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Students continue to learn and grow

“I don’t think I’d be offered these jobs without her guidance.”
Students continue to learn and grow through mentor program


Alexis Torres and Lynnette Zelezny share the story of their mentor-mentee relationship.

Alumni Engagement Specialist

The power of a mentor program is best described through individual stories of students gaining confidence, building career networks, shining brighter in interviews and even landing jobs as a result of their participation.

We have more of those stories to share from our most recent cycle of the Runner Alumni Mentor Program, which ended in May. We hope they will inspire you to get involved as a mentor or mentee as we recruit for the fall, when our program will expand from a semester-long one to one lasting an entire academic year.


Lynette Zelezny and Alexis Torres at RAMP kickoff event

CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny and her mentee Alexis Torres

Alexis Torres was already a little nervous about meeting her mentor at a RAMP meet-and-greet because of a phone call she received the night before.

The program chairwoman called Torres to make sure she would be attending the event because her mentor was “a very important person.”

Then at check-in, Torres saw her mentor’s name on her name tag and really started to sweat: “Lynnette Zelezny.”

“I was scared because I thought she’d be intimidating,” Torres said. “She is the president of the school!”

But Torres found President Zelezny to be down-to-earth, someone she could talk to.  It’s one of the most valuable things she learned as a mentee: How to network, and not be nervous about meeting influential people.

“They are real people, just like me,” she said.

Torres, 22, will graduate from CSUB in December with a bachelor’s degree in child, family and adolescent studies. She signed up for RAMP because she was indecisive about her future.

“I knew I wanted to go into education, but I just didn’t know where I was going to fit in the education world,” she said.

President Zelezny talked to Torres about her career goals and connected her with another mentee who knew about graduate school. She also took her to events where she could network and learn about important local education initiatives.

Torres attended a women’s celebration luncheon at CSUB and a meeting about the Kern Education Pledge, an effort among education leaders from the preschool to university level to close student achievement gaps and prepare kids for the workforce.

“I had never attended anything like that,” Torres said. “I also learned what’s happening in Kern County’s education system, something I’d never thought about before. It definitely sparked an interest.”

That interest is in pursuing a master’s degree in educational counseling at CSUB and then going on to be a high school academic counselor in Bakersfield.

“I had really great counselors in high school,” said Torres, an alum of Foothill High School. “I know they were an investment in my education, and I want to be that person for someone else and keep the cycle going.”

She also got to meet Mary Barlow, Kern County superintendent of schools, and Kristen Beall, president and CEO of the Kern Community Foundation, which helps direct philanthropic dollars to worthy causes.

Torres was able to thank Beall for a scholarship she received through the foundation. Beall, in turn, invited her to a dinner where she got to meet other scholarship winners and explain to donors what their philanthropy means to young people like her.

Hopefully, Torres said, that will encourage them to keep giving.


Dakota Smith graduation photo

Dakota Smith

Talk about cutting it close.

Dakota Smith first connected with his mentor, Janet Bianco, just minutes before he had to impress the Mojave Unified School District superintendent at a career fair.

Smith, a math major, didn’t have much time on the phone with Bianco before the crucial meeting. But it was enough time. The principal at Almondale Elementary learned Smith had taken a lot of statistics classes and suggested he emphasize his ability to use data to determine best teaching practices.

The superintendent was impressed and encouraged Smith to formally apply for a teaching job. Bianco helped him polish a cover letter, fine-tune his resume and even pick out a suit for his in-person interview.

Smith, while shopping with his girlfriend at Target, texted Bianco photos of the tie he was considering buying for her thumbs-up. She gave it.

The upshot? Smith was offered high school teaching jobs with Mojave and the Porterville Unified School District. He accepted the job in Porterville, where he grew up and which offered more money.

Smith says he tapped a lot of people for advice and did a lot of his own job-search preparation. But Bianco was a huge help, he says, helping him take everything he’d learned and hone a compelling message to pitch.

“I don’t think I’d be offered these jobs without her guidance, “ he said.


Evelyn Ramirez portrait

Evelyn Ramirez

What has stressed Evelyn Ramirez out the most as a first-generation college student at CSUB is not knowing whether she’s  taking the right classes, selecting the right majors, for what she wants to become: a corporate lawyer.

Her parents, from Mexico, couldn’t tell her. They have just middle-school educations.

So Ramirez is grateful to her mentor, attorney Chad Boyles of the Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles, for reassuring her she’s on the right path. Ramirez is a junior majoring in Economics and Philosophy and on track to graduate in 2020.

“He put me at ease that I’m not wasting my time,” Ramirez said. “Wasting time is what I’ve been most stressed about.”

Boyles, a CSUB Alumni Association board member, also exposed Ramirez to real-life lawyering. He led her on a courthouse tour, introduced her to Kern County Superior Court Judge Gary Friedman and took her to a couple of courtroom trials, including a DUI trial.

What Ramirez especially liked about RAMP was that she got one-on-one mentoring that could work around her schedule and that her mentor was a local who graduated from CSUB – giving her someone to relate to.

Boyles was born and raised in Bakersfield, graduating from Highland High School, and returned home after law school in Southern California.

That’s what Ramirez is thinking of going away to law school (if she can afford it), but ultimately returning to her hometown.


Crystal Meyer

Crystal Meyer

Crystal Meyer had some idea of what she wanted to do after graduating from CSUB, but needed some clearer direction and a boost of confidence she could actually do it.

She received both from her mentor, Pawan Gill, director of HR and administrative services at the City of Arvin.

Meyer was passionate about mentoring young people, ever since developing a nine-month mentoring program at West High School. She coordinated workshops on such topics as building community, setting boundaries and healthy relationships, took students to the beach and gave them someone to talk to.

Meyer and Gill discussed her starting a nonprofit that is “a resource for resources at a personal level,” meaning sharing with young people the realities of life after high school and teaching them about networking, communications skills and self-care.

Meyer wasn’t sure she could pull it off; Gill encouraged her to try.

“She said, ‘You have an idea put together, you have the skills to do it on your own. Why don’t you just do it!’” Meyer said.

Meyer is in a good position to go for it. She has a supportive husband, a strong curriculum and access to the expertise of members of the private social club she manages.

Now, thanks to RAMP, she has another champion convincing her it’s all possible.


(In her own words):

I am a computer engineering major who applied for RAMP for Fall 2018 but there weren’t enough mentors to pair me with. So I was put on the list again for Spring 2019.

I was paired up with Eddie Rangel, a computer science professor for CSUB and BC. As we got to learn more about each other, Eddie learned I was passionate about cyber security and how I recently applied for a cyber security internship.

He gave me countless resources to help me get more informed about the cyber security world and even invited me to attend an Information systems meeting. At this meeting, Eddie introduced me to a lot of great people who are in the field I strive to be in. Eddie introduced me to John (name changed), an IT specialist for the company I applied for.

A few weeks later, the company called me in for an Interview for the cyber security Internship. Eddie helped me so much with the interview prepping. So much that I was confident for the interview.

To my surprise, I learned I would be interviewed by John. During my interview I was able to make conversation about the information systems meeting we attended. A few weeks after my interview, I was offered the position!

I give thanks to my mentor because if It weren’t for Eddie I wouldn’t have had that face-to-face connection with John prior to my interview. Attending that meeting showed my eagerness about my career, which helped me stand out from the other candidates.

I am so happy I met Eddie and that I was able to be part of RAMP this semester.




Major changes are coming to the Runner Alumni Mentor Program this fall to better match mentors and mentees and make their relationships even more productive.

The biggest change coming in Fall 2019, our fourth cycle, is that the program will run for a full academic year instead of just a semester. That will give us more time to:

  • Interview potential mentors and mentees to better gauge their interest in and commitment to the program.
  • Recruit mentors and mentees, and better match them up.
  • Allow mentor-mentee relationships to develop more fully. Surveys show our past mentor-mentee pairs would have liked more time together.
  • Add more professional-development workshops, beyond the resume writing and interviewing one we offered during the second and third cycles.

We also plan to launch a pilot program inviting a handful of young alumni to participate as mentees. Young alumni have told us they, too, could still use a mentor as they seek employment or seek to move up in their careers.

We plan to open five of our mentee slots to these recent graduates, ones who’ve earned their degrees between May 2017 and now.

Interested in being part of RAMP? You can learn more and apply to be a mentor or mentee at