Scaling first-gen mentorship in the digital age
For Alexandra Bernadotte, MA ’07, her dream of supporting large numbers of first-generation college students like herself was just that—a dream—until a letter she’d written to herself arrived in the mail. Bernadotte, who was born in Haiti and struggled as a first-gen student at Dartmouth College, had written the letter during a Stanford GSE course on social entrepreneurship; her professors dropped it into the mail a year later. In it she’d reminded her future self that if she was not yet pursuing her goal, it was because she was afraid and convincing herself she wasn’t prepared. “You are ready for this moment,” she had written.
Spurred into action, Bernadotte became an entrepreneur in residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund, which provided her with $1 million in seed funding to launch Beyond 12, a nonprofit that combines technology with human coaching to support low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented students. Today, the nonprofit is on track to mentor one million students by 2025 through its digital platform. “Humans can’t scale and apps can’t empathize,” says Bernadotte, who will receive the 2019 GSE Alumni Excellence in Education Award on Friday, October 25. “Systemic social change can happen only when you combine the two.”