A: So why don't you tell me a little bit about how you got involved and began working with the school system on behalf of us [Dallas County Promise]. Then, explain to me a little bit about your work and then how it relates to your job here.
J: When I graduated from SMU, I didn't know what to do with my life. Human Rights isn’t a very direct college to career path. I was a McNair Scholar when I was in undergrad when the director of the department who was in charge had been mayor and had seen me do research throughout my undergraduate years. He said, “Hey, I know you're graduating, do you need a job?”, and of course, I was like, “yes, I need a job!” At that time I really didn't even know what I was going to be doing. He just said we were going to be doing college advising. I never saw myself working in a high school working with high school students, but I figured why not, and that's when I learned what we were doing, which was becoming a CAP vendor for the district.
A: A CAP vendor?
J: Yes. Right now the [Dallas Independent School] district has three CAP vendors, or college access providers: EIF, ASP, and then ourselves, SMU. It was going to be the first year that the program was going to be piloted. SMU piloted this program starting with Spruce. I’ve been here [at Spruce] since the pilot four years ago and it really has grown. I’ve been able to form and shape how I wanted the program to be and the progress has been significant.
A: As a CAP vendor, what do you see as the real value of college?
J: I went to an all-white private [high] school through scholarships. So to me, going [to college] was what was expected of everyone. I went to [school with] students whose parents were lawyers and doctors and my parents were not, I was first gen. I didn't even know what college meant, but because I was surrounded by a community that expected me to go to college I ended up at SMU. When I came [to Spruce] I expected that to be the norm and I found out very quickly that it wasn’t. It wasn't a fault to students, teachers or the community; it’s just that no one knows or understood. So it was hard for me to adjust my mindset: This is what I thought, and this is where we're at. How do we get them to the point where college is an expectation or reality? At the time, it wasn’t a thought for most kids or even an option for them in their minds.
A: How do you see Promise playing a role in making college a reality or even making it possible for students to enroll, attend, et cetera?
J: For me, Promise can be a conversation opener because before, if I would talk to students about college, they said, “well, we can’t afford it”. At some point, I would mention community college because it’s a bit more affordable and things like that. But now we can say with full conviction that if you complete the Promise steps, it’s all paid for. Money is no longer an issue so what’s next? Then we can have more real conversations and they’ll say “I’m scared of leaving home” or “ I don’t know what I want to study”, but it gets me through the [financial] barrier where kids would automatically shut me out.
I've also seen it work in opposite ways where kids will know about it and that it’s free. For example, last year, or maybe two years ago, our salutatorian and the brightest girl I've ever met with great SAT scores and awesome grades in AP classes had the possibility to go anywhere. She chose to go to community college with the Promise because it was free. I was surprised because, in all honesty, she could’ve gone to schools like UTA. But for her, Promise became top of mind because it was free and she figured -- why risk going anywhere else?