XEO Alumni Mentor First Gen Scholars

Jul 26, 2023

On Wednesday, July 19th, several XEO alumni met with and mentored 150 First Gen High Achieving Scholars from San Diego.

First Gen Scholars, founded and led by Jonathan Burgos, is a nonprofit organization that supports underserved first generation high school students by navigating them through college applications, mentoring them throughout college, and connecting them to companies where they’ll thrive. Their mission is to amplify the success of first generation students by gaining admission to highly selective colleges and graduating debt free.

Many students are involved in First Gen Scholars clubs at their high schools, where they are introduced to the organization and have an opportunity to apply to the five-week summer program before entering their senior year.

Students choose a cohort to be a part of based on their interests or identities, such as Life Sciences, Content Creation, and Business & Tech, or Black, Southeast Asian, and LatinX.


XEO Alumni

XEO mentors Lyndsay Toll, Ryan Kirkpatrick, Regina Bernal, Gretel von Son, Samantha Bishop, and Christie Marcella, some of whom are first gen themselves, spoke at the event about their diverse backgrounds and career paths.

Each mentor rotated through to interact with different cohorts, where the students had opportunities to ask questions and make connections with them.

Connect’s Strategic Inclusion Director and leader of the XEO program, Regina Bernal, said, “I’m proud to bring my crew. I admire them, I respect them, and I learn from them.”

The students learned from them too.

Incoming seniors Schekania Simon, Grace Kidane, Nathalia Williams, and Hawaa Bahreldin expressed their enthusiasm for the First Gen Summer program and their appreciation for the XEO mentors’ advice.

Schekania Simon, a student at Tahquitz High School, is interested in studying business. As the oldest child in her family, she explained the importance of teaching her younger siblings everything she is learning about the college admissions process. Ryan Kirkpatrick (XEO Class of ‘22) shared advice that stuck with her: surround yourself with people who do what you want to do.

Grace Kidane of San Diego High School expressed her gratitude for the student mentors that guide them throughout the program. She explains the impact her mentor has had on her to pursue nursing at UCLA.


“I had an idea of what I wanted to be but I didn’t know how to get there. Our parents didn’t go to college, and many are immigrants who don’t speak English well. Being a part of this program really helps you plan steps ahead for your future.”

From this event, Grace realized the importance of taking advantage of opportunities while in school. “I learned it’s about what you do after you get into the school you want to get into; you don’t stop when you get in,” she said.

Regina Scholars

Nathalia Williams, from Crawford High School, is interested in forensic psychology. She reflected on one of the XEO mentors saying all the careers they have had are from networking and making connections.

Hawaa Bahreldin of Mira Mesa High School aspires to take a pre-med route and pursue her passion for hematology. She plans to start a First Gen Scholars club at her school this year to support future students.

Her biggest takeaway from the event was that career paths are not often linear, so it’s important to learn how to pivot and find new ways to be successful.

When Samantha Bishop (XEO Class of ‘22) didn’t get into med school, she didn’t let that stop her.

“She took a loss and turned it into a win.”

Hawaa added, “Samantha really inspired me not to take mentors for granted. She has mentors that she is still connected to, 10 years later.”

Thank you to the XEO mentors who represent and serve as role models for these scholars!

Group Scholars

Interested in supporting the next generation of diverse innovation leaders? Apply for the XEO program today!