Confidence. It shines from her. From her eyes. From her smile, her tone of voice. No wonder it’s the number one thing Lissete Estrada wants to impart to the now more than 2000 undergraduate Braven Fellows she’s worked with for almost eight years—students very similar to herself when she enrolled in Guttman’ Community College’s inaugural class.

Braven is a nonprofit that partners with eight universities around the country to empower first-generation, Pell-eligible, under-represented college sophomores or juniors as they progress to graduation, headed to meaningful careers or graduate school. As a Program Manager and then Regional Managing Director of Braven at Rutgers University-Newark, Lissete reached out to prospective fellows, supported a three-credit leadership skills course and facilitated mentoring, networking and career-building experiences that prepared them for what Braven calls “lives of impact.”

Impact is important to this Colombian-born, Queens-bred 29-year-old. She felt it at Guttman when she became a peer mentor, when she made the decision to run for student body president and later when she was admitted to City College, the school to which she had first applied as a high school senior but didn’t make the cut. As a transfer student, Lissete went on to earn her bachelor’s with honors in International Studies, Culture and Communication at City while working for Teach for America, recruiting students to become teachers in under-resourced schools.

Impact is what she strives to imbue in her team now that she’s Braven’s Founding Regional Director at City College, where she graduated in 2016. When Braven launched its first New York-based program in 2020 with CUNY’s Lehman College, Lissete told her CEO, “When you’re ready to open at City, I’m ready!” In 2022, Lissete began tapping into all the contacts she had made at City, building a strong coalition of senior-level leaders and corporate and philanthropic partners so the college would be fully invested in the program’s success when it launched there, under her direction, in Spring 2023.

“I love collaborating,” she says. “It’s actually something that I learned as a student at Guttman. They were always putting us in teams, teaching us to learn from our peers. The cohort system, the experiential learning, all those elements gave us confidence and made us feel that we belonged and had something we could contribute.”

As an up-and-coming leader within the national non-profit, she’s committed to developing her teammates. “’Look,’ I tell them, ‘You’re the CEO of whatever XYZ project you’re working on. I want to see you step into your leadership, I want you to take responsibility, own it, even own your mistakes.’” She acknowledges that taking initiative is particularly challenging for young employees just starting out after the pandemic. “It’s hard for them sometimes to be independent. But just as we do with our fellows, I take them where they are and remind them that they deserve a seat at the table.” She laughs, “Sometimes I have to remind myself of that! No matter where I am, I’m still growing!”

Looking to the future, Lissete’s excited about becoming a mother in July, expecting a boy. What’s the trait she most wants to pass on to her son? “I hope that he quickly learns to have the confidence to take on the world,” she says with no hesitation.