founding story

In my 16 years in education, I know one thing to be true. Getting to college is tough, but getting through college and doing it alone is even tougher.

The cost of college has gone up more than 179% over the last 20 years. That means that if I went to Baylor in 1996 (I did) and it cost me $8,070 for tuition (just tuition, nothing else); it should have nearly doubled! Yet 2016 tuition is actually $34,480! (And the all-in cost of attendance at Baylor is now $54,000.)

I know, that’s a lot of exclamation points. You get it, college students need help paying their college bills. And that is essentially how edfurther came to be.

edfurther.org is a non-profit crowdfunding site for college scholarships. The mission is simple–to ensure that financial need is never a barrier for furthering an education. Donations are safe and tax deductible.

Every kid has a story—a past, a present, and a future. And you can read up on the edfurther scholars here. These are incredible young people, handpicked for their work ethic and commitment. There is one whose story will resonate with you. Just pick one. Help one. If you don’t know which one, make a general donation, and I’ll help direct it for you.

But this is about the edfurther story. I am 40 years old (well, 41). I still owe on my college loans. I worked hard to scrape by in college and have the debt (and degrees) to prove it. My career in education has been to increase opportunities for low-income students.

Four years ago, I saw a tweet (yes, on Twitter) from a Spring Branch and Genesys Works alum who needed $252 in three days to stay enrolled for his senior year. He didn’t know who to call. We got it fixed, but the situation stuck with me. From James’ story, edfurther was born.

And here we are, I set up edfurther and launched a pilot. edfurther.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a secure site that will process credit cards through PayPal or Stripe (I even take checks) for college scholarships for students who need us. Now after two semesters and 24 students, we have raised a little over $12,000! Fees are not passed on to students, so 100% of your donation goes to pay their college bill (checks are written to the universities).

Will you prove that this work matters? Prove that we believe in them. Every gift matters and adds up to a bigger scholarship to keep a scholar on track.

I got this

Arue had a tough time last year. Her great uncle who had raised her in many ways was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother had to quit one of her three jobs to care for him and get him back and forth from hospitals and doctors on the bus. An only child, Arue wanted to come home to Houston and leave Wooster. Her mom said, “No, you still have work to do.”

Together, Arue and I raised $570 for her tuition. Her uncle passed away this summer and more life changes seemed to keep coming, but together Arue and her mom stood strong together. I asked her about renewing her edfurther scholarship and this is what she wrote:

Thanks to edfurther I have started the semester off strong. I am starting on my Independent Study Research and am excited to see how it turns out!

People have been really kind to me and I am really grateful for that. I was able to keep my old job working on campus as a barista 17 hours per week, so I hope to do okay this semester and be able to pay some/most of the tuition bill in the spring. I know 17 hours doesn’t seem like a ton of work hours, but somehow this year seems more stressful than the past 3 years, so I’m not sure if I could handle more hours. Maybe that’s how it’ll keep getting as I get older.

I am studying for the GRE and I hope to take it on October 29th, if everything works out and if I can send my registration fee on time. I will be applying to graduate programs this fall and early spring semester as well.

I want others to have the opportunity that I had this summer with edfurther, so I will not be renewing my scholarship page. I know there are so many students who have greater financial needs when it comes to college, and I want them to have this opportunity. Thank you for checking up on me and I hope you and your family are doing well.

This is why this work matters so much. One hand up to get across the threshold of a challenge…

back to school

This time of year buzzes with excitement and energy. New school clothes, shiny shoes, crisp binders, pens, and paper. Even the backpacks sparkle.

I know that back-to-school time is expensive for families. Trust me, I know. I have four kids who need all that new school stuff. And it’s a tough time for many of our college students trying to head back for fall semester. Their financial aid award letters are coming in and some are lower than expected. They are anxious about payment plans and what to cut from their educations.

  • Will I drop a class and hover just above full-time status?
  • Will I choose to drop my meal plan or cut back to one meal per day (stashing fruit and snacks into backpacks for the other meals)?
  • Will I have to find cheaper off-campus housing?
  • Will I delay buying books until later in the semester, missing out on critical learning time at the beginning of the semester?
  • Will I not be able to go back?

For too many college students whose families don’t have extra money in the bank, the answer to these questions ends up being  a sad, disheartened “Yes.” (And in this case, yes is bad.)

And this feels like a broken promise. These are hardworking kids who have done everything else right.

They need your help today. Many of our edfurther students need to close their scholarship accounts in early August to get their finances ready for fall and still have large gaps to fill.

If everyone who saw this post gave one student $10, we would max out all of their scholarships. But let’s be realistic, if everyone who felt a niggle in their gut to help, gave $20, we could change the world.

The giving process is easy. Click on a student (really any one because they are all equally in need), grab your credit card and select PayPal or Stripe both of which are safe, third party vendors who process credit card contributions.

Will you change the world with me?  

obscure majors

6 things all German (or other obscure) majors should know.

Though there are probably 10 other more researched articles to disagree, I believe your major matters less than you think. If you do have an obscure major like German (and live in Texas), then you have to be very smart about your time in college. Here’s some of what I suggest.

  1. Make sure you are active on campus, in work, and in the community.
    Join a service organization. Tutor community kids. Get a part-time job. Intern at a big company. Do things that are worth doing and talking about in interviews and when networking (see #5).
  2. Double up and double major. A concrete and specific second major like business or accounting never hurts. It also rounds out your skills. It doesn’t have to align with your other major but should give you more worldly context and options. Options are always good.
  3. Explore your passions while you can.
    Today is the day to become well rounded and gain new experiences. Trust me this wisdom and knowledge will come in handy in life when you least expect it.
  4. Get to know your profs personally.
    Ask for help and build personal lasting relationships. Beyond their wisdom today, they will be awesome references later.
  5. Network.
    Whether through internships or campus events in the other colleges, meet people often. Follow-up with with handwritten thank you notes (yes, they always work).
  6. Find internships that round out your resume.
    Get experience in where you are headed not where you have been. Yes, you should get paid for these jobs–don’t get me started–but you also need a resume that tells the story of your potential. And no matter what job you have, make a lasting impression on customers, team members, and managers by giving it your all.

And let’s be honest, all of this is probably good advice for every college student, whether your major is obscure or specific.

changing the world for nigeria: phyllis nwokolo

Read Phyllis’ words yourself and see why I believe an investment in her education will truly change the world.

My name is Phyllis Nwokolo. I am going to change the world, and this is my story.

I remember living in the city, waking up to the hustle of food vendors in the corners of the street calling out to customers, the sound of the motorcycles, or as we called them the “okadas”, experiencing the highs and lows of the fickle electricity, playing outside with the neighborhood children poor and rich alike, and then going to bed with the dying but still persistent music of life in the city. However, when we drove to the village to visit relatives and come together as a family, I seemed to be transported through a tunnel to a world of a very simple but difficult way of life.

To a child like me it was the best, where my routine was wake up, play, and sleep, but as I grew up and continued to visit the village, that tunnel I went through as a child broke away and opened up into the crippled and pot holed roads we took, and expanded to encompass the poor women and children competitively selling bread to try and sustain themselves, and the poverty stricken shacks, and houses. Nevertheless, these people, despite their circumstances, are still happier than those who reside in mansions with a surplus of wealth. The village was never the same and my innocent and ignorant view of the world was shattered.

These memories of my experiences in Nigeria remained with me even as I relocated to the land of milk and honey, the United States of America to unite my family and start anew. Even though I left Nigeria, I left with an understanding that my life goal is to alleviate the negative stereotypes associated with poor areas rich in culture and so much more like my village and to medically empower the people of these villages through education and accessible healthcare.

This passion was cultivated while I attending Harmony Science Academy; where teachers and counselors, such as Ms. Spears, aided me by not only educating me about the world I planned to change, and how to go about accomplishing my goal, but also by helping me understand that that I have the power and can attain the knowledge I need to make my passion a reality ¬ a priceless lesson ¬ . With this intensified passion, I am now successfully pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in public health, a minor in biology, while on a pre-med track.

Through the higher education I am currently receiving, I don’t just dream to change the world through medicine, I am now formulating a plan to do so, and the first step to graduate and become a medical doctor. However, the first step is being threatened by a lack of financial stability, and that’s why I’m asking for your help. My father is a dislocated worker, and he was the main financial support for our family, so with his source of income gone, we are under a lot of financial stress. My desire to achieve my goal knows no bounds and I would greatly appreciate your support to help make it possible.

Learn more about Phyllis and invest in her college scholarship fund here

#proofpointday: ariel trevino

A first-generation college student, Ariel Trevino’s story is one of hard work and service to others. One of the first students to attend a new charter school at Rusk Elementary–Project YES (later known as YES Prep Public Schools). Ariel thrived and grew under the Youth Engaged in Service (YES) model. Every week, students served the neighborhood–planting trees, creating books about recycling, and volunteered at the Covalescent Center in Second Ward and played games with senior citizens which included Monopoly, Chess and a local favorite Dominoes.

Through high school at YES Prep, Ariel was a part of the “Soccer Four”–four buddies who kept each other out of trouble, studying and learned together, and gave their hearts to soccer. He remembers doing Mr. D’s (Desrossiers) proofs together and how no one could beat them. Even when they played against eight players, they won. They were always better together. 20160503_062655_2

As his 12th grade government teacher, I remember the Soccer Four and Ariel’s steadfast focus on learning. His heart was apparent in everything he did. He was excited to be headed to University of Houston after graduation. He had “made it.”

At UofH he lived on campus, was in the Honors College, and played club soccer. He was on the dean’s list. Ariel was studying Mechanical Technology and doing well.

Things have never been easy in Ariel’s family. They are what they are; not easy and not impossible. After two years of mounting debts, learning that he wouldn’t be allowed to take classes in the fall until he paid tuition, and family problems, he let his dream go. He didn’t return for his junior year. Ariel took care of himself but the dream seemed to slip away. He worked in deliveries. He worked in restaurants. He continues to work in catering at the George R. Brown Convention Center. This first-generation college student didn’t believe he would ever be a college graduate.

11220459_10207287130110095_4283552021829783522_nAnd then he had a daughter, and Arlet loves learning at KIPP Explore where she is in kindergarten. She loves being a “BRIGHT Explorer” (top of her class) and “on The Team” (excellent conduct). She enjoys reading books and coloring with her Dad, but most of all she loves field trips to learn about animals and science.

Arlet is going to college. And her dad is going to make sure nothing can stop her by getting his degree first so that Arlet will be a second-generation college graduate.

Chris Barbic, YES Prep’s Founder says this about Ariel, “Ariel Trevino occupies a special and big place in my heart. I have known home since 5th grade and he started at YES Prep when it was Project YES at Rusk Elementary. He graduated in one of our first classes and his mom, a terrific, hard working woman, worked at YES Prep for several years. Love him and his family. He is a great kid working hard to finish school and a prime reason why organizations like edfurther are so important. Hope you’ll help Ariel reach his fullest potential.”

As Ariel works hard in catering to pay tuition and bills, I hope you will consider investing in his college dreams by clicking here.

bold ego and balanced understanding of the world

Starting a new venture requires the same confidence college students need to push through obstacles and complete their degrees. In fact, I would suggest that success on both fronts requires a bold ego with a balanced understanding of the world…and a fierce willingness to fight when necessary.

Many first-generation students do not have the the support and wisdom of friends and family who have gone to college before. In my experience, although they have overcome tremendous challenge to get to college, at the first sign of trouble (financial, personal, or academic), they waiver, believing they don’t belong at college. Well-meaning friends and family tell them to take a semester off, come home, go to the local community college, and it will all be better. They acquiesce and return home. They get a job and work to pay for college, then work to pay for bills and college is second. Then they become a part-time student and their degrees become third and fourth on a list of responsibilities. Sometimes they eventually finish. Sometimes they continue to persist. And sometimes they eventually stop taking classes altogether.

The twisted irony of it all is that these very same kids were the toughest and strongest. When there was no power at home, they found a place to get homework done late at night. When they needed rides for school activities and the family car was broken, they jumped on the bus. They stayed up late at night to work on projects until everything was perfect. They wrote college essays that made us cry. They persisted.

The goal of edfurther is to remove one of those barriers–the financial weight.

And to do that edfurther will be bold and have balanced humility–learning from peers, partners, and competitors while believing in something new. edfurther believes in the power of a community to invest in the next generation of leaders.

was an MBA worth it?

Just yesterday someone asked me a question that I have heard a few times: “Was my MBA worth it?” We were on the campus of my alma mater, Rice University, and I had been reflecting on the experience and the debt quite a bit lately, so my response was more philosophical.

When I graduated, I don’t choose to work in finance. I didn’t get a job at a Fortune 500 company. I didn’t start my own “next gen best idea” business. I decided to go back to what I love–schools and educational opportunities.

The institution and experience were top notch. The skills were invaluable. The confidence and comfort to engage in any professional topic have opened many conversations and doors. My abilities to analyze and evaluate, debate and reflect, and balance research with quick decisions have prepared me for each endeavor. For my MBA and the skills I gained, I am thankful.

The debt though, the debt I am unsure of. I  still owe nearly 30k in college loans. I am 40.

My oldest, the first of four, will start college in nine years. I know we should be saving for her tuition but the current debt seems to take priority.

Here’s what I think about MBAs:

If you are going to spend the time, do it right. Engage in your studies. Select a university with professors and peers who make you learn and grow. Do everything you can to manage the debt, but as it is with most educations, there is a cost. And then study, learn, and grow, and take the time to build yourself up to build your better tomorrow.

Yes, my MBA was worth it, and Rice University was an incredible experience.

beaches & opportunities

If opportunity is a mindset, then white sand beaches are the postcard you send from the land of opportunity.

As I sit here looking out on the soft, white sand beaches of Orange Beach, Alabama, I am reminded that too few actually understand limitless opportunity. Often these limits are not placed on young people by their choices but by the circumstances and the world around them.

If America truly is the land of the free and the home of the brave, as I believe it to be, then everyone should sit on a white sand beach and dream, dream of a better tomorrow in which the fine print doesn’t limit opportunities.

So here’s my dream for the land of opportunity:

One day, the doors of education will be open for all who work hard and live compassionately; money and circumstance will not limit a child but make them stronger and a better student of life.

And here’s the fine print:

For many young Americans, true opportunity is not real today. Not because they aren’t working incredibly hard but because to seize opportunities requires the world (an adult) to believe in them and see them differently. Today, I urge you to invest in a young person differently. See them differently. They are today’s children and tomorrow’s leaders. They need our faith in them. They deserve our support.

 

 

 

a long line of strong women

I come from a long line of strong women.

My great grandma Christena (my namesake) was on her own and left school in the third grade. Her mom died and her dad took her siblings, leaving her to work for another family during the depression. All my life, she read books and watched PBS. She loved learning and hearing about other’s adventures.

My grandma Tipton got her GED in her late 60s. About the same time, the bakery where she had worked for almost all of her life began cutting her hours. That degree, the one she never thought she could get because of algebra, changed everything. She became a teaching assistant. When she retired, she taught “younger women”, women in their 70s, to read from her farm.

My mom got her bachelor’s degree in her 50s. She worked to pay the bills while my dad got his diploma (first in the family) on an ROTC scholarship from Texas Tech. She started back so many times, and every time we would move again. Growing up, we moved a lot for my dad’s job. But my mom, she never really stopped believing that her turn would come. And it did. She graduated from Tarleton State.

My sister and I are lucky. We come from a long line of strong women. Treysa is a professional engineer (that’s a big deal in the engineering world) for environmental engineering, and I’m an educator with an MBA.

My daughter will be even luckier. She comes from a long line of strong women.