It all started during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Lisa Young, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, had been accepted to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her dream of becoming a doctor was coming true.
She had about six months before classes would start so she decided to look for a way to contribute to the community and help other young people like herself, who were from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, and were coping with the complex and intimidating process of applying for college. A recent graduate of the University of Washington, Lisa remembered how challenging it had been for her to tackle college applications, seek financial aid and obtain good advice, such as considering attending a less expensive community college for the first few semesters to obtain credits that would transfer to a four-year university.
Take On College is a nonprofit based in the Seattle, Washington area, that was founded during the 2019-2020 school year. It provides volunteer mentors who offer free counseling to high school students who aspire to attend college – and according to Hong Ta, executive director and co-founder of Take On College, Lisa quickly proved to be one of the organization’s best mentors.
“In our mentorship and workshop programs combined, we’ve reached over 400 students from the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022, and Lisa is actually one of the mentors who has helped the highest number of students from those years,” said Hong.
Lisa explains: “Serving the first-generation, low-income community is very near and dear to my heart. I grew up low-income, in a big family. I have six younger siblings and one older sibling, so growing up in that kind of household made me aware of how much it costs to obtain anything like college counseling.”
Lisa’s mother, who was trained as a chemist in Singapore, valued education so much that she homeschooled her children in math, chemistry, reading, English and other subjects, in addition to enrolling them in public school.
“I’ve never been someone who’s like, ‘I’m getting tired of school’ or taken it for granted,” says Lisa. “It’s something that’s not accessible to everybody.”
Soon, Lisa also began helping Take On College apply for grants, and her grant-writing skills managed to secure $11,000 in grants from universities and corporations.
But Lisa wasn’t done. She proposed an additional service for Take On College: helping students who aspired to attend medical school to navigate the myriad aspects of that ambition, from taking the right prerequisites in high school and undergraduate college to preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to completing essays that would effectively convey a student’s passion and maturity.
“I think it’s great that medical schools are beginning to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds — it’s an issue because some patients are not seeing doctors who look like them,” says Lisa. “At the same, I hope I’m helping to contribute to the idea that medicine is not only for people who come from money or who have physicians in their family,” she added. “I didn’t have any, and it was hard to not have anyone who could give me that real-world experience. In medicine, just as in any industry, connections are everything. So, I’m definitely trying to help people get those connections.”
One of Lisa’s young mentees says she’s grateful for the advice and counseling she received from Lisa, even though she is not a pre-medical student.
“I really needed help with my applications,” said Essey Paulos, who is now a business major at the University of Washington. “I’m a first-generation student – my parents didn’t go to college – and I was in an unknown area.”
Essey says she was one of only a handful of Black students at her high school, and she had a lot of questions about how to best complete her college applications and interviews, especially when asked to “tell her personal story,” Explaining how she had overcome hardships in her life. Lisa, she says, patiently helped her edit draft essays and address her nervousness.
“It was so comforting to know that not only did Lisa have a similar background, but despite being in the medical field and not the business field, she still managed to connect with me in a way that made me comfortable to write my story. Because of her, I can confidently say that’s why I got into U-Dub,” added Essey, using a nickname for the University of Washington.
“Lisa takes initiative,” said Hong. “The pre-medicine program was her proposal. She’s been heading workshops and panels for it. She knows what’s needed and how to take care of it.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lisa Young? Find local volunteer opportunities.