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Chemistry key to mentor match

When high school senior Mayra Muñoz met mentor Ariel Johnson in September, she was greeted with a hug.

“Even though we didn’t know each other, we knew we had that connection,” said Muñoz, a 17-year-old senior at Noble Street College Prep.

The chemistry between the pair has made it easier for Johnson to help Muñoz move closer to achieving a dream — becoming a lawyer and the first member of her family to attend college. She recently got accepted to the University of Illinois Chicago.

The pair belong to Launch U, formerly known as Chicago Professionals for Youth, a yearlong program based downtown offering mentorship to high school seniors in the college application process and launching careers.

Since its founding in 2005, Launch U has helped more than 600 students get into college and now has its largest class: 158 scholars matched with mentors.

Several Launch U students are prospective first-generation college students like Muñoz.

With Johnson’s assistance, Muñoz has already applied to 17 schools. Muñoz, who has a 4.3 GPA, said she is considering a psychology major and later attending law school to become a lawyer.

Johnson, 25, is a lawyer and legislative affairs manager for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

“She knew from a young age, and I knew from a young age that we wanted to hit those big goals of being a lawyer,” Muñoz said. “And she achieved it, and I want her to help me achieve my goal.”

The program requires mentors and mentees meet three hours each month and work on college preparatory tasks.

“I think we spend more time kind of laughing and joking and talking about the fun stuff than we do about the serious stuff,” Johnson said.

They have similar high school backgrounds.

Like her mentor, Muñoz is a member of the National Spanish Honor Society, the National Honor Society and involved in sports.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership. To get involved with Launch U, high-schoolers entering their senior year and potential mentors can visit launchu.org and fill out the respective application.
Stephanie Choporis, the author of this story, is a student at Northwestern University.