Jinquan Liang ’08, Yvonne Chen ’20, and their CAN mentees celebrate graduation.
Jinquan Liang ’08 and Yvonne Chen ’20 both attended John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and were mentored by the same social studies teacher, CT Chan, who provided the two first-generation prospective college students advice on the college search process, including SAT prep, college application essays, and financial aid applications.

In 2016, when Chan was contemplating retirement, Liang and a high school friend co-founded CAN International to continue their teacher’s mentoring legacy. CAN offers college and career mentoring services, networking opportunities, and soft skills training to first-generation students. Their goal is “to level the playing field and extend the same opportunity to the many generations of immigrant youths that follow us,” Liang said.

The same year that CAN was founded, Liang conducted a workshop at John Dewey with Chen in the audience. There he spoke about Hamilton’s emphasis on communication and writing, as well as the resources offered by the HEOP program. Chen decided then and there that she would attend Hamilton. The rest is history.

While on College Hill, Chen participated in the Multicultural Peer Mentoring program both as a mentee and a mentor, working with two students: one from Beijing and one from Baltimore. She said that she learned even more as a mentor to first-generation college students than she did as a mentee. Chen learned how to listen to an individual’s full story before forming an opinion, and gained a sense of responsibility.

Liang had a similar experience at Hamilton, having served as an English conversation volunteer for Project SHINE, a service-learning program to aid refugees and immigrants in the Utica, N.Y., area. He said his work there made him realize that he could help mentor immigrants in navigating their new lives in the United States.

“Through this program, I realized how I could provide a valuable service to one of the community’s most vulnerable groups,” Liang said. “It got me started thinking about how I could help immigrants navigate their new life in the U.S. through mentoring.”

After graduation from Hamilton, Chen worked as a teacher at an economically disadvantaged middle school in New Jersey. She saw tremendous potential in her students, the majority of whom were first-or-second generation Americans. She wanted to help immigrant students outside of the classroom, leading Chen to join CAN as a mentor and an officer.

Chen served as the marketing and operations officer for a high school CAN intern. She and the student collaborated on a number of college/career advising events and marketing projects. When working with the student, Chen intentionally prompted the student to think about what she wanted to do with the project, why she wanted to do it that way, and how she would achieve the desired final product. Chen recalled that the student “showed great diligence in completing every task, was brave to share her opposing ideas, and took in constructive feedback.” The student shared her experiences with CAN in her college applications and now attends Wellesley College.

Outside of CAN, Liang is an asset management portfolio manager at New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Chen is a product support associate at Andrew Davidson and Co., a mortgage-backed securities risk analytics company.

CAN currently recruits students from the five New York City boroughs and Long Island through John Dewey High School and referrals from CAN members. In addition, CAN has partnered with local nonprofits to host career advice public workshops through the NYC Department of Education’s Community Education Councils and Panel for Education Policy.

CAN International encourages both first-generation college students as well as those who have moved to the United States in high school to consider joining. It also welcomes Hamilton alumni who are interested in serving as career mentors.

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