What I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started College

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started College

By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathway Coach

I can still remember how it felt when I first started college, even though it was almost seven years ago (that’s crazy!). Surprisingly, I don’t remember being all that nervous. If anything, I remember experiencing a relaxed confidence. I was a good student – almost neurotically so – in high school. I didn’t think I had anything to worry about going into college. I thought the classes would be at least somewhat similar to high school classes, but with even more freedom! I told myself that my high school teachers were exaggerating when they said college would be a “rude awakening.”

All I can say is that this confidence was, probably, ill-founded. I had the foundational skills I needed to succeed, but that was only the beginning – and that is only pertaining to academic work! Academics is not the only significant part of college; it’s an opportunity to grow emotionally and socially.

I have to admit, this was something that I wasn’t prepared for. When it came to building a social life, I assumed it would just “happen,” even for an introvert like me who struggled with social anxiety in high school. But it doesn’t just happen like it would in high school, when you are surrounded with the same people, day after day, for years. I failed in this regard, and I struggled my first semester, and my first year in general, to build a solid group of friends. And that was rough, to say the least.

I wish someone would have sat me down and told me all I needed to know to succeed, both academically and socially, in college. But no one did, really. Like I said, we only received abstract threats from our high school teachers.

So, I guess it is up to me to tell you now what I wish I knew then.

DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.

If you hear about the people who write papers the night before they’re due—that was me! Hello, hi, I’m Olivia and I’m a recovering procrastinator (it’s an ongoing process). It worked for me for a short while in college, but I’ll never forget when I was forced to change my ways.

I was standing in the hallway waiting for my class to start, talking to a friend. I had turned in my first paper for this class and received a rather lackluster grade. I was extremely disappointed. I don’t get bad grades! I told myself. I’m also a recovering perfectionist, by the way. (Again, it’s an ongoing process.)

So, anyway, I was talking to my friend about this paper, and we were discussing our paper-writing methods. I was telling her that my write-the-night-before method is the only method I use. Clearly, it was working out well for me. A woman standing nearby, obviously overhearing our conversation, chimed in: “Yeah, that simply doesn’t work.” I was taken aback by this curt, perfunctory criticism. Doesn’t work?! It worked for me in the past, so it must work now! I was adamantly against changing my ways; I am stubborn, after all.

But this woman went on to explain her own experience as an English graduate student, and the importance of editing. Your first draft is essentially word vomit, and you can’t turn that in without a good edit. But, if you’re doing it the night before, there is no way to edit! You simply don’t have time.

It’s important to start your paper days, or even weeks, before it’s due. It takes the pressure off completely. You can feel confident when you start that what you’re putting on your page right now does not have to be perfect, because you’ll be going back to make edits anyway! I recommend writing a paragraph to a page per day, and then dedicating at least a couple of days for your edits, depending on how long your paper is. It’s all about taking it chunk by chunk and piece by piece.

This also applies to studying in general. If you’re studying for an exam the night before, you’re binging on the material. Yeah, maybe it will be “fresh” in your mind the next day, but you’ll forget all the information shortly thereafter. You’re not in college just to study for exams.

So, thank you to the woman who I met in the hallway that day. You taught me the importance of editing, and to give your writing the proper time it needs.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR PROFESSORS.

I talked about this a bit in a previous blog post, but I’m going to reiterate it here because it is so important.

I guarantee you are more likely to succeed in a class if you are on friendly terms with your professor. You need to go to their office hours. It doesn’t mean you need to be there every week, but I recommend at least twice over the semester. Definitely go within the first couple of weeks of classes to introduce yourself and ask how you can best succeed in their class.

It also doesn’t only have to be in office hours where you build a relationship with a professor. Stay after class for a couple of minutes and discuss the lecture. Say what you liked about it/didn’t like about it. Ask clarifying questions. These are bonding moments, I’m telling you. And you’ll earn mad brownie points.

GO TO CLASS.

This is a given, but I had to include it.

Even if your professor doesn’t take attendance, just do it. You never know when you’re going to miss something important. Don’t think you can cheat the system. You’re not that slick!

JOIN AN ORGANIZATION.

Just do it—that’s all I need to say.

Just kidding! But seriously, this is how you build friendships with like-minded people. I understand that it might be easy just to start hanging out with people that live on the floor of your dorm (that is, if you live in a dorm), but don’t hang out with people just to hang out with people. Does this make sense? You want people who share the same values and interests as you do. And maybe you don’t even know what your values or interests are yet! Which is fine, of course, but that’s why you need to join an organization to figure it out.

Eventually, you may find something you are passionate about. As a result, you’ll find people you’re passionate about, as well.

Overall, try to steer clear of the superficial friendships when you start college. I know you may be lonely and out of your element, but these friendships can be draining. They won’t get you any closer to “discovering” yourself.

EXERCISE.

Do what you can to maintain your health; it is so important. Many of us were active in high school, playing sports, so we didn’t even have to think about exercise. But it’s something we have to actively work toward for the rest of our lives.

It doesn’t even have to be “formal” exercise, like lifting weights or getting on the elliptical. It can simply be playing pick-up basketball with friends, taking a walk, riding a bike, etc.

OVERALL, GET UNCOMFORTABLE.

This applies to all of the things listed above. You’re going to have to get uncomfortable to put yourself out there. Show up to a meeting where you know no one; introduce yourself to someone in class; ask if you can join a group of people who are having a study group in the library.

You’ll feel anxious, and that’s okay. It’s scary to show up to a meeting for a club where you know absolutely no one. Not everyone can walk into a room and be charming and charismatic. You think to yourself: I’ll make a fool of myself; I’ll look dumb; people will think I’m weird, and on and on it goes. Accept the anxiety and don’t shy away from it. Act despite it. You’ll become a stronger and more resilient person. And remember, everyone has been in the same position you are in now and has had these same fears.

And if you make a fool of yourself (which is inevitable, so accept it), then okay. But the great thing is that no one will remember you! Seriously. We are all so busy navel-gazing, worrying about our own mess-ups, that we hardly remember anyone else’s.

Honestly, this was something I struggled with all throughout college. It probably diminished my experience as a result. It wasn’t until I started traveling internationally that I learned this skill. At the moment, it was an absolute necessity.

Don’t be pushed to that breaking point. Choose to actively engage. That’s all I can say.

Best,
Olivia

Finding a Balance on Campus

Finding a Balance on Campus

By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathway Coach

So: You’ve enrolled in college, and you think you’re ready to start your new life as a college student (eek!). You start trying to imagine your life— classes with captivating professors, new friendships with like-minded people, parties, clubs, etc.—and it sounds incredibly exciting. It should feel exciting.

But the excitement starts to wear off when you start thinking about responsibilities. Oh yes, the dreaded responsibilities.

The classes may be exciting and the lectures enthralling, but the homework keeps piling up; you’ve been having a lot of fun with your friends, but you realize that you all keep getting pizza one too many times throughout the week, and you decided to start hitting the gym to feel healthier; you’re dedicated to the club you’ve joined, but they have three-hour meetings on Tuesday nights and events on weekends that tap into valuable time; on top of it all, you have to get a part-time job to pay some of the bills. You think to yourself: there goes my social life!

It may all seem like too much, and I don’t want to overwhelm you.  College is a valuable experience and an overall exciting time in your life, but it is also very busy, especially if you have to work to help pay your tuition or bills (I know I did!).

But there are ways to find a balance between school and work and staying healthy without sacrificing your social life and hobbies. It’s all about finding that work/life balance! I know, I know. This phrase may conjure some eye rolls, but it’s important for your physical and mental health. We can’t be on the go all the time, even if we would like to be.

So how exactly do we go about finding this coveted “balance?”

TIME MANAGEMENT 

You’ve obviously heard about time management before. Maybe your high school teachers mentioned it one or two times in passing, but it went over your head because it didn’t really apply to you. You say to yourself: I manage my time just fine. I write my papers a couple of hours before they are due, and it ends up turning out well enough! 

I can’t reiterate this enough: that will not work in college! You need to give your assignments the appropriate amount of time without feeling stressed that you only have a couple of hours to complete them. Whatever is on that paper will be riddled with errors, I guarantee it.

You don’t want that stress, especially because it’s avoidable.

GET A PLANNER. 

You’re an adult now;it’s time to get a planner. I recommend getting something that allows you to list out daily “to-dos,” in addition to an hourly schedule so you can schedule blocks of time.

For example, say it’s a typical Tuesday. You have classes from 9am to 12pm, and then you have to go to work from 2pm to 5pm. Oh, and your friend wants to get dinner at 7pm! This leaves you with some “open” time to get some studying done. You decide to schedule in “study” time during that window between 12pm and 2 pm since you’ll be tired after work and may need a nap.

Now, when you schedule this time, you need to get specific. Don’t just write in “study” time. Look at whatever assignments you have due (hopefully you have these things written down in your planner!) and determine what’s most pressing.

For example, you see that you have a five-page paper due next Monday for your Contemporary Art History class. Well, you haven’t even started that yet! So, you write in your schedule: Draft introduction and find sources for Art History paper. 

Make sure you include the location as well. It wouldn’t make sense if you were already on campus to run back to your dorm/apartment to study, so write down next to your task @ library.

Also, be realistic about your time. If you’re sitting down to write a draft of a paper, a half hour time block isn’t going to cut it. You may need two hours or more. Better to overestimate than underestimate. Again, this is about managing stress!

WHEN YOU’RE STUDYING, MAKE SURE YOU’RE STUDYING. (NO MULTITASKING, PLEASE!)

We need to stop advocating for multitasking ; it simply doesn’t work. Or even if it does work, it’s not an efficient use of your time.

Picture this:

You’re at the library trying to study for a biology exam. You’re going through your previous notes, reviewing terms, etc. You’re on a roll until your phone vibrates. You look down at your phone and your friend has sent a funny meme. Of course, you have to reply. Then you get back to studying, but about 10 minutes in you hear the ping of an email because your laptop is open. You look at the email and it’s a professor replying back to your email about a paper that is due next week. This email jogs your memory that that paper is due next week and you only have the intro done. Better stop studying for this bio exam and get back to the paper!

This happens all the time, and it’s very inefficient studying. Put the phone away and turn off notifications. Close all the tabs on the computer if you need to be working on the computer. Block off time when you’ll be working on your paper before you switch to studying for an exam. There are even apps and websites that can stop your notifications or lock you out of social media websites for a designated amount of time, so even if you are tempted to multitask, your computer or phone simply won’t let you do so.

The point is to enhance focus and “deep work” (this is referencing Cal Newport’s book Deep Work). It’s about making your “hour” of studying count.

IF YOU CAN, FIND A JOB ON CAMPUS.

I can assure you that this will make your life much easier than finding a job at an off-campus location. Then, all the places where you’ll need to be in your day-to-day life will be in a small geographical radius. Cuts down time for commuting from place to place! Also, many student jobs are in a relaxed environment where you can do homework in between work tasks. Doubly convenient, right?!

So, where do you find these jobs? Many universities have resources for student employment, like their student job board (should be located on their main website). There is usually a filter specifically for on-campus jobs.

And if you can’t find on-campus job on the job board, don’t fret—but continue to use the job board! The postings there are specifically geared toward college students, so most of the employers are understanding of your schedule: school first, job second.

KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO

College is a time to try new things, find new passions, join new clubs, and pursue your interests. However, this can lead to you joining six or seven different organizations and suddenly discovering you have no time to study, work, or even sleep!

To be successful in college, you need to know how to prioritize and know when to say no. If you are over-worked and over-extending yourself, you need to learn when to say no and step back from something. Since you can’t drop all your classes or quit your job, you may need to take a break from some clubs or organizations that are eating into the time you should be spending studying or working. If you compromise your mental or physical health because you are too involved, you won’t be able to focus on the areas that really need your attention. Tell the club you are in that you need to take a few weeks off to focus on a class. The students involved have been in your shoes and they understand where you are coming from. Then, join back up when you feel you have a better grasp of your time – or don’t! if you find that you have to completely drop something because it just doesn’t fit into your schedule, be honest with people and let them know that you took on too much and need to step back for the time being. Be honest and know when you are taking on too much. No one can fault you for needing to put your classes first.

If you need any additional resources geared toward time management, I recommend delving deeper into Cal Newport’s work, specifically, his books Deep Work and How to Win at College.

Until next time,

Olivia

Making the Transition from High School to College

Making the Transition from High School to College

By Olivia Rowley, AmeriCorps Careers Pathways Coach

With the school year coming to a close, you are probably looking toward what’s next. Maybe you’re thinking about your summer job (if you have one), or what fun summer activities you have planned (that follow public health guidelines, of course). Or maybe you’re already looking ahead to the fall semester when you’ll be starting your new life on a college campus.

Maybe this thought of starting college makes you feel a little anxious, excited, and scared. Don’t worry – it’s normal to feel these things when going through a change; change brings uncertainty.

You might be thinking, Yes, this is true. I am feeling all those things, but my question is: What do I have to do? How do I start being a “college student?” This might seem like a silly thought to some, but it’s a valid question. It’s certainly one of the things that I had on my mind when I was about to start college! The jump from high school to college is big. In high school, you have people telling you where to be and when. And, if you don’t adhere to the “rules,” there are repercussions. This isn’t to say that there aren’t repercussions in college, but the repercussions are more abstract in nature and not so immediate. The only person responsible for your success in college is you; if you don’t turn in your papers or don’t study for your exams, the only person who will have to live with the consequences is you  

Some of the questions you should be asking yourself are: What are the things that I should be doing to ensure my success when I first arrive on campus?  Who are the people I should be connecting with? 

  1. MEET WITH YOUR ADVISOR.

Every undergraduate student is assigned an advisor that is part of their designated department (For example, if you are an English major, you will have an advisor from the English department). Advisors help keep you on track for graduation by offering guidance on your core major requirements. Usually, you meet your advisor during orientation when you are signing up for classes for your first semester. Please, though, do not allow this to be the only time you meet with your advisor during your first year!

I encourage you to build a relationship with your advisor. This will be the first person you go to throughout your college career if you are ever struggling with your classes, and they can also be your biggest advocate for success.  For example, maybe you are taking a class that is a core requirement for your major, but you find the professor to be particularly challenging and want to drop the class altogether. Set up an appointment with your advisor and explore options; don’t just drop the class right away without knowing all the facts and how dropping the class might affect you going forward. Your advisor can help you put together a plan and suggest campus resources to help you.

  1. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH CAREER SERVICES.

I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic illustrating that students in universities across the country are not utilizing the full capacity of career services’ resources on campus. This is a shame since this is the department at a university that will help you find a job and offer other professional development resources, like building a resume or mapping out a career plan based on your particular interests and strengths. Even if you think it is too early to start thinking about your career after college, the career services department can help connect you with alumni in fields you may be interested in and  introduce you to internship opportunities.

  1. ATTEND THE STUDENT ACTIVITIES FAIR.

You will find all sorts of clubs, intramural sports, fraternities/sororities, etc. on college campuses. Get involved and start building connections. Go up to a table and inquire about a club that is totally outside your wheelhouse, just to see what the club organizers have to say about it. You might find that it piques your interest!

Overall, this is a time for exploration and testing out different identities. Maybe in high school you were a sports fanatic but in college you discover that your passion is environmentalism, so you put all your time and energy into a sustainability club. The only way to discover this is to try! Don’t be intimidated by older students who are involved in this organizations, either. Remember, they were all first year students exactly like you once and they want to make sure you feel included, as well.

  1. FIND THE TUTORING CENTER.

Notice that I said “find” instead of “go.” You may not need tutoring your first year, and that’s awesome, but it’s most likely that you will at some point during your college years. Like I mentioned before, it’s a big transition from high school to college, and you will find your college classes have much higher expectations. There is no shame seeking additional help. It will only help you be that much more successful in the future.

  1. GO TO YOUR PROFESSORS’ OFFICE HOURS.

If you go to a big school where the class sizes are larger and you have a more difficult time acquiring personal attention from the professor in the classroom, this is absolutely imperative. You need to build relationships with your professors. Ask them questions about themselves and their area of expertise. Ask for help on assignments. And, once you build a personal relationship with your professors, it may help you build the confidence to participate in the classroom if you were previously reticent to do so, which is a common thing as a first semester college student who is away from their high school peers for the first time. Professors also take notice of students who attend their office hours to ask for help and support and establishing that bond with your professor early on can be incredibly helpful throughout your college career. You never know when a professor might need a research or teaching assistant, and your relationship with them may help you nab one of these coveted positions in the future.

  1. REACH OUT TO YOUR ROOMMATE. 

You will be assigned your roommate sometime during the summer after you have filled out your roommate questionnaire (your school will want to pair you with someone with similar interest/habits). Find them on Facebook and/or Instagram. Talk about all the things you need to know about living with one another, even if it seems silly. It’s better to find out now that your roommate is a night owl, while you prefer an early bed time, so you can invest in a sleep mask or ear plugs before arriving on campus! Make a spreadsheet of all the things you need to bring for the room.

And when you’re finally on campus and living with one another, make sure you find time for bonding experiences, even if that means talking over a cup of coffee. Your first year will be much more enjoyable if you can find common ground and mutual respect for the person you are living with.

There you have it. This list may seem daunting, but I can assure you that it will make much more sense when you are on campus and start acclimating to your surroundings. Sooner or later, it will become your new normal and you will wonder why you were ever worried in the first place.

I also want to remind you that school can be expensive; utilize your resources. There are many other things that I didn’t mention on this list that you might find useful. Do your research. Find something that is unique to your school that can help you succeed.

And if you do find yourself struggling to the detriment of your physical and mental health, know that your university has health resources that you can utilize. It is a big change, and everyone copes differently. Do not worry if you need additional support.

Until next time,

Olivia

Caring for Your Mental Health

Caring for Your Mental Health

By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathways Coach

One of the things being discussed among experts amidst the coronavirus pandemic is the negative effects social isolation can have on our mental health. Maybe you have felt it, maybe you have not, but I know I certainly have. The days bleed together like a surreal “Groundhog Day” montage. A get together with friends over a coffee or dinner seems like a distant memory. The walls of our home have become confining. And, as graduating seniors, you are probably feeling angry; this is supposed to be a time in your life of celebration, filled with parties and gatherings with friends and family.

It’s okay to feel angry or to despair; we are all feeling a loss in some shape or form. With that being said, it’s important that we prioritize our mental health as we attempt to deal with this negativity flooding into our lives.

What does “prioritizing your mental health” even look like? Well, it can look different for everyone since each one of us has a unique mental landscape, but I believe it means developing some sort of self-care practice. Self-care is a bit of a buzz word these days, but with good reason. We cannot expect to show up as our best selves if we are mentally burnt out. 

So, what are some things we can do for our self-care practice?

TRY SOME RADICAL SELF-COMPASSION.

This is a mental practice. It means being kind to yourself when you are having an “inner-dialogue.” You know: the voice in your head. And it is very easy for this voice to turn into something critical, especially during times of stress. Most of us don’t even realize when this is happening.

One of the ways we can quiet the voice in our head is to meditate. I can see how this can be daunting. An hour a day sitting on a cushion (or more!) doing absolutely nothing?! Forget it. Netflix, here I come! But meditation doesn’t have to be that formal. It could simply be taking a minute or two out of your day to take notice of your breathing. Or, to make it even less formal, it could simply be a moment of a pause to be mindful of how you’re feeling in the present moment—no breathing exercises required.

To sum it all up, simply take time to SLOW DOWN and let yourself simply be without the judgmental voice in your head.

CREATE SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

I think it’s easy to adopt a rigid mental framework around creativity. Our thoughts jump to painting landscapes or writing poetry in iambic pentameter. But creativity isn’t just limited to the arts. It can be anything.

For example, maybe you must create a PowerPoint presentation for your schoolwork. This is a creative opportunity! Instead of thinking about it begrudgingly and simply copy and pasting words on a slide, make it your own. Put in some exotic colors. Make your own graphic on Canva. Look up some inspirational quotes from a person you admire.

Another place to exercise creativity is your room. We’ve all been spending way too much time in there, and maybe the setup has become a bit stale. Now is the time to channel your interior decorating skills and change it up! Move the location of your bed, change up the pictures on your wall – anything that will help freshen up your space.

I say all this to say: be creative about your creativity. And if you do want to paint landscapes, write poetry, or make a short film—go for it!

USE TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT.

We are social beings, and connection is vital to our mental health. We can’t forget about the people who are important to us; reach out to a friend and talk on the phone. Yes, you heard me—I am actually suggesting a phone call. Or, alternatively, you can have a group “hang out” on Zoom. Yes, it may be weird looking at all of your friends on a grid, but at least you can see their faces and read their expressions.

I would encourage you when having conversations with your friends to get vulnerable. Talk about how you’re really feeling and forget superficiality. This is a time where we can grow our capacity for empathy.

Also, maybe reach out to a family member or friend that maybe you wouldn’t typically reach out to. Because, why not? This can be an opportunity to build connections that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise in your normal day-to-day life, and to let that person know you are thinking of them.

GET OUTSIDE.

Nature is soothing, and we often don’t take advantage of it enough in our everyday life. But humans need to see some green! Take a walk if you can, or find an aesthetically pleasing spot to sit and watch and listen. Take a camera and photograph something you find beautiful, or maybe take a notebook and journal about how you’re feeling in the moment. Hopefully, you’ll find that you feel more at ease.

MOVE YOUR BODY.

There are a bunch of YouTube channels now that offer free at-home workouts ranging from yoga to high intensity interval training. But moving your body doesn’t just relate to “formal” exercise – it can be anything that forces your body out of stasis. You can dance; you can talk a walk; you can garden; you can play tug with your dog. Just get the juices flowing!

FIND SOMEONE TO KEEP YOU ACCOUNTABLE. 

This is a time to find a mentor. A mentor forces you to check-in and evaluate what is happening in your life. A mentor is someone with whom you can discuss what is working/what is not working your life right now. And if something isn’t working, they can give you advice on what you can do to improve and get you back on track. You can share your goals with this person, and they can help you devise a strategy on how to achieve them.

A mentor is really additional support, and that’s something we all need. Thankfully, if you are a College Now Scholarship recipient, you are automatically placed in College Now’s Mentoring Program. This person will be there to guide you and lend a helping hand through those formative college years!

There you have it: self-care. Obviously, there are many more things you can do for your self-care because the great thing about self-care is that it’s personal to you. 

Also know that it’s okay to not be okay. Maybe some of the things on this list seem too overwhelming to you, and you are only able to do the bare minimum right now. That’s okay. Take a nap. And, don’t forget that you can always reach out to a professional if you are in need of formal counseling. Mental Health America, NAMI Cleveland, or any local health institution are reliable places to look for professional guidance and advice. College Now is also here if you need support or advice on where to turn. Do not hesitate to reach out to your advisor or contact at College Now if you need additional support.

Until next time,

Olivia

Making a Postsecondary Decision during COVID-19

Making a Postsecondary Decision during COVID-19

By Olivia Rawley, College Now AmeriCorps Career Pathways Coach

There is a lot of uncertainty right now regarding the Fall 2020 semester. Many of the common questions coming up in conversation with high school seniors are things like: Is there even going to be a fall semester? Will it be delayed? Is everything going to be online? Should I take a gap year? Will they cut tuition rates if everything is online?

All of these questions are valid. I understand if you, as a graduating high school senior, are feeling overwhelmed because of it; transitioning from high school to college is already a huge life change, and now you have to deal with a pandemic on top of it?! Whew. Just typing it out makes me feel overwhelmed. With that being said, how do we tackle this problem and start to make a college decision?

Check your prospective universities for COVD-19 updates and announcements.

Every university should have information on how they are operating to ensure the safety of its students during this pandemic. For example, I googled “Ohio State COVID-19 updates” and was taken to the appropriate web page that detailed any pertinent information a current or prospective student could need right now.

Many universities have chosen to move all their summer classes online. The debate about whether in-person classes will resume in the fall is still on the table. When will we know? No one knows at the moment, which is why you should be checking weekly so you can make a better-informed decision.

Consider the geography and size of a university. 

When thinking about prospective universities, this seems like a common question. Some students want to be at a big school in a big city, while some students want a small liberal arts school in a rural town. Yet, it is totally different considering this factor in the context of the coronavirus.

Is this university in a large and dense urban area where I am likely to be in close proximity to people? Is the campus spread out enough where I am likely to practice social distancing safely when moving from building to building and class to class? How big are the class sizes? And, if the class sizes are large, does the university have the resources to move these classes to a bigger, open space if need be?

Also, consider the healthcare amenities in the surrounding area. For example, you often have to travel further for medical treatment when in a rural area. It can be scary to think about college in the context of the nearest hospital, but we are living through an unprecedented modern pandemic – which means considering your healthcare options on or near campus is more important than ever.

Speaking of scary, COVID-19 is more than a physical health concern. The pandemic can take a massive toll on your mental health, especially when coupled with a major life transition such as matriculating to college. It may also be worth it to check out your prospective campuses’ mental health services and offerings should you find yourself needing to talk to a professional at any time during your first semester.

Call the admissions office.

Do not feel like you are bothering anyone if you call! The admissions team is there to answer any questions that you may have so that you can make a better-informed postsecondary decision. When you are talking to someone from the admissions staff, I recommend that you make sure you are receiving clear and open answers. How they respond to your questions says a lot about the university. If they are vague or elusive when addressing your concerns, you might want to consider going somewhere else.

Now is the time to be resourceful!

Ultimately, how you respond to making this decision is up to you. You can either choose to respond actively or passively. It might be tempting to act passively in this situation, but being proactive and getting all the information you can ahead of time will help you make sure you are going into your fall semester as well-informed as possible. Even if things do not go as anticipated – whether that means all fall classes are moved online or are cancelled altogether – you will hopefully feel comforted knowing that you did what you could to make an informed decision. That means reading the university newspaper, reaching out to current professors and additional staff, and joining the class of 2024 Facebook groups to get a sense of the community you might be paired with.

I hope this helps as you are faced with this big decision. And, I want to remind you again that you are not alone trying to tread through this uncertainty. If you have any other questions or concerns, reach out to your College Now advisor. We are happy to provide support, advice, or serve as a listening ear as you talk through your fall options.

Until next time,

Olivia

 

How to Celebrate Your Senior Year when Prom and Graduation are Cancelled 

How to Celebrate Your Senior Year when Prom and Graduation are Cancelled

By Olivia Rawley, College Now AmeriCorps Career Pathways Coach

One thing that I have noticed during this COVID-19 crisis is that everyone is grieving over a loss in some form. This grief looks different for everyone, but after talking to the seniors that I work with personally at College Now, and discussing this with fellow advisors, it seems that our senior students are stricken over the loss of their prom and graduation.

Seniors, I am addressing you in this blog post: You have every right to feel robbed over this loss. High school graduation and prom are life milestones. These are things you talk of wistfully when you are younger: “When I graduate high school…” “On my senior prom night…” I’m sure many of you already bought a dress/suit for prom night, probably having spent a lot of money investing in one of the most special nights of your high school career.

As for graduation, it is the pinnacle of your high school achievements. You can walk across the stage, receive your diploma, and tell yourself that you have endured the trials and tribulations of high school so that you can revel in that moment; it’s a step toward your future.

I say all these things to reinforce why these events are important, and why it is important to make the most out of this time in your life with what is available to you. In times like these, we have to think about what we can do instead of what we can’t do. So, how do we work within the parameters of the “new normal?”

It’s time to get creative. 

I keep telling myself how grateful I am that this pandemic now instead of even a decade ago – there are so many different technologies in place now that enable us to stay connected with each other! That’s why I hate the term “social distancing;” It’s not social distancing, it’s physical distancing. Now, more than ever, we need to be in contact with our network and community. What can you do to stay connected and share these special events?

  1. Get on a Zoom chat with all your friends and dress up in your fancy prom attire and have a dance party in your living room.

I know it may seem silly to dance in your living room by yourself, but if everyone is doing it, what does it matter?

  1. Have a backyard graduation ceremony and put it on Facebook Live!

Invite family, friends, and neighbors, but follow the necessary public health advice (six feet apart and no groups larger than 10). And, the people who can’t attend can view it on Facebook Live!

  1. Make sure to share your accomplishments with friends and family.

Get on Zoom with your fellow graduates and make sure everyone has an opportunity to share what you all have accomplished in high school, and also what you hope to do moving forward. Once you’ve talked to your friends, sit down with your family for a nice dinner and share what you and your fellow students have discussed. That way, everyone can be recognized for their accomplishments!

I hope this list helps in some way, and I am sure there are many other ways that you can use technology to your advantage to make the best out of your last moments of high school. Take this time to be innovative and to persevere. We can always choose how to respond to the obstacles put in front of us.

Until next time,

Olivia

 

High School Seniors: How Can You Stay On-Track with Your Goals While School is Closed?

High School Seniors: How Can You Stay On-Track with Your Goals While School is Closed?

By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathway Coach

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced on Monday afternoon that Ohio schools will not be returning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement, along with the whole country being virtually shut down at the moment, and with only vague plans as to when things will reopen again, has bred much uncertainty. I am sure that this uncertainty has led to a whirlwind of feelings like panic, anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger, just to name a few.

All those feelings are valid – and I sympathize greatly – but we cannot let our fears overwhelm us to the point where we are not looking to the future. Even though we are quarantined inside our homes, and all the events we have been looking forward to are been canceled indefinitely (RIP graduation and prom!), life does not stop. Decisions still need to be made that are aligned with your post-secondary goals.

The question is: What you can be doing now so that you are still on track with your goals?

  1. Make an appointment with your College Now advisor.

Your College Now advisors are still working hard to maintain contact with you, their students, while schools are closed due to COVID-19. We are here to help with any post-secondary plans or career goals, as well any social/emotional support that you may need. If you are unsure how to get into contact with your advisor, contact College Now’s office directly and a College Now employee will be able to offer guidance. You can call the office at 216.241.5587 or email info@collegenowgc.org.

  1. Contact your prospective universities.

It is important that, as a graduating senior, you contact the universities that you have applied and/or may apply to to get an update on your application, or what you need to do to apply. Contacting your prospective universities also gives you an update on changes made due to COVID-19. Many universities have already postponed decision dates and application deadlines.

  1. Do your FAFSA! Really, just do it.

During a time when we are all in need of some sort of safety net, the FAFSA can be that for you. The FAFSA ensures that you have the funding you need if you plan to attend any university or trade school in the fall. Also, it is not binding—just because you fill out the form does not mean that you have to accept the loans and/or grants that you may receive to put toward your education. It’s there if you need it!

  1. Build a “quaroutine.” (Get it?)

Excuse the quarantine humor. You may be reading this and wondering how building a routine applies to your post-secondary goals. Well, it does. I can imagine that, since quarantine has started, many people have had the desire to lounge on the couch all day watching bad reality TV. It would make sense if you’re doing this day-in, day-out, that your goals might seem very far away. Therefore, a routine built around good habits will help you to feel more productive in your everyday life. This has a domino effect, making it so that you’re productive in other areas of your life, like making progress on your post-secondary goals! Make sense?

  1. When all else fails, make a list!

I know #5 is a bit “meta” considering I am writing a list right now, but I would encourage you to make your own personal list! A visual aid can help you when you are feeling overwhelmed thinking about all the things you need to get done. I would recommend when making this list to let yourself “free write.” Meaning, try not to monitor what you’re putting on the page. You can always take things off the list later if you find them to be unnecessary. (And be sure to consult with your College Now advisor if you’re unsure of what you need to be including!)

I hope this list gives you clarity on what you should be doing to make progress on your post-secondary goals. And remember: there is always a College Now advisor that would be happy to assist if you run into any difficulty. Continue to check our blog for more posts about how you can still prepare for post-secondary virtually.

Coronavirus Resources for Students, Families, and the Community

Coronavirus Resources for Students, Families, and the Community

Updated 5/27/2020

We continue to deal with the evolving and continuously changing plans related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), while at the same time ensuring productivity and continuation of our work here at College Now. As always, College Now’s top priority is the health, safety, and well-being of our students, clients, staff, and their families. You can be sure that our work will not stop while we make modifications to ensure that all involved are safe and healthy.

To that end, we know that our students, families, clients, and community have questions about how COVID-19 will affect them, their schooling, their daily lives, and more. We want to share as much information as we can with our constituents to help everyone through this challenging, unprecedented situation. This page will be updated, at minimum, three times per week with resources related to at-home learning, developments in the higher education space due to COVID-19, community resources and assistance, and more.

We will continue to follow health officials’ recommendations to ensure the health and well-being of our community and staff, and will share updates as information becomes available. We appreciate your understanding and support as we all navigate this together.

If you have any questions about the resources shared below, do not hesitate to reach out at 216.241.5587 or info@collegenowgc.org.

General Resources

College and University Updates

At-Home Schooling and Learning Resources

Housing Resources

Food Services

Internet Access

Childcare

Utilities Support

Healthcare

Financial Support and Employment

Federal Student Loan Resources

Perhaps one of the most talked-about pieces of the federal CARES Act as it relates to students is the action taken on student loan debt. College Now’s Adult Programs and Services team broke down the steps that the CARES Act takes with respect to student loan debt.

COVID-19 Information and Resources

Mentoring changes trajectory of adult student’s life

Mentoring changes trajectory of adult student’s life

Written by Jane M. Von Bergen
Photo by I. George Bilyk

When Shannon Gallagher, Gries Financial Partners’ director of client services, first landed a job with the wealth management firm as a temp receptionist at age 21, she was already good at a couple of things.

She was good at leaving college. “My mom likes to say it: I didn’t go to Akron University. I was enrolled. It was fun. I had a good time.”  Probably too good a time, since she wasn’t allowed to come back. Same thing happened when Gallagher attended Cuyahoga Community College for two and a half semesters. “I lost interest and just stopped going.”

Gallagher was also good at losing jobs – through no fault of her own, however. Mostly she worked in retail and “the stores kept closing, going bankrupt.”

Worse, she was also quite proficient at being in debt, with $15,000 in college bills and no degree to show for it, plus not much ability to pay it back.

Her situation is completely different now.

Gallagher’s back in college, heading toward an associate degree in applied business, with a bachelor’s and more on the horizon. She has steadily advanced at Gries, and now directs client services at the Cleveland company. Most importantly, “We’re actively talking about the future of the firm, succession plans,” she said. “I’m one of ones that they are talking about being a future executive and a future partner in this firm. That’s their plan for me.”

What made the difference for Gallagher?

Mentoring.

“Shannon’s very goal-oriented. I’ve worked with a lot of people in my many years in business who just want to be given a promotion, but don’t understand what it takes to make that next step. Shannon does. She gets it.”

That’s Gallagher’s mentor speaking.

Lauren Rich Fine, a partner at Gries Financial with decades of Wall Street experience, has long believed in the power of mentoring. She saw it work to keep young people on track for college and she believes the same principles apply to adults like Gallagher, “comebackers” returning to school. Fine would like to see others step up to become mentors.

“It’s not only the money,” Fine said. “It’s the mentoring. It’s also the encouragement to go back to school. I can give Shannon a specific game plan of how she can get credentials and I can work with her. I can be very honest and very direct. She’s never let me down.”

Fine has taken this belief in mentoring to College Now Greater Cleveland, where she serves on the organization’s board, helping to build Cleveland’s graduation rate for both young people and for “comebackers” like Gallagher.

In Ohio, just over one in four adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher. One in five adults, 20.5 percent, are people who began college, but didn’t finish.

Meanwhile, Northeast Ohio, with its population of 4.3 million, should be producing 37,600 college graduates a year, based on national averages. Instead, only 31,300 earn diplomas, according to the 2019 Aligning Opportunities report by Team NEO, Northeast Ohio’s business development organization.

It’s a problem for the region’s economy. “It has to happen in Northeast Ohio or else we’re going to go out of business, honestly,” said Lee Friedman, chief executive officer of College Now.

For 50 years, College Now has maintained a laser focus on increasing post-secondary educational attainment – from college to professional certificates – in the greater Cleveland area, helping 29,000 a year. Mentorship matters.

In the Bridging the Talent Gap Employee Community Report for Cleveland, one in five adult learners surveyed identified mentoring as helpful in achieving education goals. The 2019 report, funded by the Graduate Network, pointed out that one in four adult learners – 26 percent – wanted educational advice geared to career goals.

The study also indicated that adults who don’t return to school sometimes don’t because they can’t see how their courses would clearly benefit their careers. That wasn’t the case for Gallagher, who had a path clearly delineated through her mentorship with Fine and other Gries’ executives over the years.

When Gallagher began as temp, she proved so competent that the firm hired her fulltime. Soon she became indispensable, promoted to executive assistant. Then, a few years later, a competitor tried to hire her away. Gries’ executives took notice. To convince her to stay, they developed a new position for her as a mutual fund trading assistant. Five or six years after that, she became director of trading.

“If you need to find out what you should be doing with your investment, talk to your advisor. If there’s an action that needs to be taken, that’s when you come to me,” Gallagher said. “We execute everything.”

Meanwhile, Gallagher got married and divorced. Her ex-husband died, which was emotionally devastating. She had surgeries. She managed to buy a house. While she thought about going back to school, she never actually took the necessary steps. In fact, Gallagher thought she was doing pretty well for someone without a college degree.

Yes, she was doing good, but good was not good enough for Lauren Rich Fine, and not good enough for Gallagher either. “Now I know what I don’t know,” Gallagher said. “I can talk your ear off until I’m blue in the face about operations, but I can’t hold a conversation about the market.”

Fine told Gallagher in no uncertain terms that for her to advance to the top at Gries, she’d need at least a four-year diploma like her colleagues.

If Gallagher was going to be listed as a partner on the firm’s website, her bio would have to indicate where she earned her degree. That was non-negotiable. “Appearances matter and people who say they don’t are naïve,” Gallagher said. “In practice, I could probably run circles around some recent college grads, because I’ve been doing this. But they have the one thing that I don’t — and that’s that piece of paper.”

After listening to Gallagher talk about getting her diploma for a couple of years, Fine finally asked, “Why don’t you go? What’s holding you back?’”

In September, Gallagher enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College – step one. Truthfully, much of the work came easy to her; she already knew a lot of the terms and she always had a head for math.

“To give you an example, we’re learning about how to write up financial statements and income reports, balance sheets and cash flow reports, which are reports that I have been preparing for accountants” for years, Gallagher said. “But right now, I’m actually understanding what a cash flow report means. I’m actually understanding what these particular numbers mean for this report. I’m actually interested.”

Meanwhile, Gallagher is getting the support she needs. College Now helped her apply for financial aid. Gries allows her to leave early one day a week to accommodate her class schedule. She’s gotten some financial help from Fine and expects the firm will contribute later.

The way Fine sees it, Gallagher is making all the right moves. Besides pursuing her degree, she’s following Fine’s lead as a volunteer and leader in nonprofits, taking on increasingly responsible leadership positions which stretch her capabilities outside of Gries’ offices in downtown Cleveland. Those same commitments create networks and connections in the community, helpful for a company selling wealth management services.

“Shannon has confidence because she knows she is the subject matter expert about so many things within our organization,” Fine said. “But they aren’t things that grow the firm. To grow the firm, she needs different skills. Anytime you’re helping grow a firm, they can find the resources to reward you.

“We’re aiming to position her for that.”

Rethinking the Traditional College Student

Rethinking the Traditional College Student

When prompted to picture a college student, many people defer to an image of a young, recent high-school graduate who is pursuing postsecondary education before launching their career. But College Now knows that this image does not encompass the experience of many students pursuing higher education.

Each year, millions of adults are enrolled in college and are often referred to as adult learners or “nontraditional” students; however, 41% of college students are over the age of 25! Supporting this “new traditional” college student has become such a priority that College Now offers an Adult Learner Scholarship, which is available for Pell-eligible adults 19 years and older who do not already have a college degree or postsecondary credential.

Getting more adults to complete a postsecondary program is important not only for the trajectory of the individual’s career, but for the benefit of our community’s well-being and economic growth, as well.

Currently, Ohio’s degree attainment rate sits at 38%, with a goal of reaching 60% by 2025. Many of the adults that College Now works with already have some postsecondary education but don’t necessarily have a degree or certificate to impress potential employers. According to Degrees When Due, a project of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Ohio has over 136,000 potential completers, meaning individuals who have some college education, but no degree.

By 2025, 65% of jobs in Ohio will require a postsecondary credential. Which is why, in addition to working with adult learners, College Now offers talent solution services to employers to ensure that their talent pipeline is prepared to meet the needs of the 2025 economy and beyond.  College Now also partners with local higher education institutions to recruit potential completers, also referred to as “comebackers,” to return to school to complete their degree.

Based on Ohio’s current attainment rate and goal for 2025, our community has a lot of work to do, but College Now is committed to narrowing the degree attainment gap in Ohio.

Though the process of re-enrolling in school or enrolling for the first time may seem daunting, College Now offers a variety of resources to ensure that adults receive the support they need to complete a degree. One adult scholarship recipient shared, “I knew that I was getting older and I couldn’t do the type of work that I was used to doing, so I needed to reorganize and reinvent myself and go back to school. College Now has helped me out tremendously as far as coordinating my time, getting my paperwork together, and telling me what I didn’t know.”

Between raising children, supporting aging parents, juggling work schedules, and managing other responsibilities, the college experience of adult learners is complex, and yet, increasingly more common. Located in downtown Cleveland, College Now’s Resource Center is equipped with specialists that work with adults to strategically manage their degree plans and overcome barriers to obtaining a degree.

College Now staff hold expertise in applying for federal financial aid, managing loans for students who may be in default, and finding scholarship opportunities. They are also trained to assist with choosing a degree program or educational institution that best fits the client, and to connect students with additional resources on their respective campuses.

Whether you’re returning to school to complete the last few credits for your degree, because you want to set an example for your children, or you’re looking to expand your career opportunities, College Now has resources to help you succeed –  schedule an appointment today!

Bag Lady 2019: The Curious Connection Between Handbags and College Access

Bag Lady 2019: The Curious Connection Between Handbags and College Access

On September 12th, nearly 600 guests gathered at the Great Lakes Science Center for College Now’s fourth Bag Lady event, a biennial silent auction that supports the organization’s Mentoring Program.

Since 2011, College Now has paired volunteers from the business community with students who receive a College Now scholarship. Mentors and mentees build a relationship throughout the student’s college career, though many pairs stay connected far beyond graduation.

The Mentoring Program is critical to College Now’s work in helping students stay in college to see their degree through to completion. With the added layer of support from a mentor, 92% of College Now mentees return to college after their first year, in contrast to the national average of 74%.

With the arrival of Say Yes Cleveland, the Mentoring Program has grown dramatically this past year. Among the four national Say Yes chapters, Cleveland is the only site committed to pairing every Say Yes Scholarship recipient with a mentor, which College Now facilitates while continuing to maintain services for traditional College Now scholarship recipients.

Bag Lady’s goal is to help sustain and grow the Mentoring Program’s services, and College Now is proud to share that this year’s event raised over $400,000 for the program. While guests enjoy the opportunity to browse and bid on Bag Lady’s auction items, it’s important to College Now that attendees leave with more than an exciting addition to their closet.

To center the organization’s mission at the core of Bag Lady, this year guests were fortunate to hear from two College Now alumnae, Leah Hudnall and Shelby Roberts, who spoke about their postsecondary journeys with College Now, moderated by the illustrious Margot Copeland, formerly of KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation.

Shelby, a recent graduate of Cleveland State University’s Washkewicz College of Engineering, shared her story of perseverance and the resources she leaned on, like College Now, while transferring schools and remaining enrolled during the loss of a close family member. Leah, a Howard University alumna, inspired attendees while speaking about intentionally remaining tied to Cleveland while she was away at school because resources like College Now were critical to her postsecondary success.

Both young women have now launched careers in northeast Ohio. Shelby works as a Transportation Engineer for Mott MacDonald and is pursuing her Masters of Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cleveland State University. Leah, who completed her Master of Arts in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University in 2015, currently serves as a Program Officer at Saint Luke’s Foundation.

College Now is extremely grateful to these remarkable young women for sharing their stories and for their help in educating Bag Lady guests and the greater Cleveland community about why College Now’s services are important to a student’s postsecondary success.

Bag Lady is a unique and exciting opportunity for College Now to garner support for the organization’s work, but as the 2019 event buzz dwindles, we know that the most important work will only continue to accelerate.

As Say Yes Cleveland services become embedded throughout the entire Cleveland Metropolitan School District over the course of the next few years, more students will receive scholarships and enter College Now’s Mentoring Program, which means the need for mentors is more pertinent now than ever.

College Now is excited to launch recruitment efforts later this fall to build up the next class of mentors who will play a crucial role in supporting future college students. We hope you’ll consider volunteering as a mentor or help us to spread the word among your networks as we look forward to the growth of the Mentoring Program.

If you have questions or are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Madeline Rife, Director of the Mentoring Program, at mrife@collegenowgc.org, or visit www.collegenowgc.org/become-a-mentor/.

 

“We’re miracles, that’s what we are.” College Now Greater Cleveland hosts adult scholars summit

“We’re miracles, that’s what we are.”
College Now Greater Cleveland hosts adult scholars summit

By Jane M. Von Bergen
Photos by I. George Bilyk

Inside the library, all was quiet as is usual in libraries – just whispers and murmuring.

Even so, nobody shushed Patricia Gray, 58, and Victoria Gallagher, 57, as they hugged in the corridor, alternately weeping and smiling, trying to keep their joy courteous, given the location.

“We’re miracles, that’s what we are,” Gallagher said.

Gray and Gallagher hadn’t known each other before that September Saturday, when they met at the Brooklyn branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library for an Adult Scholars Summit held by College Now Greater Cleveland, an affiliate of The Graduate! Network,  a national organization.

For 50 years, College Now has maintained a laser focus on increasing post-secondary educational attainment – from college to professional certificates – in the greater Cleveland area, helping 29,000 a year. Mentorship matters.

In the Bridging the Talent Gap Employee Community Report for Cleveland, one in five adult learners surveyed identified mentoring as helpful in achieving education goals. The 2019 report, funded in part by Walmart, the Cleveland Indians, Team NEO and College Now, pointed out that one in four adult learners – 26 percent – wanted educational advice geared to career goals.

And while College Now annually recruits hundreds of mentors to pair with its traditional scholarship recipients, there simply aren’t enough for adults returning to college after years away from the classroom.

So, at least for now, if the adult learners were going to be mentored, they’d have to mentor themselves. And, for guidance on career-building basics like LinkedIn and resume writing, well, they’d have to do it as a group.

Which was, as it turns out, plenty OK.

The food at the College Now event was good – coffee, chicken, cookies and some salad for the virtuous among the 30 or so gathered in a meeting room. The sessions were even better, featuring presenters on LinkedIn and resume writing. Volunteers stood ready to offer suggestions.

But the best?

The connections forged between people like Gray and Gallagher. College Now wisely set aside time so participants could exchange business cards – and, more importantly, encouragement.

As adult students well beyond traditional college years, Gray and Gallagher shared a common life story with others in the room. To be in college, they and many others there had to struggle — sometimes daily — with poverty, abuse, addiction and crippling self-doubt. It’s not only the story in Ohio, but across the nation. It’s a narration that The Graduate! Network is trying to change one comebacker at a time.

“You think you’re the only one, until you are put in this situation where you can meet each other,” Gallagher said. “It’s a big relief.”

Gray nodded and pressed Gallagher’s hands in hers. “Nobody would have thought I’d be where I am today,” she said.

In Ohio, just over one in four adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher. One in five adults, 20.5 percent, are like Gallagher – people who began college, but didn’t finish. College graduates typically command higher earnings. But adults who don’t finish don’t get the earnings bump that comes with a diploma. Worse, they are often saddled with college debt they can’t afford to pay.

Gallagher bounced around the country as a military spouse, earning an associate degree while she stayed home, raising five children. When her husband left the Marines, they moved to Medina, Ohio. Over time, Gallagher said, she faced escalating domestic abuse. “He even threw things at me in the grocery store.” Struggling to cope, she turned to alcohol, eventually conquering a three-year addiction.

Next? An ugly divorce. The children lived in the family home with their father, and “I was homeless during the divorce, until the court intervened.”

She turned to Cuyahoga Community College en route to a four-year degree, earning a second associate degree. The Women In Transition program there connected her to College Now, which is helping Gallagher graduate from Ursuline College with a bachelor’s degree in social work – she should get her diploma in 2020.

“I’ve already been offered positions,” she said.

Until she finishes, Gallagher cleans houses. “It’s how I pay my bills,” she said. “Sometimes I clean three or four houses a day.”

Because of her $2,000-a-semester scholarship from College Now, Gallagher can clean less, giving her time for the unpaid internship both required for graduation and key to building a career.

Gray’s story? “Fifteen years of depression and addiction,” she said. “I never thought that messing up my life would now allow me to help others.”

After Gray’s mother died when Gray was 34, Gray spiraled into depression and addiction. Her cousin raised her son while Gray slept in shelters and on friends’ sofas.

By 2010, Gray managed to get clean and enroll at Cuyahoga Community College. In 2017, she earned an associate degree in information technology. “Once I accomplished that,” she said, “I realized there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.”

Except — she ran out of money.

College Now rescued her dream with scholarships. Gray expects to earn a bachelor’s degree in IT project management from Ohio University in 2020. Meanwhile, she juggles schoolwork with a counseling job and IT consulting work.

For Gray, the diploma will mean “living a dream that was deferred and showing others that no matter where you were, you don’t have to stay there.”  Gallagher offered one word: “Stability.”

In the library, both women talked about the most basic benefit – respect. Instead of being talked to and lectured at, their education has already put them in the position of being listened to and treated as knowledgeable professionals.  

“For the adult learner, there are so many barriers that have to be addressed,” Gray told the group earlier. “You need that support. A lot of people who aren’t on this journey don’t understand what this is about.

“I’m so grateful this is being recognized,” she said, turning to the College Now staffers who organized Saturday’s event. “Thank you.”