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College Readiness and Success Program: A Fellow Perspective

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Each year, El Pomar Fellows support the College Readiness and Success Program. The program provides resources and support to help high school students, counselors, and families learn more about access to higher education. The two Fellows working on the program, Ashley Cornelius and Zoe Goodman, recently reflected on their time in the program.

Why did you get involved with College Readiness and Success Program (CRSP)?

Ashley: During my first year with El Pomar, Theo Gregory spoke with the new class of Fellows and described the work he did with high school students, and I was very impressed. Prior to the Fellowship I worked with SoColo Scholars at UCCS, a program that allowed high schools students to take college courses for credit and get a feel for what college could offer. I loved mentoring the students in the program and hoped to continue my passion for high school students and higher education later in life. CRSP presented a perfect opportunity to continue to work with high school students and to encourage them to reach their full potential. Many of the students will be first generation college students, and some didn’t think that college was a possibility until this program. The work is extremely rewarding and continues to surprise me each session, when more than 200 students and parents are in attendance.

Zoe: Similar to Ashley, college access is something I care deeply about. I studied education policy in college because of the gaps in opportunity that I noticed in my own high school just outside of Chicago. There are numerous barriers to pursuing higher education, but one of the most significant is a lack of knowledge about how the college process all works. It’s confusing! CRSP is working with hundreds of students over their entire high school career to help demystify that process. It helps give students and parents the push they need to explore and gives them the tools to make informed decisions about their future.

What is your favorite CRSP moment?

Ashley: Last year at the USAFA session, there were two high school seniors who participated in CRSP for all four years of high school and were attending college the next year. They credited their acceptance to the encouragement, training and support their received through the program. To know that this program helped shape their lives and pointed them in the direction of college is inspiring. Those two students also validated CRSP as a whole; the program works and is getting students into college. After the two students were introduced, Theo asked all of the seniors in the audience to raise their hand if they were accepted into college. Almost all of the seniors’ hands in the room went up. This is what this program is all about: moving lives forwards and making impossibilities a reality.

Zoe: For me, it was at the first session this year, hosted by UCCS. We were in a leadership seminar with Garrett Gatlin, the Director of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class. My group and I were doing a couple team-building exercises. Watching the women in my group come together and problem-solve, even though they’d met only a few hours earlier, was incredible.

Give one word to describe CRSP and why?

Ashley: Transformative

This program takes students who may have never considered college for academic, or financial reasons and introduces them to the idea that college is possible and within everyone’s reach. The program also works with the students’ parents and guardians to help them advocate for their students, fill out FASFA, look for scholarships, and support their kids through the entire college process.

Zoe: Engaging

Students and parents aren’t just told about college, they are invited to campus to go to class, hear from professors and administrators, and participate for a day in activities focused on the next steps in education. Families and students are active participants in their own learning, and the program allows for a dialogue and encourages questions.

What is your favorite part of being an ambassador?

Ashley: I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with the program for over a year with a group of 8 freshmen from varying high schools in Colorado Springs. My favorite part of being an ambassador is watching the students I mentor grow over the years. I’ve seen students who didn’t talk once during the first year carry on long conversations about their lives and goals. I have a few students who didn’t want to go to college and now have a number of institutions they are looking at as sophomores. The program allows each ambassador to stay with the same group of students. Although I’ve only been with the students for a year, I have seen immense transformation as students recognize the possibility of attending college. Students’ lives and perspectives change in just one year, and to be a part of their growth is rewarding.

Zoe: Because we are able to work with the same group of students at each session and across each school year, I have the chance to build relationships with students and to show them how important an education is for each of the goals they want to achieve. One student in particular stands out to me; she’s only missed one session, and I always look forward to hearing the progress that she’s making in school and the plans she has when she graduates.