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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Allyson Cullen ('22) and former SDSU AMP mentee will oversee the group of interns, from hiring to managing at Village Up in San Diego. Allyson Cullen ('22) and former SDSU AMP mentee will oversee the group of interns, from hiring to managing at Village Up in San Diego.

Amped Up: Aztec Mentor Program Provides Student with Career Insights, Post-Graduation Job

Former SDSU AMP mentee Allyson Cullen will be starting her professional career leading interns at Village Up.
By Aaron Burgin

When Allyson Cullen graduated from San Diego State University in December, she made a unique transition — from mentee in the Aztec Mentor Program to a mentor (of sorts) in her former mentor’s startup.


The 22-year-old sociology major was hired by the nonprofit think tank, Village Up in San Diego, which provides underrepresented entrepreneurs with mentorship and resources for their startups. In her part-time position, Cullen will be hiring and managing interns for social media programs and operations support. 


She said the transition still feels surreal. 


“It feels good. I’m definitely still dealing with a little bit of impostor syndrome, but I really enjoy that I am able to hand-pick the people that I am working with,” Cullen said. “Even though I graduated, I still feel like I’m interacting with my peers, just helping them grow. College and SDSU were so impactful for me, I just want to see that happen for other people, too.”


The path that led Cullen to this position started in fall 2021, when she learned about the Aztec Mentor Program from one of her professors. After going to the AMP online portal — — she was connected with Julius Alejandro (sociology ’09), a consultant who works with entrepreneurs to connect them to resources and to help them recruit talent from underrepresented communities.


Cullen, who graduated after three and a half years with a 3.9 grade-point average, said she and her mentor were a perfect fit. 


“His philosophy is ‘however hungry you are is how much I’ll feed you,’” the Napa native said. “From there, our relationship grew, and later I expressed an interest in interning, which ultimately led to me taking the staff position after graduation.”


Alejandro called her the best mentee he’s had in over a decade. He knew she was special when, early in their mentor/mentee relationship, he invited her and several students to a Village Up mixer on a rainy December evening. 


“Later, when I mentioned that I was looking for interns, I wasn’t sure that she’d be interested,” Alejandro said, “but she was immediately interested. Originally, the internship was for social media, but I noticed that she wanted to do more. She had grit. The more I gave her, the more she wanted. And her work was always excellent.” 


He said Cullen led Village Up’s first major fundraiser — planning logistics, handling the sponsorship packet, securing gift donations and managing and hosting the event.


“Allyson is a profound professional, she’s thorough and she has the interpersonal skills that are needed to have success. In short, she’s been phenomenal,” Alejandro said. “So when I expanded the internship program and was looking for someone to run it, I thought about all the people who had taken chances on me, and it was an easy decision to take a chance on her.”


In her new position, Cullen will oversee the group of interns, from hiring to managing. “This will be her team; she’s running it and they answer to her,” Alejandro said. 


Cullen credited her time at SDSU for preparing her for the rapid transition from mentee to mentor. She had two minors— communications and dance — and was the social media manager for SDSU Admissions, vice president of finance for The Women’s Network at SDSU and also tutored other students. 


“I think because the pandemic happened at the very beginning to almost near the end of my time in college, I really threw myself into clubs and social life when I got back on campus, and that really helped me feel connected to the community,” Cullen said.


Cullen said she’s excited to provide her former peers at SDSU with opportunities at Village Up, much in the same way her mentor provided her with a vote of confidence. 


“Village Up and the entire startup community is great about presenting opportunities if you want them, so I’ll be looking for Aztecs who are motivated and want to effect change,” she said. 


Cullen is one of the 16,639 students who’ve been paired with SDSU alumni mentors since AMP began nearly a decade ago. AMP, a partnership between SDSU Career Services and SDSU Alumni, is open to juniors, seniors and graduate students. 


“Alumni and student connections are invaluable as students consider internship and job opportunities,” said Diane Marin, who headed the Aztec Mentor Program until her recent retirement. “Alumni can help provide perspective and open doors to have a successful start to their careers. AMP opens those doors to both students and alumni.”



Go to to learn more about the Aztec Mentor Program, how students can find a professional mentor and how professionals can help mentor students in their field.