At the beginning of April, Gateway to College welcomed our new president, Emily Froimson. Emily comes to Gateway after ten years with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, most recently as vice president of programs. Emily spent a considerable amount of her time at the foundation building their community college transfer work, with a focus on improving pathways for low and moderate income community college students to transfer to the nation’s best four-year colleges. Prior to the Cooke Foundation, she led a small grassroots nonprofit organization in Phoenix providing intervention, mentoring and afterschool programs for high risk youth. At the recent Gateway to College Directors Convening in Dallas, Emily shared some of her thoughts with the Directors. An excerpt from her comments are below.
I believe that everyone wants to be educated but traditional pathways are not designed for everyone.
I believe that all of us benefit when everyone has a chance to develop their talents, regardless of how much extra support we need to get there.
I believe that none of us can walk through this life without the help of others. Some of us need more support; some less.
I believe in second chances.
Unlike a lot of people who come to their nonprofit or service work because their own stories resonate with the populations they serve, I come to this work from a place of humility and gratitude that my own educational pathways and experiences were made easy for me and that I had access to extraordinary opportunities along the way. I had knowledgeable parents and educational institutions designed for people like me. So, I’ve always been moved by the moments that I know that a student’s life has been transformed because he or she has not only been given an opportunity, but has seized that opportunity.
Witnessing a young woman who is failing out of school and ready to give up have a profound breakthrough and change course. Calling a student to let him know that he has been awarded a life-changing college scholarship. Seeing a student surpass what they thought was possible. I know that the population we are working with here at Gateway is challenged and that the students face an array of obstacles at they seek to continue their education. But, I also know that the payoff of our success and theirs is huge and our work here is critically important.
A few days ago, I heard Malcom Gladwell speak at a conference and he talked about the capitalization effect, a concept devised by psychologist James Flynn. Capitalization is “the rate at which a given community capitalizes on human potential… what percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it.” He argued that we have a low capitalization rate in this country, and he’s right.
In essence, he is saying what we all know: We waste lots of talent in this country. We give up on people who don’t get it quickly. And our increasing need for instant gratification makes it even harder to make a case for those who need extra time and effort. But the cost of giving up on people who have talent (which all of us do have to varying degrees) is immense. Gladwell says this is important because when we observe differences in how individuals succeed in the world, our initial thought is always to argue that that is the result of some kind of innate difference in ability. But, the reality is that there is another explanation that has do with poverty, with stupidity (and by that he means institutions and practices that stupidly stand in the way), and with culture.
What we do at Gateway is to increase our society’s capitalization rates.
We all can list example after example of students that eventually succeeded with our efforts and, often, the efforts of other caring adults. Students that succeeded at a different rate from what our structures and culture expect. But they do succeed.
Many of our students may need the extra support and guidance, and a different setting in which to allow their abilities to flourish. Success for them may be some college and a decent paying job that enables them to take care of themselves and their families. If we can help those students, that’s wonderful. But many of our students are like my friend, who dropped out of high school and found her way back to school via a GED, then community college, then a degree from a state flagship university, then a master’s degree. She now leads a national nonprofit organization. Or another exceptional student, who dropped out of high school for countless personal and life challenges, also found a way back to school, got a 4.0 in community college and won a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship. She is now working on her PhD at an elite university. All of these folks are not only highly capable; they are resilient.
What does all this mean for us? You guys get it and you believe in second chances and putting in the extra effort that it takes to help our students succeed. But we can do better. We can set higher expectations for our programs so we’re not also leaving students behind.
Over the next day, you’ll be sharing your ideas, concerns, no doubt sharing what works and what needs improvement with respect to the role of the national office. And you’ll be sharing the challenges you face working in the field with our students. This is important and important for me to hear. But, this isn’t the only time I want to hear from you. Know that we are listening. Not just the staff from the education services team. We are all listening.
You are the experts on the day to day experiences of our students and we need to make sure that your perspectives are brought to the fore. And we will do that.