20 for 20: Alumni Jay Yaskanich

Meet Jay Yaskanich; he's an alum of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2015) and a graduate of Troy High School (2011). He now works for Ernst & Young in New York City. Jay was the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

How did Sponsor-A-Scholar help you in high school?

Sponsor-A-Scholar provided Opportunity. The greatest thing Sponsor-A-Scholar offered me is the chance to succeed. Sponsor-A-Scholar helped me understand my value to the world and provided the opportunity to make the most of myself. Sponsor-A-Scholar provided me with the opportunity to prepare for college  with a graphing calculator and help with the SAT and ACT that I would otherwise not have had.

What was the most important thing that you learned/received from Sponsor-A-Scholar?

One of the most important skills I took away from the Sponsor-A-Scholar is how to develop my soft skills. One of the most transferable skills someone can learn through life is how to communicate and connect with another person. Through Sponsor-A-Scholar I have been exposed to people of all backgrounds. This has taught me how to communicate effectively with anyone I might meet while maintaining the same respect for everyone around me.

What’s one thing that helped you reach where you are now?

A strong support system was the key to getting to where I am now. Having people who fully support every dream, every goal, and every decision I made was a vital aspect of evolving as a person. I always knew I had people who could speak openly and honestly to me as well as people I can lean on in tough times.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to earn your degree?

One of the biggest challenges that I faced as well as many of my other peers would be time management. When you are in high school you hear a lot of people discuss the topic but no one addresses how to manage your time. In college, I was a full-time student, full-time athlete, and worked multiple jobs so time was a finite resource.

You will face many tough decisions between hanging out with friends and class work but once you determine what is important to you, it becomes easier to prioritize. This skill is something I fine-tuned through my time in college and has helped me excel through my professional career.

How did having a mentor (either in Sponsor-A-Scholar or elsewhere) help you in college and beyond?

Having a mentor is one of the highlights of both my collegiate and professional careers. My mentors have helped me by using their previous experiences to provide insight and advice that I wouldn’t otherwise have available. My mentors were people who had been in my place at one point and have helped by providing the support necessary to succeed.

Did you seek out mentors in college or as you’ve built your career? How have you done this?

Networking is the key to not only finding mentors but finding the right mentors. For myself, my college mentors were usually the upperclassmen who I looked up to as a wide-eyed freshman. Through my time in college, I joined many clubs and organizations that provided the perfect outlet to meet people similar to myself. In my professional career, I made it a priority to step out of my comfort zone and network with people who were seasoned veterans in my firm. I was able to grow my network and with this came professional connections as well as mentors that have grown into my closest friends.

If you could go and talk with your 18-year-old self about where you are now, what would you tell them? What would you tell them about the path that it took to get there?

I would tell my 18-year-old self to never stop striving for more. I would tell my 18 year old self to keep working hard and don’t let anyone who doesn’t support you halt your success. There will be a lot of people who don’t believe in your goals; I would tell myself that no matter what obstacles lay in your way nothing can take away your work ethic. I would tell myself that all the sleepless nights, all the caffeine-induced mornings, and all the frustration is worth it in the long run because nothing worth having comes easy.

What does Sponsor-A-Scholar mean to you now that you have your college degree?

I hold Sponsor-A-Scholar very close to my heart as it has been an essential part in my early life successes. Sponsor-A-Scholar means a lot to me as it provided so many opportunities and opened so many doors throughout my life. I truly believe that Sponsor-A-Scholar offered an essential stepping- stone into the development of my career. Sponsor-A-Scholar has been there for me with many large milestones in my life from helping pick the right college all the way to helping weigh my options for different career offers.

I truly believe that Sponsor-A-Scholar has provided me with more than enough people and tools to be successful. I believe Sponsor-A-Scholar offers the perfect mix of developing soft skills as well as monetary support that wasn’t available to me otherwise.

What’s the one thing that you now know about – which you wish you either knew about in college or wish you had taken advantage of while you were there?

I wish I knew more about investing and how to secure a financial future. Where I grew up, it was very rare to come by someone who was investing in anything other than a savings account or 401K. Most colleges offer programs that will teach students about the different investment opportunities that are out there. I only wish I had seized these opportunities earlier.

Not only will knowing about investing help in the long run, but, if you have a passion for business it is an interesting world to explore.

How have your dreams for yourself changed since you were in high school?

My dreams have changed significantly since high school. I have gained focus as well as determination. In high school, my dreams were generic and easily attainable. Now I use my goals to push myself both personally and professionally. For example: I always dreamed of working for a large company and pursue my passion in the business world, now I feel as if I can take the world by storm. I am aiming to leave my footprints on everything I can, and make things better as I truly want to help change the world.

If you could say one thing to your Sponsor, what would it be?

I would say Thank you! The support provided to me by my sponsors is unparalleled and truly one of a kind. I want to say thank you on behalf of myself but also my mother. Without my sponsors, I wouldn’t be the man my mother is so proud of today.

How do you feel about your future?

I am very excited about my future. I have large aspirations and want to make a difference any way I can. No matter how big or how small I want to give back in as many ways as possible. The knowledge bestowed upon me through high school and college is what shaped me as a person and I want to share my story to hopefully inspire others.

Now that you are a graduate of the program, how do you plan to give back to Sponsor-A-Scholar to help the next generation of students?

I would love to take the time to mentor the future generations of Sponsor-A-Scholar students at some point in the future. Right now, while I am still building out my career and future I can share my story and inspire the younger members to remain true to themselves and work as hard as possible. As I continue to establish myself, I would eventually like to become a financial supporter of the program.

Thank you, Jay!