by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO
While I’m documenting our journey on this new “Updates” blog from here on out, I want to take a moment to acknowledge highlights from everything we’ve accomplished and learned thus far. Our history is just as important as our future, even more so in these early years as an emerging nonprofit organization that is working to create a solution to a problem that doesn’t yet have one.
Sharing a high-level overview of our incredible journey thus far, organized by academic year because #collegelife is how we orient ourselves, too -
I left my full-time job to pursue my calling to empower first generation and limited-income college students (more on this in a future post).
Jan - Aug 2017
I prepared. I built the website myself, learned functional html and css; conducted research on running a pilot program, online content, and program evaluation; and designed our first pilot program for the 2017-18 academic year.
Anitta Machanickal was our first summer intern! A #firstgen sophomore at Davidson College and Schuler Scholar, she delved into online content and the Chicago funding scene. She also happened to live around the block from me in the Chicago suburbs, so we pretty much lived at our local Panera that summer. Anitta loves their iced green tea.
2017-18: Pilot Year 1
We began our first pilot at the University of Michigan! We chose U of M because my cofounder and I are Michigan alums, we already knew the school and campus well, and we love Michigan (Go Blue!).
Pilot Year 1 focus: technology, targeted online content, online community, and monthly in-person meetups.
Kate Wilhelmi was an instrumental part of our team during the fall semester in making sure we get off the ground. A recent grad from the U of M School of Ed and employee of the School of Public Health, Kate’s passion for being a positive force in the world lit up our pilot.
We met our first cohort of students! We didn’t take many pictures that semester, but here’s a photo from our first meetup - Yoga or Walk in the Arb (if you look closely, all six of our founding student org chapter leaders are here!) -
We quickly learned our students favorite thing about the program: THE QUALITATIVE INTERVIEWS!! For those of you not in research, there are two primary ways to evaluate an educational program and students’ progress - quantitative data (numbers, typically derived from surveys, ex: GPA) and qualitative data (words, typically derived from in person or phone meetings, ex: thoughts and feelings). We were surprised at the time, but looking back it makes total sense. We met students for coffee at the Espresso Royale Cafe on State Street and asked about how they were doing, how their families were doing, and where they needed help. We showed care and concern. One student remarked, “I just need and really like having someone to talk to.”
Question: We knew we were on to something, but what would it look like?
Answer: Community & Student Leadership. In talking with students that year and reflecting on our own #firstgen college experiences, we realized the most important challenge we needed to target through our work is students’ sense of feeling alone. Many first generation and limited-income students do not feel like they belong on campus (where middle-class norms dominate) and, at the same time, they no longer feel like they fit in back home. We recognized the need to create a space where students could be themselves as they embark on their educational journeys together and establish much-needed supportive relationships with their peers.
I read The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl and everything clicked. Vogl defines community as, “a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another's welfare.” It’s a place where members don’t have to explain themselves and have an opportunity to experience personal growth. And, it’s exactly what our students need to feel a sense a belonging and supported as they become who they aspire to be. We also understood that our students have the capacity to create a space like this for their peers.
Mar - Apr 2018
I researched national student organizations to learn about best practices, and did a deep dive into Lean In Campus Chapters. [NOTE: The Lean In Community LIVES THEIR MISSION. From their central office to the chapter level, everyone I reached out to was welcoming, eager to support our efforts, offered valuable insight, and said please come back with questions (and they meant it). As a female leader, I felt the love of women supporting women. Thank you to Raena Saddler Schellinger and Nicole Roman (Lean In | Sandberg & Goldberg Family Foundation), Mirta Stantic (Harvard Chapter), Lily Peng (Boston University Chapter), and Serina Chang and Kara Schechtman (Columbia University Chapter), for going out of your way to support our research on campus student organizations, which informed the development of our very first chapter.]
Six of our participants from Pilot Year 1 sign up to become founding members of our first chapter!
May - July 2018
Our student leaders and I worked throughout the summer to prepare for our first year as a student org. We met every Saturday for 90 minutes over Google Hangouts and in person in Ann Arbor monthly. We established our community values, wrote the organization constitution, established leadership roles, researched student organization practices specific to the University of Michigan, and planned out activities for the upcoming fall semester. We also made sure to have fun at our in person meetings! We went to a capoeira class and the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
I participated in the Byron Fellowship, a week-long learning experience for emerging leaders in Asheville, North Carolina. Some of the most important takeaways for me: differentiating between the world you want to create vs. reacting to the world as it currently exists, aligning your "ways of being" with your vision, taking on unresolved conflicts, and taming your inner critic.
2018-19: Pilot Year 2
The beginning of our first year as a student organization at the University of Michigan! Meet our student leaders and see what they’re up to on our chapter website and on the student organization directory. On campus, they’re participating in the OptiMize Social Innovation Challenge, which provides workshops, mentorship, and resources to support the launch of the student organization at U of M.
Pilot Year 2 focus: Community; belonging and becoming.
Inaugural First Generation Alumni Advisory Board meets for the first time! They meet monthly to help us work out current challenges, such as recruitment, communication, program design, social media, and more.
I received a scholarship for the Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training led by the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. Workshops were tailored to new nonprofit organizations and included: Funding, Nonprofit Board Basics, Developing a Budget, Business Planning, and Legal Steps to Create a 501(c)(3). Thank you CLCCRUL and Erica Spangler Raz for facilitating such a valuable learning experience!!
What’s next: Stay tuned!
(P.S. We’ve met many special people and experiences throughout our journey over the past two years that aren’t covered here. Saving a few stories for next time :D)