When Sheryl Sandberg is Your Mentor: Scholarship Winners Reach College Milestone
The inaugural class of Goldberg Scholars graduated college this spring with help from some influential supporters
Four years ago, Sheryl Sandberg and Rob Goldberg funded a scholarship program meant to free high-achieving first-generation college students from everyday financial burdens while giving them the type of mentorship that can launch careers.
Sandberg, who stepped down earlier this month as the longtime chief operating officer of Meta, Facebook’s parent company; and Goldberg, founder and CEO of Fresno Unlimited, took the mentorship aspect seriously. Both assumed that role themselves for two students in the inaugural 30-member scholarship class that became the first to graduate college last month.
“I am so hopeful about the impact these students will have in the world and am confident they will build a brighter future for us all,” Sandberg told The 74 via email this month.
The Goldberg scholarship was created to honor Dave Goldberg — Sandberg’s husband and Rob Goldberg’s brother — who died in 2015 at age 47. Dave Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, was close with KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth, and all the scholarship recipients are alumni of the charter school network, which predominantly serves low-income students of color.
Sandberg’s mentee was Maleah Densby, a Duke University graduate who struggled with veering from her long-determined plan of being a pre-med major and eventually, a doctor. Floundering at first in her hardcore STEM classes, Densby, a top student, credited Sandberg with helping her to see that her grades did not define her or her dreams.
“Over the last four years, I’ve seen Maleah excel in her classes, wrestle through hard decisions, and navigate challenges both small and big. I’m so inspired by her drive and determination — and grateful for the special relationship we have built,” Sandberg said.
“I have tried to teach her a thing or two, but I am certain she has taught me more, especially about perseverance.”
First-generation, low-income students face multiple barriers graduating college — nationwide, the six-year completion rate is 28% — and while the Goldberg Scholars had many additional supports, COVID also blew a hole through their college careers.
Rob Goldberg’s mentee was Metzli Garcia, a 2022 UCLA graduate and the first in her family to earn a college degree. Her dad cried, she said, when she told him she had gotten into UCLA and graduating “is a super big deal for my family.” When staying that high-stakes course became difficult, Garcia said, having someone like Goldberg believe in her made a powerful difference.
Goldberg said for him, that person had been his older brother.
“Dave was the person who instilled confidence in me and helped me to believe my dreams were attainable,” he told The 74. “When I was 22, I started a company … Dave had started a digital media company a year before and not only did he help me become a founder and an entrepreneur (at a time when there was no internet or access to online resources about starting a company), he also showed me how impactful it was to take time out of your day to help others, and to put other people first.”
There are now 93 students in the Goldberg scholarship pipeline, including the 17 who just graduated from KIPP high schools across the country and are headed to college this fall. Looking back on the first four years, Goldberg said he learned what an enemy imposter syndrome can be for these young people.
“I was raised to believe that college would always be in my future and it wasn’t until I met these brave Goldberg Scholars that I realized that higher education is not something that is inherent in all of our futures — let alone a place where everyone feels they belong,” he said. “Overcoming these feelings of self-doubt makes Metztli’s achievements, and the entire inaugural class’s accomplishments, all the more impressive.”
Here are five of those graduates:
University of Houston
Disclosure: Campbell Brown oversees global media partnerships at Meta. Brown co-founded The 74 and sits on its board of directors. Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to KIPP and The 74.