I’ve worked at a lot of places but I especially enjoy being a part of the Pivotal family for its unique culture of positivity & inclusivity – you know you can be your authentic self and still get the job done.

I graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work last year. I knew right away that having hands-on experience was super important. I joined Pivotal as an intern coach supporting high school-aged foster youth with their academics during my senior year of college. Considering this was during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I initially found it challenging to coach virtually and connect with my students.
As a post-secondary coach, my role is to support my students with their academics, employment, and overall well-being. Since I have a relatively smaller caseload I get the opportunity to build a strong rapport with my students and tailor coaching services to each of their needs. As someone who also struggles with mental health challenges, working with these young people can be a mutually rewarding conversation and an instant connection. Although therapy work around mental health exceeds my scope of practice, I feel honored when I’m allowed into their space as challenges come their way.

It can be challenging to have difficult conversations with my students about their academics, employment, and overall well-being. Still, when that happens, I instinctively want to do all I can to help. These young people have been through so many traumatic experiences that it is hard not to stand by them. 


Being a Pivotal coach has also taught me to speak with empathy. I come from an Asian family where you’re expected to just “get over it,” so this is a massive shift in perspective. We are the generation to break that cycle and harness the power of a genuine conversation.

Part of this learning process has also been to just sit and listen. Most of the time, I don’t give my students solutions. They just need someone to validate their feelings. So, I ask many open-ended questions that will help my students reflect, sort through different ideas, and figure out the answers themselves.

It bothers me that people think foster youth are in the system because of something they did. It’s not their fault that they’re in this situation. They’re going through so much, dealing with issues that we don’t see. They need empathy and support, not judgment.

Foster youth with lower grades may also be perceived as lazy, unmotivated individuals, but that is not the case. One of my straight-A students says, “Trinh, just because I get A’s in all my classes doesn’t mean I’m okay.” I tend to have a holistic approach for students like her that explores their mental health challenges and self-care practices. For my other students who may be struggling with classes, I provide guidance and resources to bring up their grades and check in on their mental and emotional well-being. So, it’s always different. No two scholars are alike, so the way we support them isn’t the same either.”

- Trinh Tong, Post-Secondary Coach, Pivotal.