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Donna Imadi standing in high school hallway

Sophomore global affairs major Donna Imadi created InvestinYOUTH to show high school students “they can achieve and take control of their destiny.”

Student Creates Mentor Program to Equalize Opportunity

When George Mason University global affairs major Donna Imadi was a senior in high school, her AP comparative government teacher assigned a project to address problems in the local community.

Within a week, Imadi had the idea to set up a centralized community-based mentorship program that could offer support for high school students facing linguistic, socioeconomic, and other challenges outside school. A year later, as a freshman in Mason’s Honors College, she turned her idea into the nonprofit organization InvestinYOUth. 

Imadi knew the impact a school’s resources could have on a student from her own experiences, and she used that as inspiration for her project. She had moved from a rural community back to Fairfax County, spotlighting a drastic change in the quality of her education. She wondered why other students didn’t have access to the same opportunities that exist in Fairfax County Public Schools. 

“I didn’t think it was fair that I had access to more resources, and students in other areas of the state did not,” she says. 

She researched the impact of demographic change and the suburbanization of poverty on local public school systems for her HNRS 110 class and found that social programming needs didn’t match the new student population. Funding allocations didn’t match changing needs amid population shifts. 

Imadi saw that students with limited proficiency in English and those in poverty due to the area’s high living expenses were especially at risk. She started InvestinYOUth to help connect at-risk high school students with college mentors. 

“I think connecting peers in college to students in high school is especially impactful,” she says. “It can inspire students and show them they can achieve and take hold of their destiny, just as the diverse group of our student mentors have, who come from all walks of life.” 

Imadi pitched her idea to the Fairfax County Public Schools school board and developed it with then-Associate Superintendent Linda Burke. She lobbied for the idea at the General Assembly, forged a partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools, and received a grant of $4,283 from Apple Federal Credit Union. 

InvestinYOUth officially launched at Mountain View Alternative High School in Centreville, Virginia, with more than 250 student and faculty attendees and guest speakers. 

“It was amazing, the impact we had, but more so the impact we have the potential of having,” she says. “I was so humbled and honored to be part of it all.” 

Imadi plans to expand InvestinYOUth across universities in Virginia where communities face similar challenges. She hopes her program help those struggling to succeed in school. 

“I hope we can be those mentors that help push [these students] to reach their fullest potential by providing them the opportunity to better their academic or life skills,” she says. 

In March, Imadi was recognized with a 2018 Council of American Ambassadors fellowship. This summer as the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Fellow, she will be mentored by former ambassador Laurie S. Fulton, who served as ambassador to Denmark from 2009 to 2013.

This story was written by Mason Spirit editorial assistant Lindsay Bernhards. Read more Mason news.