By Korey Wilson
Finding good academic and career advice was a challenge for Cris Mercado during his high school years.
“I went to a crowded high school in New York City. The ratio of counselors to students was atrocious,” he says.
With dedication and research, Mercado found scholarship and career opportunities on his own. The experience inspired him to be a career mentor to first-generation students. He helped students earn over $1 million in scholarships and career opportunities.
Today, Mercado is the Founder of KeyJargon, a free web app that gives young professionals access to free/low-cost memberships to industry networks and access to top career events and opportunities.
“I felt like scholarship access was a crowded space, so I pivoted toward career readiness. It was the next step for the college students I helped,” he says.
Mercado earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the City University of New York. He was a Ph.D. candidate by twenty-one but placed his Doctorate plans on hold to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.
Through his experiences as a mentor and an entrepreneur, Mercado honed his leadership ability.
“Authenticity is the most important quality for effective leadership,” he says. “My decision-making ability is stronger because of it.”
Stepping outside his comfort zone is equally important to Mercado.
“If I could give some advice to my younger self I would say, ‘it’s important to have safe spaces, but it’s detrimental to be [too] comfortable,’” he says.
“I wish I was open to a certain level of discomfort when I was younger because a lot of personal growth comes from those situations. Through entrepreneurship, I forced myself to do things that I wasn’t accustomed to, like public speaking.”
Mercado uses his public speaking skills to advocate for millennials and dreamers through nonprofit groups including FWD.us, The Knowledge House, and America Needs You.
“Being a millennial of color means that I am a bridge and translator between older and younger generations within the context of an America that is getting browner,” he says.
In working with underserved students, Mercado got to know many immigrants, particularly undocumented ones.
“I think a lot of companies – particularly tech companies – are better because of immigrant employees,” says Mercado. “My call to action to other business leaders is to get behind the Dream Act. It will help those who have been contributing to this country for years.”
Photographed from left to right: Salvador Mendoza, Vincent Velasquez, Cris Mercado, Gil Addo
Credit: Jeff Smith