Jose Tejero arrived in the United States at the age of 16, and had to leave behind his father and other relatives in Peru. He did not think that he would remain permanently in the U.S., so he took school lightly. He earned only Cs and Ds, even though he was an excellent student in Peru. After realizing that he would be remaining in the U.S. permanently, he was determined to do better and move on to college. “CollegeTracks gave me packets to help me prepare for the English and math placement tests required by Montgomery College.” Jose went twice a week to study at CollegeTracks, and someone there would help him practice for the English test. He placed into English 101 and Math 101, and now has a 3.5 GPA. He is now in the process of transferring into a four-year school and plans to major in nutrition.
Hiwot Kassaye is a first-generation college attending student from a low-income family that came from Ethiopia in 2008. Hiwot was a junior when she arrived to the U.S., but learned English quickly and enrolled in challenging courses. She was determined to go to college, but had no idea how, so she sought out CollegeTracks. CollegeTracks learned that Hiwot was serious about medicine and engineering, so they helped Hiwot understand that she could use her years in college to explore all her areas of interest. Hiwot took advantage of every type of assistance CollegeTracks offered, including free ACT prep, and assistance with registering for the TOEFL. CollegeTracks staff helped Hiwot identify and apply to 15 colleges that would meet her needs, apply for financial aid, and she decided to go to Smith College. After being admitted to Smith, Hiwot registered for CollegeTracks’ College Success Program where she received the advice and counsel of CollegeTracks staff and attended success skills workshops. Hiwot is now in her second year at Smith, and has declared an engineering major, but is still taking pre-med classes.
Lotan received his Associates Degree in Business and Marketing in December of 2007. He is the first in his family to get a college education. After this, Lotan went on to an intensive firefighter school for 16 intensive weeks of training. He has been a Syracuse firefighter for 3 years. Lotan has also invested in inner city tax-deliquent properties on the South and West sides of Syracuse. Lotan hires and trains youth to help restore drywall and do light construction to these homes. He encourages youth to stay in school and get their degree and go on to college. He tells youth about OPFC and the services they provide to students. He also encourages students that have dropped out of high school to get their GED. Lotan’s goal is to help as many people as he can, and wants to tell young people about firefighting.
B.A. in International Relations and French
Canisius College, May 2008
Simone is the first in her family to go to college. She was recruited by M&T Bank, who only takes students in the top 10% of their classes. Only 42 students chosen from diverse majors begin the program and go through intense training in management, finance, and analytical skills. She currently is the assistant manager at the M&T Bank Syracuse South location. Simone volunteers with OPFC. She mentors, participates in classes with other OPFC alumni, drives students to and from college, and in involved with OPFC job fairs. OPFC provided Simone with a lot of encouragement while she was in college. She is especially thankful to Sam and Ginny, who helped her along the way.
B.A. from University of Rhode Island
M.A. in TV, Radio, and Film
Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications
Raquan is the first in his family to graduate from college. Now, Raquan works in an early college high school program at Nottingham. In Syracuse Middle Schools, he does a smart kids visual stories program. At Levy Middle School, Raquan is helping students do a program on school reform. The students are recording their own stories about how they would change the schools. Raquan edits and reduces the student stories. The Students hope to present this information to the Syracuse Board of Education. Raquan likes to encourage young people. His goal is to pursue a career in sports broadcasting, hopefully in the football and basketball arenas.
First Graduate, San Francisco, CA
B.A. in Economics
Gaby Gucho-Oliva recently graduated from Tufts University with an Economics Major and a minor in Communications. Gaby shared, “Before First Graduate, I did not have many role models around me who had completed college. However, once First Graduate came into my life and taught me the importance of going to college and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities it has to offer, there was no turning back.” First Graduate helped Gaby’s parents understand the college process, and cope with Gaby being 3,000 miles away. Now, thanks to First Graduate, Gaby’s life, and her family’s life have both changed. They have instilled the college going spirit into all the members of her family as well.
B.A. in Sociology
Yvette Rodriguez is the first in her family to graduate high school and college. She focused much of her time on education and developing her skills as a teacher. Yvette also explains, “I now have a credential to teach middle school English, and I look forward to a career preparing low-income youth to attend college as well.” Yvette was also the recipient of the Michael C. Rockefeller fellowship, which is awarded to a handful of Harvard seniors for independent purposeful travel in the country or region of their choice the year after graduation. She will be teaching in a small Mayan town in the middle of the Lacondon Jungle. She plans on one day obtaining a PhD in education, and perhaps becoming a school psychologist.
St. Mary’s College of California
B.A. in Communications
Jay Arellano was the first in his family to graduate from college. He was first introduced to First Graduate when a staff member visited his middle school campus and talked about the importance of higher education. He was accepted into various colleges and universities around the country. Jay comments, “I’m excited to say that I’ve reached my goal of becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. Just a few weeks ago, I stepped on stage to accept my degree--a B.A. in communications.” Now, he is working on starting his own multi-entertainment company in San Francisco.
B.A., M.A. Stanford University
Senior Program Associate - College Team
Ines is part of the founding staff at First Graduate. She helped to mentor Yvette, Gaby, and Jay for the entirety of their time in the program. Ines explains, “It is rewarding to see students at that age think about college when they don’t completely understand it yet”. The program grew with these three students, and gave everyone at First Graduate the privilege to see them and how value is added to the program because of success stories like those of Jay, Yvette, and Gaby.
College Possible, St. Paul, MN
Minnesota State University, Mankato
(Raymond can be seen here with the Wheaties box.)
Raymond had difficult home life since the beginning of his junior year when he joined College Possible. Even as he struggled to secure a living situation, Raymond continued to attend school, his two-hour College Possible sessions, and his after-school job – never falling behind. Raymond even requested extra sessions with Chelsey, determined to perfect his college applications and scholarship essays. During his senior year, Raymond earned numerous college acceptances and two significant competitive scholarships. These were game-changers for Raymond: where his likeliest path was once that of his family – gangs, drugs, or jail – Raymond had secured for himself the chance at a successful future. In the fall of 2013, Raymond will begin his freshman year at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
St. Olaf College
Sandra joined College Possible during her junior year of high school she had only been in the United States for three years. Born in Suhum, Ghana, Sandra immigrated to the United States in 2007 with her family, beginning life in an unfamiliar culture, but ready to face the numerous challenges ahead. Sandra knew that she wanted to attend a private college after high school, but she thought language and financial barriers might stand in the way, so she sought out help through College Possible. “I couldn’t depend on my mother for help,” said Sandra, “because she didn’t know how to speak English and only got a kindergarten education. She wanted to help me, but all she could do was to encourage me, push me to do my best and to take advantage of opportunities around me.” Sandra was accepted to all 13 colleges to which she applied – and received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, making her dreams to attend a private college a reality. Sandra is now a proud member of the St. Olaf Class of 2016. She is the first in her family to attend college.
CollegeBound Foundation, Baltimore, MD
Ashley was always an exemplary student while in high school. She also turned her favorite hobby into a community non-profit during high school. She recognized that individuals in her neighborhood sometimes without basic necessities, she let her friends and neighbors know that they could sign up to be “taste testers” for new recipes. A simple phone call and she would deliver a home cooked meal for them to rate. Her “Dial and Dine” service filled a real need in her community while protecting the dignity of those she served. Ashley graduated at just 17 years old, and competed for and was awarded the Ken Hoffman, Deke Miller, and Clarence Spilman CollegeBound Foundation Last Dollar Grants, which supported her college enrollment. After being accepted to Stevenson University, she wrote to her scholarship committee to thank them and to share with them her personal goal; to graduate from college in 3years. In May of 2011, she did just that. Ashley graduated with a 3.6 GPA and a degree in Business Administration. She is now currently enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Baltimore/Towson University.
Frostburg State University
Travis Woody graduated Northwestern High School in 2010, and
was accepted to St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Being the first in his family
to go to college was an achievement, but from day 1, Travis realized that
college was nothing like high school. The academics were more demanding, and he
struggled socially as well. By the end of second semester of his freshman year,
Travis knew he would not be invited to return to St. Mary’s. He was not the
first student to ever face academic difficulties and like most students, he was
upset, disappointed, and too embarrassed to even talk about it. But, Travis had
been in touch with his CollegeBound Retention Specialist and had agreed to
enroll in a community college. His plan was simple. “I’ll go to BCCC in the
fall, get my grades up and transfer to a four-year school in the spring.” His
persistence to move forward allowed him to get results. After a successful
semester at BCCC, Travis transferred and is now a proud full time student again.
He lives on campus at Frostburg State University.
Level Playing Field Institute, Oakland, CA
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
B.A. in Mechanical or Industrial Engineering
Estefania was one of the most active Smashcast members during her time period at Level Playing Fields Institute. The course was not mandatory, and held on Saturdays, but Estefania was there without a doubt. Through this program, she was allowed to shine, and really hone in on her abilities in media, creative software, and interviewing. She became a leader and showed more professionalism through what she learned than most adults do. When it came time to apply to college, Estefania applied to MIT, and has done well there since. She has interned at Coorliris, and after her first semester came back to LPFI to talk to students about her opportunities in a mini-presentation. Estefania recognized what the program helped her accomplished, and showed how the student can now also be a mentor.
Creative Director at Kapor Enterprises, Inc.
University of Pennsylavnia
Trevor worked with Estefania for the three years that she was involved with the program. Trevor recalls Estefania coming into the program with a big interest in math and science from the very beginning, and LPFI helped her apply creative thinking to both those subjects. Trevor says, “Estefania was one of the most dedicated students, and she was one who helped keep the program running. She was the type of student he always wish he had. She was a student who pushed him beyond the norm and challenged him as a teacher.” Trevor also described instances where Estefania went above and beyond her requirements to submit quality work to those she reached out to and helped. She helped the program reach a full circle.
Program Manager for Smashcast | Level Playing Field Institute
Cogswell Polytechnical College
(Simon can be seen here in the center, surrounded by his students.)
Simon and Estefania worked closely together for the three years she spent at Level Playing Fields Institute. He helps with a program known as Smashcast, which is a media and technology course that occurs three Saturdays a month. Simon was able to watch Estefania grow and become an outstanding leader through this program. As Simon put it, “It provided her an opportunity to shine in her own ambitions. She was responsible for her successes. The program is about empowerment, and that is exactly what it helped Estefania feel; she went above and beyond the average expectations. Simon also included, “It was very rewarding as a teacher to get that feedback from a student on the weekends and asking for support. She knew what she didn’t know and asked questions”.