Recently, Frances Pinedo '94 and several other MIT alumni from the Avanza Network visited 100 teenage boys at a reform school on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
“These kids had committed crimes and were on the wrong path in life,” Pinedo says. “We expected them to roll their eyes at us. We just poured our hearts out to them, poured out our stories. We said, ‘We went to MIT, and now we’re building robots, building companies, but let us tell you how hard it was, and where we were when we began.’
“The room grew very quiet. At the end of the presentation, my husband [Rene Gonzalez '92, MBA ’95] asked, ‘Does anyone want my business card?’ Twenty hands shot up,” she says, adding that the boys and their counselors, with tears in their eyes, hugged Pinedo and her fellow volunteers.
The Avanza Network—of which Pinedo is a cofounder and board member—is a nonprofit national organization of Mexican-American MIT alumni and friends who, by sharing their own paths to college, empower Mexican-American, US Latino, and underprivileged students to aspire to a successful professional life. Since 2011, Pinedo and 300 volunteers have spoken to more than 10,000 students at community colleges and high schools around the country for workshops, presentations, and networking.
“If you can dream—if you can imagine yourself aspiring to be an engineer, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a lawyer—it can open your mind to the world,” says Pinedo, who earned her MIT degree in Course 15 (management science/operations research). Based in Austin, Texas, she is currently the head of risk management at Rêv Worldwide, a global payments processing company. She also runs Bella Pear, a fashion and apparel company focused on positive body image—one of four startups she has founded. Her other companies have focused on very different areas: financial services, the restaurant industry, and consulting.
Recently, Pinedo started volunteering with the MIT Alumni Advisors Hub, an online platform that facilitates one-on-one career conversations with alumni volunteers who are willing to share professional advice with students and fellow alumni. Volunteers chat about careers, assist in choosing a major or navigating a PhD, or help conduct a mock interview, develop a business plan, launch a startup, even write a résumé.
“Mentoring and volunteering is a labor of love,” Pinedo says. “Empowerment changes one life at a time.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of MIT News magazine, published by Technology Review magazine.
Pictured (top, from left): Eduardo Grado '83, Frances Pinedo '94, Rene Adalberto Gonzalez '92, MBA '95