the first summer in the program was absolutely a transformative experience for me. I was finally reading books by contemporary writers of color and was beginning to learn the language to articulate the inequality I regularly witnessed growing up. I truly believe that this program drove me to become more socially conscious and led to my investment in social justice. This dedication emerged in many of the activities I was involved with in high school and college; certain clinical volunteer experiences in the end led me to decide that a career in medicine was the path for me.


    You started med school not too long ago. What has that experience been like? Any advice for those thinking about medical school or other professional fields?

    It’s been a whirlwind as one can imagine. I’m so grateful to be at my institution and being surrounded by such a great community of students and faculty. I have never so far felt that I have entered the wrong path. However, anxiety naturally does emerge when thinking about how I’m going to master all of the clinical knowledge and skills to be the best doctor I can be for my patients in the future. For those thinking about medical school, I would advise thinking deeply about the reasons you want to become a doctor since it’s certainly not an easy road. Talk to as many doctors as you can, expose yourself to work in the clinic, and also try to learn about structural causes of poor health. Unfortunately, medical schools don’t adequately cover how sociopolitical or economic structures influence health but college is an amazing time to take classes in topics like sociology, anthropology, and economics.


    Also, don’t feel like you have to fit some mold. For instance, everyone around me was doing lab research but I already had done that in high school and didn’t enjoy the experience all too much. Instead, I decided to do a survey-based research project looking at access to mental health services. Having said that, the requirements overall for medical school are legitimate in my opinion. Doctors need to have the acumen to master a lot of scientific and clinical knowledge, don’t have to pursue careers in research but should know how to conduct a study in order to advance the medical field, and must recognize social responsibility as an intrinsic part of their profession. But honestly, I am a lot less stressed now than I was as a pre-med. Try to branch out of the pre-med circle; it’ll help your sanity, I promise. While I didn’t take a gap year, I often wish I had. Take one, two, or three. Finally, while taking on an incredible amount of debt can seem daunting, there are options for loan repayment upon graduation and financial aid at many schools; don’t let finances deter you.


    What was it like being a Campus-Based Leader for GMS and now a GMS Alum?

    It was awesome! My year, Columbia had the greatest number of Gates Scholars and meeting all of them in September of my freshman year at the conference gave me an instant community. This community supported me in many ways throughout my four years in college; sometimes there are certain struggles that only another poor student can understand. Being a Campus-Based Leader allowed me to expand that community for myself and other scholars from all years, even from other graduate schools. Amazing mentorship opportunities opened. We started a community-service project to work with local high school students in applying to colleges and it’s still going strong today! As an alumna, I still stay in touch with many scholars and have mentored several first-year scholars.


    What's been your best GMS experience? Why should others apply?

    I think I touched upon this already. It’s the amazing, supportive community you have the opportunity to become a part of. Other than the obvious reasons of getting money for college (and even graduate school if you pursue an eligible subject!), there are regularly special funding and invitational opportunities to attend various career development conferences and other cool events.


    You recently got engaged, correct? Any advice for balancing school/work/family/other responsibilities? How do you do it?

    Haha I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my life, especially with medical school board exams around the corner. I do think I’m a lot more chill about my time now than I was before though. And I don’t think there could have been any way for me to change that progression. Growing up as a low-income first generation college student (as most Gates scholars are), college is your golden ticket. You work extremely hard to make that happen and amidst an often unstable home setting, engaging in long-term planning is crucial to achieve some sense of control. I am very grateful that because of GMS, a huge financial burden came off my shoulders. Over time, I found amazing friends on campus but I had always been close with my family. I think the key is finding a support system that understands your busy schedule but also taking the time to cherish them. Yet, sometimes one has to be selfish and can’t feel guilty about breaking off from toxic relationships. Ultimately, surround yourself with positive energy and similarly hard-working individuals while regularly showing your appreciation for their presence in your life.


    What are your future goals?/How will you be using your medical degree?

    The ultimate question! I’m still exploring specialties and even career trajectories. What I definitely do know is that I intend to use my medical degree as a means of addressing health injustices in this country and never want to completely give up clinical practice. I envision also engaging in policy work, medical education to train future providers, and/or research –ideally all three.



    Lawrence Smith

    Please tell us about yourself and a little about your personal and professional background.

    I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and was an inaugural year Gates Scholar in 2000. I completed his undergraduate & graduate education from Georgia State University in Marketing & Sports Management respectively. I have been blessed to work in several industries such as marketing, sales, athletic administration, and now higher education. I was humbled to become the first Gates Scholar Alumnus to join the staff at the GMS in July of 2010.


    What was it like being one of the first GMS Alumni Managers for the GMSAA?

    It was a great honor and experience to help shape what the GMSAA has become today. I had a unique experience of being able to see GMS from opposite spectrums as a scholar and as a staff member. As an Alumni Manager I was able to understand aspects and parameters of GMS that scholars are unaware of. It was a tough but rewarding job. The highlights of my time in the position were being able to plan, organize, and participate in leadership conferences, alternative spring breaks, and GMSAA meetings all across the country.

    Please tell us about your new role with the GMSAA and our partnership with the American Cancer Society.

    I will be working with a dear friend and fellow GMS alumni member, Chau Dang, to co-lead the National indicatives partnership with the American Cancer Society. This partnership is designed to empower the vibrant Gates Millennium Scholar population with four service opportunity pillars guided by the Society’s professional training and support. Those pillars include health equity, health advocacy legislation, direct patient programs, and Relay for Life. While I will be working with Chau to ensure we are engaging scholars and alumni across the four pillars, I will be taking the lead in the Health Equity area to create opportunities for Alumni to engage with ACS and promote health equity through community outreach and education.

    What are you most excited about for the GMSAA in 2015?

    I’m excited to see the GMSAA evolve and connect more alumni to each other and to GMS throughout 2015. I’m looking forward to seeing alumni engage in community service across country and realize the impact of their service in their respective communities. I hope I’m able to aid the GMSAA in accomplishing their goals this year.