Project Jumpstart

We’re officially done with the first two days of Project Jumpstart! But, before I go into detail on the start of Week One, let me give you a little bit of background on the program:

Project Jumpstart was a brainchild of mine that originated a year or so ago when one of the Karen refugee middle school students whom I tutor nonchalantly stated that he would never be able to go to college. We immediately switched our focus from decimals to the much more important, and concerning problem at hand.

“What do you mean you won’t be able to? You’re super smart and capable!”

“Well I can’t pay for college. It’s so expensive. I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Have you heard about financial aid? Do you know what a scholarship is?”

From there, the questions flew in, one after the other. We talked for an hour all about the ins and outs of college, from applying to paying to housing to what life is like on campus. If my middle school mentee had this many questions, I could only imagine how many inquiries high school students would have. I started reaching out to other volunteers with the Refugee Community Partnership (RCP) the organization to which I belong, and many expressed that their mentees had similar interest in learning this type of information.

When I came across the Eve Carson Scholarship (two days before the application was due!), I knew that this was the chance to jump on my musings about creating some sort of college readiness program for high school refugees. I was beyond thrilled to be selected as a scholar. Not only did this opportunity mean that I would have funding to kick off my program, but it also meant that my peers saw the value in investing in higher education as a tool for social mobility, something that I strongly believe.

The rest, as they say, is history. In January, as soon as the Spring 2017 semester got underway, I began contacting various experts in different areas of the college process. By March, I had presentation commitments from UNC’s Office of Financial Aid, a private college admission counselor, Carolina’s own C-STEP program, and a number of other extremely generous and amazing individuals. (My next post will be devoted to the selflessness of everyone involved in this project, and how inspiring and uplifting this process has been–stay tuned.)

By May, the goal of the program was morphing from the creation of long-term academic advising relationships between UNC students and refugee high schoolers to the establishment of an annual “all things college” course. On that note, I realized in July that I would have to amp up my strategic marketing and branding if I were to succeed in making this program stick. That’s where the logo, t-shirts, and hashtag came in. As of today, thanks to a super smart and creative UNC student and Project Jumpstart mentor, we have a legitimate social media presence. Check us out on Facebook, Instagram (@jumpstart_nc), and Twitter (@Jumpstart_NC)! Speaking of Project Jumpstart mentors, this program wouldn’t be happening without the dedication and support of five UNC undergrads who have jumped in and given 100% to make this program come to fruition. From helping coordinate transportation to leading small group discussions to doing anything that I request, no matter how big or tedious, they have made my life significantly easier and I am beyond grateful.

Now, for some Day 1 and 2 program highlights! We kicked off Monday with some marshmallow tower team-building to get the juices flowing, followed up by two presentations. The first was by a Karen refugee who recently graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro, and the second was by a professional college admission advisor. The 27 Karen, Burmese, and Syrian refugee students were engaged and awesome from the get-go. They gave the presenters their complete attention and respect, had thoughtful, reflective questions, and appeared generally eager to learn.

We took an outdoor lunch break before getting back in the swing of things with an arts workshop facilitated by Boomerang Youth Inc, a non-profit based in Chapel Hill. As a group we created two poems, both of which happened so organically that we didn’t even realize that we were writing poetry!

Tuesday was dense and heavy in terms of information, but, once again, the students rose to the challenge. We had three presentations, one about admissions, the second about financial aid, and the third about Carolina’s C-Step program. And, of course, we threw in some outdoor games to keep the energy levels high.

The rest of the week is a bit lighter and more interactive, and I can’t wait! We have a tour of a public health laboratory tomorrow, as well as a chunk of time for individual advising in small groups. Thursday will bring a personal statement writing workshop and a panel of first generation college students. On Friday, we’ll tour UNC and have a study skills workshop. I’m hoping to recruit some students and/or mentors to write small posts for the blog, so keep your eyes peeled. Here’s to the rest of a successful Week One!