First-Generation UVA and Local Students Are Rising Together


By Jane Kelly

A mentoring program started and led by fourth-year Youth and Social Innovation student Bryan Christ pairs UVA students with local high-schoolers, many of them working to be the first in their families to attend college.

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Fourth-year YSI student and Rise Together co-founder Bryan Christ, center, joins a Western Albemarle High School student in the AVID program to mentor pupils at Crozet Elementary School. Photo by Dan Addison, danaddison@virginia.edu

Bryan Christ’s affinity for mentorship began when he was a young boy living in North Carolina. A painfully shy third-grader, he said one teacher’s goal for the year was getting him to say “hi” to her in the hallway.

His brother Brandon, nine years his senior, began mentoring Bryan to coax him out of his shell. The experience instilled in Bryan a love for the transformative power of mentorship and he wanted to share that.

When the local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters lost its funding, Bryan saw an opportunity.

“There was a local elementary school with a lot of students who no longer had mentors,” he said. He and his mother, Gina, got to work training students at Bryan’s high school to mentor the younger students, and the results were impressive.

“Attendance went up, engagement went up, grades went up,” he said.

Bryan took his expertise to North Carolina’s State Youth Council, which he chaired from 2014 to 2015, managing online training programs for mentors at elementary schools across the state.

In 2015, Bryan’s family relocated to Crozet, in Albemarle County. He enrolled at the University of Virginia and his father accepted a position as a professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedic surgery. But something was missing.

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Curry School of Education student Bryan Christ and his mother, Gina, created Rise Together, a non-profit group-mentoring program that pairs UVA students with students at several area schools. Photo by Dan Addison, danaddison@virginia.edu

"They are in my heart"

His mother, a veteran school counselor and educator with more than 25 years of experience working with teens, recalled the moment.

“We were here for about six months and Bryan came home from school and said, ‘We have to do something. I can’t not help the kids. They are in my head. They are in my heart.’”

From that kitchen table conversation came the creation of Rise Together, a non-profit group-mentoring program that pairs UVA students with students at Western Albemarle and Monticello high schools and at Walton Middle School, reaching about 85 Charlottesville-area students in all.

“Rise Together’s name symbolizes the belief that mentors and mentees elevate each other’s lives,” Bryan said.​ “At some point, everyone struggles to find their direction and purpose. The name reminds us that we are not alone and that we have a shared responsibility to inspire and lead not only ourselves, but also others who are working to find their path.”

Bryan is now a fourth-year student studying youth and social innovation in UVA’s Curry School of Education and pursuing an accelerated master’s in public policy in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. The program he and his mother created provides field work experience for Curry students, launching them and the high school students they pair with into another world altogether, where they become doers for others.

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First-Generation UVA and Local Students Are Rising Together