There’s a reason Sonali (Perera) Bridges ’98 was the first recipient of the Rising Star Award for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. And in 2000, she was the youngest person to join to board of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling. “I’m known as someone who fights to level out the playing field for all students,” she says. “I’ve lobbied for equity and access to higher education in Sacramento and Washington D.C. I will do anything for my students.”
Bridges has been breaking down barriers for women in education since she started at the Mount. The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, her culture taught her to be respectful and quiet, but the Mount taught her that she had a voice.
“At the Mount, I was told that what I had to say mattered. Then I was taught how to make a difference,” says Bridges, who studied business. Her first opportunity to lead came as a student intern, working under the direction of Cheryl Mabey, JD, the founder and first director of the Women’s Leadership program. By her senior year, Bridges was an intern in both the leadership and admissions offices, and her chief responsibility was to coordinate leadership workshops for high school students across the country.
When she graduated, she was asked to join the Mount admissions team full time. In 10 years, Bridges went from being an intern to becoming the director of freshman admissions.
“My focus has always been on underrepresented students,” she says. “I was a first-generation student myself, and I understand the challenges. My message to students was always, ‘You can do this.’”
Bridges left the Mount in 2007 to work at Santa Monica College, first as dean of outreach and recruitment, then as dean of student life. Next she moved to UCLA, where she was responsible for creating pipelines and access to higher education for underrepresented students in the strategic partnerships and community engagement office.
Five years ago she started her own business, Bridges Educational Consulting, to help student navigate through the competitive application process. But her focus is still on giving back. She is currently developing an online interactive college-counseling platform that she plans to give to underserved kids for free. “Especially now with COVID, even if students don’t have access to counseling services at their high school, they can have step-by-step access to the process.”
This year she also started Shero’s Rise, a nonprofit specifically for girls aged 8-19 that focuses on self-development. “I started Shero’s Rise because young girls often don’t know what strengths they bring to the table,” she says. “I want every underrepresented girl to know her value and have the experiences and skills she needs to be empowered.”
After 23 years in college admissions work, her driving force will always be a life lesson she learned at the Mount. “The Mount taught me that it’s not just important that you rise up, what’s important is that you reach back and pull up those behind you.”