For those needing guidance in any undertaking, seeking out a mentor can make all the difference. Good mentors, however, aren’t always easy to find. Mentorship is a noble pursuit, based on building genuine relationships with mentees to ensure their success.
Rona Osmani ’06, a former Achievement Award Program (TAAP) Scholar, had big ambitions when she came to UC Berkeley. As an Afghan woman and refugee, from a culture where women aren’t encouraged to take charge, she planned on pursuing leadership roles within her career. However, towards the end of her sophomore year, she realized she was wandering in an educational maze.
“There was zero direction I set in defining a core curriculum of courses to support a major,” Osmani says. Coming into Cal, she had a different perception of what college was meant to be. Burdened by the pressures of getting good grades in high school, she believed college was a place where one could have an earnest pursuit of knowledge. Grades were not of paramount importance. “I began courses in every topic that piqued my interest such as astrophysics, philosophy, and computer science,” she remembers. The dean of her college saw her transcript. He was concerned. “He said to me he had never seen anything like my transcript,” she recalls, “I was completely aghast to learn I had a knowledge gap in the core requirements necessary to graduate.”
It’s easy to lose direction in a place where possibilities are seemingly endless. There are tried-and-true paths to success and less traveled ones, as well. The pressure of making all the best decisions can derail anyone no matter what path is taken. Some students are able to make it on their own. However, despite this, most students don’t want those who come after them to struggle in the same way they did. Jesse Ante ’68, M.S. ’70, was one of those students. In 2001, Osmani met Ante, who became her alumni mentor. His advice then changed her path, and his influence still continues.
Ante wishes he had had a mentor in his college days. As one of a few Filipino students, and in a rigorous engineering program, he was on his road alone. “I never got to meet an alum until I became one,” he says.
He had to learn things on his own such as how to ask his boss for a raise or how to get a promotion. Ante says as an engineering student, Cal wanted students to think critically, to figure things out for themselves. “They try to make you give up in the first two years…the engineering department tries to weed you out,” Ante recalls. He says this tactic was intentional. It’s still a lesson he teaches his mentees, but he admits could have used some direction. He didn’t want to ask for help. He thought asking for help was a sign of weakness, especially at a highly competitive campus like Cal.
Ante was born in the Philippines and raised on the Fort McKinley Army Base, now known as Fort Bonifacio, in Manila. His father was a member of the Philippine Army. He retired from the army and moved his family to Hayward, California when Ante was twelve years old. Ante was the only Filipino American at his high school and as a son to Asian parents, failure wasn’t an option for him. He was elected president of his senior class despite the odds. “At that time, [Tennyson High] was 95% white…” he recalls. “I think it gave me a good edge to come to Cal in 1964.”
He was accepted into the engineering program and awarded the Cal Alumni Association’s (CAA) Leadership Award scholarship; he was ready for this new chapter in life. Then he got a low number in the Vietnam draft lottery. Anti-war protests were a regular occurrence on the Berkeley campus.
“My birthday came up… I was called up to be in the military.” The Vietnam war had waged on for 10 years when Ante was drafted. “I didn’t want to go to Vietnam to shoot my Asian brothers, instead I embraced the military by joining Cal US Air Force ROTC program to avoid the military draft,” he says.
Ante spent most of his time at Cal making it through his collegiate career on his own. He admits that although he wasn’t the smartest in the engineering program, he was tenacious and didn’t give up. Later, looking back on his own experience at Cal, he knew that students needed guidance that he wished he had had. It was the death of Grace Asuncion, a Filipina pre-med student who was killed on campus in 1992 that spurred Ante to action. “That tragedy really affected me to the point where I said, ‘How can I, as an alumni, help the next generation?’”
He joined the Student Alumni Mentorship Program run by CAA. Ante admits he made a lot of mistakes as an undergraduate student, but believes that’s what makes him a good mentor. Ante often shares his mistakes with mentees and explains how to avoid making those same errors. He believes strong decision-making and problem-solving skills are key to success at Cal and beyond. “I teach my mentees three basic things: how to network, how to make good decisions and how to become confident,” Ante says.
The program ended in 2004, but alumni still wanted to mentor students. They continued the program and it was during these years that his dedication to mentorship was clear. Mentoring gave him a deeper understanding of what students were experiencing. Ante says it even made him a better father. “I saw what these kids were going through and had a preview of what my own kids would be going through in college.”
As a first-year student, Osmani met Ante at a TAAP event. “He was coined as ‘my Cal dad,’” Osmani says. “In each interaction I was inspired to stay focused and goal-oriented.” As she was getting overwhelmed with the pressure of college life, Ante would give her small mantras to keep her focused; enjoy the small things and stay humble. “I know each opportunity I get to connect with Jesse, even today as a wife and a mother to 3 children, I still get moved to want to be a better human.”
“I was privileged early on to have Jesse as a mentor. Jesse taught me the value of being a mentor through passing on his knowledge and wisdom well beyond Cal; today I strive to live up to that in my personal and professional life,” Osmani adds.
Ante has maintained relationships with most of his mentees well past their Cal careers and continues to mentor new students. He’s been invited to weddings, notified of births, and received announcements of other major life events. It humbles Ante each time he receives an invitation or notification. Sometimes it is also humorous. When a Cal mentee invited him to her wedding in Indonesia, he had to tell her “‘you don’t even have a boyfriend.’ Ante surmises, “I guess she’s planning ahead.”
“It’s truly an honor that they would even think of inviting me, so I guess I have affected or been a value to their life as a mentor. I always tell them that they give me more than I give them,” Ante reflects.
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