Cracking The Code In Helping First-Generation, Low-Income Students Self Actualize During COVID-19

Three first-generation, low-income high school students were awarded the prestigious Close the Gap Foundation Growth Mindset Scholarship for their resilience and dedication to social impact.

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Sunnyvale, Calif. – September 27, 2020 – Close the Gap Foundation concluded their second annual Spark Fellowship with community members, mentors, family, and friends. The event was joined by an esteemed panel of industry leaders from Forbes, Apple, Intuit, and Visa to recognize and celebrate nine first-generation and low-income high school students on their growth and social impact projects.  

In a 2016 study that followed 168,000 10th-grade students, researchers from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University observed that “embodying a growth mindset was the strongest indicator of students’ academic success.” The same study concluded, “students from the lowest-income families were twice as likely to endorse a fixed mindset than students from higher-income backgrounds.”

Close the Gap Foundation believes all students are deserving and capable of success, especially those from low-income communities. Through the fellowship, students cultivate a growth mindset with project-based learning and structured mentorship. Spark Fellows ideate, prototype, and carry out a project on a pressing social issue that they care about in under three months. 

“Toward the end of the program, Spark Fellows present their findings to a panel of industry leaders for feedback. That’s where the magic happens. They learn by doing and quickly realize they are capable of success. They get a sense of validation and belonging through social service and the impact they’ve made to their community,” said Tai Tran, President and co-founder of Close the Gap Foundation. 

This year’s Spark Fellowship happened against a backdrop of some of the most challenging times that many of us have faced. Despite the challenges, the great news is that our Spark Fellows managed to drive positive changes in their communities in the COVID-19 era.

Spark Fellow Brandon Morales, a senior at De Anza High School, weaved his hardship with childhood poverty in Mexico into his social impact project. Morales’ project raised over $650 in donations from community members to source meal kits that fed 612 individuals who are homeless across the San Francisco Bay Area. The meal kit included a sandwich, a water bottle, a bag of chips, two oranges, a granola bar, and sanitized hand wipes.

“Brandon Morales, Spark Fellow, distributed hundreds of meal kits to homeless populations impacted by COVID-19 in the San Francisco Bay Area”

After being awarded the second-place scholarship, Morales shared in his acceptance speech, “Although I am in a different country now, I don’t want people having to worry about what they were going to eat that day since my family experienced that struggle in Mexico. Going in and hearing the stories of those who are suffering actually made me tear up and encouraged me to do more.”

Morales currently lives in Pittsburg, California, with his single mother and older brother. His dream is to attend the University of Notre Dame, and he hopes to one day create his own business. Similar to other Spark Fellows, Morales is a first-generation, second-language, and low-income student.

Close the Gap Foundation also awarded Spark Fellow Janet Yu, a junior at Mt. Eden High School, and Spark Fellow Anjelika Khadka, a junior at De Anza High School, the first and third place scholarships, respectively. Through her lived experience as a first-generation student, Yu’s project hosted a series of three workshops to support her peers in financial literacy topics like reading a W-2 form and learning how to write a check. Khadka’s project was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent California wildfires, where she provided face masks and translated emergency resources for immigrant families in Spanish, Nepali, and Hindi.

“Seeing that her peers were struggling with budgeting, Spark Fellow Janet Yu launched a series of financial literacy workshops over Zoom amidst the COVID-19 pandemic”

“Like Brandon, my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was in elementary school. I experienced firsthand what it felt like to grow up with a fixed mindset as a first-generation, low-income, and second-language learner. I started Close the Gap Foundation to pay it forward and level the playing field for students like Brandon, Janet, and Anjelika to develop, embody, and, more importantly, sustain a lifelong growth mindset,” said Tran.

Close the Gap Foundation will be launching its third Spark Fellowship in March 2021. To further the organization’s mission of closing the opportunity gaps, the fellowship will be expanded beyond the San Francisco Bay Area to support and provide structured mentorship to over thirty first-generation and low-income high school juniors and seniors across California, Washington, and Oregon. Similar to this year, their 2021 program will be fully remote to accommodate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About Close the Gap Foundation

Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. The 501(c)3 nonprofit was founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income and at-risk youths. Close the Gap Foundation’s President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.

“Close the Gap launched its second Fellowship this year virtually through Zoom to keep low-income students engaged and mentored during the pandemic.”

Spark Fellowship is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps low-income students build lifelong confidence, relationships with industry professionals, and cultivate a growth mindset. Through project-based learning, Fellows tackle a self-directed social impact project to develop a growth mindset and are paired with mentors from renowned organizations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and The Ohio State College of Medicine to explore career opportunities in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

To learn more about Close the Gap Foundation, visit

To learn more about their annual Fellowship Program, visit

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