A Bridge for Kids alum Eric Tran discusses the importance of mentorship among low-income, first-generation students. As a freshman at Princeton University, Eric plans to study international education policy and his ultimate goal is to help increase access to education in underdeveloped countries.
Q: How did you first hear about A Bridge for Kids and what inspired you to apply?
A: I heard about A Bridge for Kids in 9th grade through our college counselor. She helped a lot of us [students] find programs and organizations that would benefit us. I was very fortunate to be sponsored by Dennis and I think I’m a lot better off because of it.
Q: What was the application process like for you?
A: I don’t think the application process was difficult by any means. The hardest part was the interview and waiting to get matched with someone. I think the application process was fair and effective in terms of finding students a match because ABFK wants to find sponsors for their students. I would encourage any student who is eligible to apply because the payoff is well worth the time it takes to write an essay.
Q: How long did you have to wait between the time that you applied and when you were matched up with your sponsor?
A: I was surprised at how quickly they found me a sponsor. It was probably around a month. In my case it was a pretty speedy process.
Q: Did Dennis serve as a mentor in addition to being your sponsor?
A: Generally the sponsors also serve as mentors and so at least once a month or once every two months I would meet with Dennis after school. We would catch up and I would ask him questions about the college application process and what I should study. At the time that I got matched with Dennis I was interested in studying Law and he is a lawyer so that was very useful. He also gave me general advice about life and we would have regular conversations as friends.
Q: Did you have a specific goal in mind when you applied for ABFK?
A: At the time that I was applying to ABFK my ultimate goal was to become a lawyer even though that’s not what I’m studying currently. Regardless of the fact that Dennis was a financial sponsor, I was more in it for the guidance and the support. But it was also really nice to have the financial component because I had ambitions like playing lacrosse that I needed gear for. At the time I couldn’t afford it, so Dennis helped me out. As time passed, I developed new goals that Dennis was around to help me with.
Q: How have your dreams or aspirations for the future changed since you’ve gone off to college?
A: At Princeton students don’t declare their major until Spring semester sophomore year and since I’m a freshman, I still have a year left. Tentatively I would like to study international education policy. I would like to be able to go to poorer and more underdeveloped countries and bring schools and institutions to train teachers to practice at those schools. Throughout my time in high school, I came to recognize the power of education and I believe that a lot of the ills that are plaguing the world currently can be solved if we increase access to education globally.
Q: Looking back at your high school career, is there one piece of advice that you’d like to share with current students?
A: The most important thing I have learned is that you can always create your own opportunities. At Princeton, there’s a lot of competition and often students may not be aware of the opportunities that are available to them. I’ve had to go out of my way to reach out to professors and heads of organizations on campus. People are often willing to help when you reach out and show them that you want to be apart of something, [especially] if they recognize that you’re eager and motivated. If there’s not a door then make one.
Q: Are you a member of any clubs or organizations on campus that you’re passionate about?
A: One organization that I’m most involved with is PUMP (Princeton University Mentoring Program). Mentors who are familiar with resources on campus help students from low-income, first-generation backgrounds. I meet with my mentor fairly frequently. We have meals and study together. She has been a great help in that sense. Transitioning from high school to college on the other side of the country is a big jump and so programs like PUMP have helped aide my transition. The second organization I’m most involved with is the Scholars Institute Fellows Program, which also helps first-generation, low-income students. It’s a support network that helps students find jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities and opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.
Q: What was your favorite part about ABFK? Are there any memorable projects or programs that you’d like to see continue for future students?
A: I went on the Southern California college tour my sophomore year and the East Coast trip the year after. The East Coast trip was probably the most beneficial for me since I was considering applying to a lot of the schools that we visited. That was also the first time that I had been outside of California. I would never have been able to do that on my own so it was nice that I could do it as part of ABFK.
We went to New York to visit Columbia and NYU. That was the first time I’d ever been to New York, before that I’d only ever seen it in T.V. shows and movies. Being in Times Square at night with all the billboards flashing was something that I will never forget.
Q: In addition to the college tours, can you tell us about a special event or memory from your time with A Bridge for Kids?
A: When I was home for winter break, Michael organized a dinner at a restaurant in Pacific Beach. He sent an email prior to the dinner asking if we had a Christmas wish list. At the time, I didn’t have a good pair of gloves. He put the wish list items on a board at La Jolla Country Day School and then students and their families picked an item and went out and bought it. I got a nice pair of gloves that I still use with a nice handwritten card. Little things like that mean a lot to someone like me because it shows how much ABFK cares for its members and alumni who don’t even live in San Diego anymore.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between you and your mentor?
A: My mentor Dennis had season tickets to the Padres games. One time he invited me and my Dad to watch a game with his family. That was the first time I had ever seen a professional sporting event [in person]. After the game, we went to get pho at the restaurant that my family and I eat at regularly. Having my Dad meet this man who had been helping me throughout high school and watching them get along was pretty heartwarming.