Meet Janu Sonthi!

By: Chris Loney | Friday, July 25, 2014


I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been raised by two wonderful parents, both of whom are a true testament to the notion that education is a vehicle for social mobility. Growing up in middle class families in India, they knew the only way to improve their quality of life was to pursue higher education and enter the workforce with an unwavering resolve. This lead them to pursue opportunities worlds away and eventually settle here in the United States over fifteen years ago.

My parents’ example and background has played a crucial role in manifesting the college-going culture in my family. There was never any question that I would attend college—after all, look at what it had done for my parents.

 Upon recent reflection as a result of my time here at uAspire, it occurred to me that this college-going culture is not universal. This isn’t to say that I didn’t know that college accessibility and affordability were large issues; I just never realized how immense the need for an organization like uAspire was. I grew up in Acton, a suburb west of Boston, where the majority of students at my high school attended a two- or four-year college after graduation.

 I realized that I had, in fact, taken my post-secondary education for granted, which may be the single most important and surprising thing I’ve learned this summer working at uAspire.

 Inspired by this realization, I find myself even more committed to uAspire’s core values of student-centric, collaborative, excellent, dedicated, and systems-focused work. During my interview, I witnessed each one in its own capacity. I knew as I walked out the door, having happily accepted my offer, that an organization with such a clear direction, driven staff, and high regard for its core principles would give me invaluable experience.

 Most of my projects during my time here have been with the development team looking to build up uAspire’s donor pipeline, contribute to the recently launched capital growth campaign, and compile market research on the big players in the post-secondary education accessibility and affordability space.

uAspire First-Gen. Employee Interview:

Bob Giannino

(Chief Executive Officer)

bob giannino website photo

 Q: How does being a first generation college student inspire you and drive your work here at uAspire?

 “It’s actually the greatest driving force in my work here; it’s one of the biggest day-to-day motivating factors,” reflected Giannino. “When I was young, I really struggled with the financial aspect of [paying for] college.”

 In addition to his business acumen, his closeness and familiarity with the struggles of first-generation college students makes Giannino a perfect fit for leadership at uAspire: “It gives uAspire credibility, the fact that I and several other employees here have endured the same hardships,” he reflected. “You can’t underestimate the power of that.”

 Q: Do you see any changes in the college landscape between the time when you were a first-generation student and current first-generation students?

 “I think the largest difference is the recognition of the unique experience of being a first-generation college student,” Giannino continued. He explained that, “there now exists this labeled community of ‘first-generation.’ When I was in school, that wasn’t something that existed.”

 Additionally, “being a first-generation college student today now feels like a badge of honor. Colleges, universities, community organizations, and foundations are all working together in their efforts to mentor, support, and- most importantly- celebrate these students.”

 Q: Being Chief Executive Officer is a huge responsibility. What would you say are the easiest and hardest aspects of your job?

 “The easiest aspect of my job would have to be sharing the amazing work we do here at uAspire. I constantly want to talk about our work in every setting I’m in. I’m incredibly lucky that I love what I do everyday, and I love our work. Most people want to leave work behind at the office when they go home everyday, but that’s just not the case for me.

 “The hardest part of my job is waking up everyday knowing that there is a growing number of students who need our help. The need is out-pacing our capacity and ability to meet that need.”

 “I want our work to be scaled at the level that meets the need that exists.”

 Q: Regarding growth here at uAspire, what are you most excited for in the coming years?

“Well, it’s hard to pick just one thing that I’m most excited for, but if I had to choose I would say I’m really excited about the number of very innovative new approaches uAspire is involved in.”

“There’s so much exciting work going on with IES, the development of a broad scale virtual support center, the launching of our T&TA program, and some new growth in our post-secondary success models in Massachusetts. It’s really an exciting time here at uAspire.”

What Bob Wishes He Knew on His First Day of College:

It’s okay to ask for help.