Student Stories

Read these inspiring testimonials from our 10,000 Degrees alumni about their journey to a college degree.

Mona Zhao

My first year at UC Santa Cruz was really difficult. My commute each way from home to college took about 3 hours. I am an only child, so it fell to me to help provide for my family. I had worked all the way through high school and college, but the difference was that in high school I was able to maintain my grades while working. In college, the coursework was more difficult, and I had difficulties going on at home. As my grades slipped from a 3.85 to a 1.9 GPA, I was put on academic probation. That was something I never thought would happen to me.

Instead of kicking me out of the program, my 10,000 Degrees advisor said that the organization believed in me and wanted to help me get through this. He asked me about everything that was going on and even wrote to the academic dean to explain the difficulties that I was going through so that I would not be kicked out of the university. He also helped me put together a plan to get through and to be able to manage it all with my course load. 

Today I’m a college graduate working as a Product Manager at Facebook, and looking forward to supporting 10,000 Degrees in every way I can so that more students like me can have the chance to succeed through college. We should all be ONE DEGREE OF CHANGE. Every connection and every ounce of support has the ripple effect of opportunity that can change the lives of so many students.

“Instead of kicking me out of the program, my 10,000 Degrees advisor said that they believed in me and wanted to help me get through this… They were my saving grace.”

Mona Zhao

10,000 Degrees Meritus Alumna UC Santa Cruz, Class of 2011 Product Manager, Facebook San Francisco Advisory Board Member

“If 10,000 Degrees didn’t open the door to show me that getting a college degree is extremely important, I might not have experienced the world that I have since then.”
Brian Phan

10,000 Degrees Alum CSU Monterey Bay, BS Biology Class of 2016

Brian Phan

Without 10,000 Degrees, the journey would have been difficult. I might have given up and never gone to college. As a high school student, besides my mom, I didn’t have anyone who believed in me. It felt like I was invisible to a lot of my teachers. I wasn’t a failing student, but I was not a great student either. Because of that, I was just surviving. 

Once I got in to the 10,000 Degrees program, things started to change. They believed in me and I could count on them for support through all the things I didn’t know how to do or access. I remember they showed up at school, pulled me out of class, and helped me to finish something that had to be submitted that day. They cared that much about each of us.

I attended CSU at Monterey Bay and studied biology, ecology and evolution. In college, I was an entirely different student. I was more self-motivated, and I saw my end goal. I still needed support, but by then, I believed in myself. 

As an undergrad interested in genetics, I played a key role in helping to discover that what had been known as one species of deep sea sharks in the Indian Ocean was actually four species. Today I’m working as a naturalist and marine biologist in the Monterey Bay. I follow 10,000 Degrees, and I feel very strongly about staying connected and giving back. They don’t just help students—they help communities.

Isabela de Souza

I came to the US from Brazil at age 13. I am so grateful to the high school counselor who introduced me to 10,000 Degrees where I was supported and inspired on my journey through college.

After high school, I attended College of Marin and quickly realized that I wanted to work in finance. Earlier in life, my family tried to invest in the stock market, and they fell victim to a Ponzi scheme. Since then, I have been determined to master financial literacy and planning.

On my commute home from an internship this past summer, I had a moment of appreciation and gratitude. All the steps I have taken to become a professional are connected with my involvement with this organization. I have been encouraged to say yes to opportunities that came my way. Thanks to 10,000 Degrees, I interned with three leading investment management firms: BlackRock, Dodge & Cox and Loomis Sayles.

The 10,000 Degrees staff spent many hours with me on my transfer application from community college. This dedication paid off – I was accepted into UC Berkeley! I am now in my final semester and will soon be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“I have come a long way since I graduated from high school and all my achievements reflect the support and care I received from 10,000 Degrees.”
Isabela de Souza

10,000 Degrees Scholar, College of Marin, UC Berkley Class of 2020