Alex and Ian
About the Pair
Though he was in danger of failing math for a third time, 15-year-old Ian didn’t lack ability—what he needed was confidence. In 2011, the Dominican-born teen moved with his family to New York. A new kid in town and not yet fluent in English, Ian faced the ordinary growing pains of adolescence coupled with the enormous task of finding his footing in a new culture. All these challenges left Ian feeling self-conscious and reluctant to express himself. But when iMentor paired Ian with his mentor, Alex Arriaga Cardona, who is also a non-native English speaker of Hispanic descent, Ian found a kindred spirit he could open up to. The 35-year-old finance executive saw glimmers of his former self in the teen. And he knew Ian was capable of much better than a C average.
“I shared funny stories from when I first moved here and my English wasn’t as good,” said Alex, who emigrated from Mexico in 2004 for a job opportunity and is now an employee of Mercer, a subsidiary of one of iMentor’s corporate partners, Marsh & McLennan Companies. “When I did talk, it would be very slowly, as I was trying to translate in my head, and people would get frustrated with me. Remembering that, I told Ian he is at the best age to learn from the people around him and ask questions about the meaning of words,” he added.
Since their match in the fall of 2011, the two have utilized iMentor’s dynamic curriculum—which focuses on building key college readiness skills such as critical thinking, self-advocacy, communication, social capital building, and collaboration—to cater to Ian’s academic needs and college goals. During their weekly e-mail exchanges and monthly in-person meetings, all of which are guided by iMentor’s writing prompts, the two have worked on building Ian’s resume for a summer job, brainstorming career options, and sharpening his Algebra skills—which just so happened to be one of Alex’s best subjects in high school.
“Since working with Alex, I haven’t failed math again,” said Ian, adding that he earned the third highest grade in his class on an Algebra Regents practice exam.
With encouragement from Alex, Ian developed the confidence to communicate with his teachers about getting extra academic help—a step Ian says helped him improve in other subjects as well.
“From the beginning, I felt like I could trust Alex since we’ve been through the same things,” said Ian. “He told me that people don’t bite, and that really helped me start to ask questions and understand things better.”
Improved concentration, a desire to engage his peers and authority figures, and an ability to imagine new possibilities for his future are just a few of the things Ian has achieved with his mentor’s help and resources. And as Ian has gradually become more outgoing, Alex has begun to notice that he is growing, too. His mentee recently schooled him on the rules of baseball.
“iMentor arranged for us to attend a Yankee game, and it gave us an opportunity to connect in a different environment,” said Alex. “Ian was explaining what foul balls are, cheering and yelling. It was very rewarding for me to see.”
Ian’s dream is to play baseball professionally, leading the pair to research college sports scholarship opportunities—while keeping in mind the importance of also picking a major related to his academic passions. “We discuss what different subjects can turn into as careers,” said Alex. “We talk about all of his options and I try to get him thinking more specifically about what he wants to do with science.”
Alex’s motivation to mentor comes from a deep-rooted desire to blaze a trail for Hispanic youth and show them that they can create their own futures. He hopes he has been able to give Ian the advocacy he wishes had been available to him.
"I had to figure my career out on my own,” said Alex. “I never thought I’d be working in the United States, but here I am. I want to encourage students to look beyond whatever people expect them to do.”