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Meet the Oakland Tech College Essay Mentors

The College Essay program involves many skilled mentors, including:

Melinda Clemmons, 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 Rust + Moth, The Midwest Review, Shrew, West Trestle Review, The Imprint, and elsewhere. Her first full-length manuscript, Blood Moon, was a finalist for the 2021 Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, and a semi-finalist for the 2021 Word Works Washington Prize and the 2021 Red Mountain Press Discovery Award. She loves working with students in the Oakland Tech college essay program.

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 in Richmond, helping seniors with their application essays. She has guided her three kids through the college application process. Her oldest is a Tech graduate. She loves helping students with their essays and is excited to be back in the Tech community.

Deepi Brar is a longtime writer and editor who specializes in simplifying health and science for everyone. She is a parent of an Oakland Tech senior and loves to help young writers develop their stories and skills. 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.

Jamie Eder has been a research and writing lawyer at the United States Courts for over 20 years. He writes about cases involving prisoners’ civil rights and their challenges to their convictions and sentences. He has mentored law students on their legal writing. Jamie has two sons at Tech and Claremont Middle School. He has worked with teens as a soccer coach and self-defense instructor. He went to Cal, and he lives in Oakland.

Lisa Fernandez is a parent of a Tech senior 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. She has coached students to write college essays for four years, helping them find their authentic stories and then organizing those ideas onto paper.

Gayle Buckles is a former OUSD teacher and administrator whose work focused on providing academic support to students experiencing medical challenges. She enjoys helping students discover their voice and she believes that everyone has a unique story just waiting to be told. Gayle graduated from UC Berkeley and earned her teaching credential at Mills College. In her free time she can be found in the ceramics studio or contemplating her next craft project.

Ruth Goldstone has a BA in linguistics from CAL and an MFA in fiction from SFSU, where she published short stories and won the Clark-Grosse prize for her novel-in-progress. She has worked as a real estate agent for 22 years. Prior to that, she taught high school Spanish, and worked in OUSD at a bilingual elementary school as a reading specialist. Her children attend Tech and Claremont middle school.

Jana Good is a marketing professional who loves working with high school students on the college admissions process. A mom of two Oakland Tech graduates, Jana has helped dozens of students identify and hone the narrative of their college applications. Jana currently works in marketing for Stanford Health Care.

Star Lightner is an attorney and the senior editor of Miller & Starr, California Real Estate 4th, a 45-chapter treatise on real estate law. She edits the treatise and also updates six of the chapters. 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. A Berkeley Law alum, Star is an Oakland native who attended public schools at every step of her education. She now has a sophomore at Oakland Tech and a sophomore at University of Vermont. Her favorite volunteer activity is essay mentoring.

Nancy Kaufman-Cohen is a licensed clinical social worker. She has provided therapy to children and families, trained social workers and therapists, and directed community-based counseling programs for 25+ years. Nancy enjoys supporting students with all steps of the college essay process. She is eager to help seniors overcome writers’ block and “imposter syndrome” to develop essays that convey their unique strengths. She is the proud mom of two Oakland Tech alumni and a current junior.

Carolyn Jones is a senior reporter at EdSource, a nonprofit journalism organization that covers education in California. She previously was a news reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune 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.

Laura Marlin is a playwright, director, and theater teacher. She loves working with students on their writing, and was a writing coach and coach trainer with the Writer-Coach Connection since 2005. Laura was once a middle-school teacher, and holds a Master of Education degree from Bank Street College in NYC.

Justin Marquez is a proud Oakland Tech High School neighbor working in environmental justice and climate equity as an impact investor in climate tech companies. He is a dancer, singer, and performer in the Bay Area arts scene, most recently dancing with Groove Theory and performing in the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Company’s production, “I, Too, Sing America.” Justin is a home cook and recipe developer and creative writer with his first piece appearing in the Southeast Asians Rising Zine Collective. Justin graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in economics and environmental policy.

Michael Mechanic has lived in Oakland since 1997. He is a senior editor at Mother Jones magazine and author of a recent nonfiction book, Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live and How Their Wealth Harms Us All (Simon & Schuster, April 2021). Before Mother Jones, Mike was managing editor at the East Bay Express. His work has also appeared in the Atlantic, The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He was a biochemistry major at Cal and holds masters degrees in cellular and developmental biology (Harvard) and journalism (UC Berkeley). His daughter is a Tech senior and his son is a Tech alum who currently studies fine arts at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute.

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 in communications at Saint Mary’s College and Cal State East Bay. Sarah also taught high school English for a few years, and has shepherded her two children (both Tech grads), and many other students, 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 clinical program at Berkeley Law school.

Hilary Zaid has been a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, a James D Houston Fellow at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and two-time attendee of Tin House Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in print and online venues including Mother Jones, Ecotone, Day One, The Southwest Review, and The Utne Reader. Long-listed for the 2019 Northern California Independent Booksellers' Award for Fiction, her novel PAPER IS WHITE is a 2018 Foreword Indies silver medalist and the winner of the 2018 Independent Publishers' Book Awards (IPPY) in LGBT+ Fiction. Her novel FORGET I TOLD YOU THIS, winner of the Barbara DiBernard Award, is coming out on September 1, 2023. She holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and an AB from Harvard and is the parent of two recent Tech graduates.

Questions about the Essay Mentor Program can be directed to your senior English teacher, senior advisory teacher, the Assistant Principal for seniors or to the Oakland Tech College and Career Center.