Carbon Five-mentorship-outreach-anniversary

#C5Mentors: Emily Mi Cai on Leveling the Playing Field in College Admissions

Alice Wenner ·

Carbon Five Product Manager Emily Mi Cai has spent the past three years working with Minds Matter to help a high school student in her community navigate the college admissions process. In our fourth post in a series celebrating 21 years of mentorship in honor of Carbon Five’s 21st anniversary, Emily discusses why she’s passionate about broadening young peoples’ perspectives on what they can achieve.


What is Minds Matter, and why did you decide to get involved with this organization?

Minds Matter is a national mentorship and college prep nonprofit that has chapters in several U.S. cities. Every year, each chapter accepts a number of local low-income students who are entering their sophomore year of high school. Students spend four hours each Saturday during the school year — from 10AM to 2PM — doing two hours of college prep work and talking to their mentors for the other two hours. 

The students stay in the program for three years, from sophomore year to the end of their senior year, so it’s a pretty big commitment for both mentees and mentors. Sophomore year is mostly about getting to know each other and helping the students learn about all different kinds of jobs and colleges, to put more careers and schools on their radars. During my mentee’s junior year, I helped her choose colleges to apply for and we talked a lot about how to balance test prep, sports, and academic work. And during her senior year, which just ended, I helped her through the process of applying to college.


Why is working with young people something that you’re interested in?

Working with Minds Matter was one of the ways that I felt like I could give back to my community in a way that’s hyperlocal to where I live. I’m passionate about it and I felt I could help out uniquely in this area since I love storytelling — I went through the college application process, and I feel that there’s a lot of insight that I’m able to provide. For example, I really love writing, and I felt that I could help out a lot when it came to giving feedback on college essays. 


What do you love about being a mentor?

I have loved building a relationship with my mentee. It has been awesome to be able to come in every Saturday and do something that directly helps someone, but I also think the consistency of seeing the same person every week for three years and building a relationship with her has been incredibly rewarding. 


“The consistency of seeing the same person every week for three years and building a relationship with her has been incredibly rewarding.” 


Is there anything else that people should know about this organization and the work that it does? 

The organization does a lot more holistic work that I’m not directly involved in, but that I think is really impactful. For example, they walk each student’s parents through the financial aid process and FAFSA.

In addition to making that kind of financial information about college more accessible to families, Minds Matter also teaches students about personal finance, which is something that I wish I had learned about earlier on in life. They also dedicate time to talking about mental health, and what you can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious. 


Why should other people consider working with groups like Minds Matter?

I highly encourage it, I’ve had such a great time. I think it’s amazing that you’re able to build a one-on-one relationship with one person in particular. And I love the fact that even though the program officially ends after the student’s senior year, the relationship doesn’t. I will always be a sounding board for my mentee, wherever she is in life. Once she starts college, she knows that she can text and call me.

And I love that Minds Matter not only provides tactical help in the form of test prep, preparing for college, and applying to college. But they make a point to bring in multiple perspectives to help students with the college application process, and the mentor-mentee relationship can continue outside of the organization.