Meet the Oakland Tech College Essay Mentors

The College Essay program involves many skilled mentors, including:

Deepi Brar is a longtime writer and editor who specializes in simplifying health and science for wide audiences. She is excited to mentor young writers and help them sharpen their stories and craft. Deepi holds BS degrees from Caltech in biology and literature and an MJ from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a member of the faculty at The Crucible, an industrial arts center in Oakland.

Melinda Clemmons Blackorby, the parent of two Oakland Tech graduates, is a freelance writer and editor for nonprofits serving children, youth, and families. Her stories and poems have appeared in The Cimarron Review, Kindred, Cavalier, West Trestle Review, Eclipse, The Monthly, The Chronicle of Social Change, and elsewhere. She loves working with students in the Oakland Tech college essay program.

Amy Crawford is a long-time English language arts teacher and co-author of Great Books for High School Kids. She taught high school for over two decades — including 20 years at Berkeley High, where she worked with seniors on their personal statements. As a Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant, she facilitates writing workshops for teachers and teaches a summer writing camp for English language learners in China. Amy is the mother of two current Oakland Tech students, a senior and sophomore.

Lisa Fernandez is a parent of a Tech sophomore and a graduate now at UC Santa Cruz. She has been a journalist for 30 years. She has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle. the LA Times, the Mercury News and currently writes, reports and produces for KTVU, Channel 2.

Jana Good is a marketing professional who loves working with high school students on the college admissions process. A mom of two Oakland Tech students (one graduate and one senior), Jana has helped numerous students identify and hone the narrative of their college applications. Jana currently works for the City of Oakland as a FUSE Fellow.

Mary Goodell is a longtime writer and editor whose experience runs from technical writing to nonprofit newsletters. As a senior technical writer for ADP, she wrote manuals and online help systems for various software programs. She enjoys the challenge of organizing written material to provide clear instructions to complex systems. Her earlier work, however, spoke more to her heart. She was editor for the Seva Foundation, where she wrote the newsletter and the Gifts of Service catalogue, and managing editor for Corporate Philanthropy Report, a newsletter that analyzed trends in corporate giving. Her favorite genre is the memoir, and she looks forward to helping students identify and bring forth the personal stories most meaningful to them at this point in their lives. Mary is godmother to an OT 10th grader.

Peggy Griffin has a BA in history from UC Berkeley and an MBA in finance from SF State University. She had a long career in the commercial insurance industry. She was a coach with Writer Coach Connection for seven years in Berkeley, and currently volunteers with College Is Real at De Anza High School in Richmond, helping seniors (often the first in their families to attend college) with their application essays. She has guided her three kids through the college application process. Her oldest is a Tech graduate, and her youngest started college last year. She loves helping kids with their essays and is excited to be back in the Tech community.

Janice Grossman holds a Ph.D. in English from UC Santa Barbara and currently teaches essay writing and critical thinking classes at Laney and Merritt colleges in Oakland. The parent of a sophomore and a senior at OT, she is excited to work with students as a college essay mentor.

James Huber is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where he majored in economics and minored in political science and Mandarin Chinese. James volunteered at ScholarMatch in San Francisco for three college application seasons, helping high school seniors with their college essays. James grew up in Palo Alto and in high school he managed a sports and culture blog with multiple staff writers and was the editor of the opinions section for the school’s student-run newspaper. James currently works as a product manager at Workday in Pleasanton.

Carolyn Jones was a news reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle for 17 years and now works as a senior writer for the XQ Institute, a nonprofit devoted to high school education reform. She also freelances for Oakland Magazine and other publications. She graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree, and has two kids who graduated from Tech and are now in college.

Cristian King is a first generation college graduate of San Francisco State University where he majored in English Literature. After graduation, he spent five years working in a variety of roles at educational equity-focused non-profits. Most recently, he was the program manager of a virtual college access program for low-income, first-generation high school seniors at ScholarMatch, a San Francisco-based college access and success organization. He currently works as a program manager at Workday in Pleasanton.

Star Lightner is an attorney and the senior editor of Miller & Starr, California Real Estate 4th, a 45-chapter treatise on real estate law. In that capacity, she edits the treatise annually and works with a dozen chapter authors, as well as authoring six chapters herself. In addition, she writes Miller & Starr, Real Estate Newsalert, a bi-monthly publication on current real estate developments. She is also a regular contributor to the California Real Property Journal. In law school at UC Berkeley, she was editor in chief of Ecology Law Quarterly, one of the country’s foremost environmental law journals. An Oakland native who attended public schools at every step of her education, she now has a junior at Oakland Tech and a 7th grader at Claremont Middle School. She is very excited about working with students at Tech.

Mike Mechanic has been a senior editor at Mother Jones magazine for the past decade. He was previously managing editor at the East Bay Express. His work has also appeared in Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He is a UC Berkeley graduate (biochemistry) and has masters degrees in cellular and developmental
biology (Harvard) and UC Berkeley (journalism). He has lived in the East Bay
since 1983, and in Oakland since 1997. He has a son at Tech and is currently
working on a book about wealth.

Pam Rich has over 10 years experience teaching high school history where she emphasized the writing process. A graduate of Brown University, she currently works in Organization Effectiveness at UC Berkeley. Two of her daughters recently graduated from Oakland Tech.

Sarah Weld is a longtime writer and editor, who has worked as a daily newspaper reporter for the Oakland Tribune and the San Mateo County Times, editor of The East Bay Monthly, associate editor of Oakland and Alameda magazines, and senior content editor and writer at Saint Mary’s College. Sarah also taught high school English for a few years, and has
shepherded two children (both Tech grads) through the college essay process. In
addition to her professional writing and editing work, she also writes
nonfiction essays, which have been published in various places, including The
Monthly, Using Our Words, and on KQED Perspectives. She currently manages
communications for the enrollment division at Cal State East Bay.

Hilary Zaid holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she taught for many years in the undergraduate writing program, Hilary has mentored college essays writers privately, through a Stanford-based summer program for low-income students and through an “Uber-for-College-Essays” online program. She much prefers college essay advising models that promote equity. A 2017 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Hilary is also an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues including Lilith Magazine, The Southwest Review, The Utne Reader, CALYX, The Santa Monica Review, and The Tahoma Literary Review. Her novel, Paper is White, was long-listed for the Northern California Independent Booksellers’ Award and the winner of an Independent Publishers Book Award. Hilary is the parent of a Tech sophomore and a recent graduate.

For more information, visit our College Essay Info & Mentor Support page, or email

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