Ismael Oviedo                          Year Up Greater Atlanta, Class of 2017 | Current Client Experience Specialist II at Cox Automotive

Finding His Identity: Ismael Oviedo’s Story

With hard work and the right mentor, Ismael came to understand who he was and what mattered most to him.

By Dan Gordon and Nick Schmiedicker


During his Year Up commencement speech, Ismael Oviedo had a confession, “If you asked me who I was a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to respond.” Yet, thanks to Year Up’s work volunteering with young adults and a once-in-a-lifetime mentor opportunity, Ismael was able to change all of that.

Starting at a young age, Ismael did everything he could to make his parents proud. As immigrants with a work ethic that reflected their hopes and dreams for their children, they wanted to see their sons succeed more than anything. Eventually, all of his hard work paid off and Ismael became the first in his family to attend college.

Ismael continued to give his all as a full-time student during the day and employee at night — but something wasn’t right. “I felt like I was going through the motions,” he says. And while his parents encouraged him to remain in school, by his sophomore year, their son knew he needed a change.

I saw a young woman walk out of a Fortune 500 company and the biggest difference between us was that she believed in everything she was doingand I didn’t.”

The “young woman” Ismael saw was a friend from his high school. When Ismael learned that she had an internship, he asked if he could apply. That’s when she told him about Year Up and some graduate success stories.

The next few months were a revelation. Ismael entered Year Up uncertain how he might become an asset to a company, but quickly learned it was about more than acquiring skills. “I started challenging myself and being more communicative, ” Ismael says.

Ismael (left) with his mentor Jonathan Mayo

A pivotal moment came when Ismael met his mentor Jonathan Mayo, Year Up’s director of corporate engagement. Mayo’s role involved managing corporate partnerships and facilitating internships for Year Up students. He was also known for his enthusiasm in sharing his wealth of knowledge and expertise.

“After a few months, I realized that Mr. Mayo cared about me and was showing me what type of life I could have.” 

Eventually, Ismael learned that he was going to Cox Automotive for his internship. Mayo had long talked of Cox as one of his most important accounts. “He told me it wasn’t going to be easy, but that if I applied myself, I could get hired, and it could change my life,” Ismael recalls.

He was determined to succeed, and the work ethic instilled by his parents and reinforced by his mentor set him apart. He studied the company’s processes and began spending extra time observing the more experienced coordinators.

By the third month, in the middle of his internship, he received a full-time offer. He eagerly accepted, and over time, moved up in the company and is currently working as a client experience specialist II.

With his success, Ismael has offered guidance to the Year Up interns who followed in his footsteps. “I don’t consider myself a mentor, that’s people like Mr. Mayo,” Ismael says. “I’m more like a big brother showing them that if you work hard, anything is possible.”

Mayo was right — Ismael’s life did change. With his Cox Automotive salary, Ismael was able to leave his second job and pursue a degree in business management, with full financial support from Cox.

Concluding his commencement speech, Ismael said, “Now a year later, if you ask me who I am, I have a response. My name is Ismael Oviedo, and I’m a proud servant leader to the movement known as Year Up.”

Impact a life. Volunteer with young adults at Year Up.