One and Done: The Game vs. The Student Athlete

Summer television is fairly boring, but this summer ESPN is re-airing its most current iteration of its 30 for 30 series. I grew up in a religious household, so sports was about all I could watch growing up without risking the wrath of Jesus.

This past Saturday “One and Not Done,” told the story of John Calipari, the beleaguered college basketball coach who seems to leave chaos and revoked titles in his wake. “One and done” refers to players who leave college after one year to enter the NBA draft. Students go to college because the league requires that the student’s high school graduating class be out of school at least one year before they are eligible to be drafted.

What struck me most, however, wasn’t Calipari’s story of intentionally recruiting players who want to leave after a year. It was the segment where other elite coaches made their arguments as to why college basketball players should stay in school and play rather than jump to the NBA after one year. Syracuse’s Coach Calhoun went so far as to state that the kid’s should stay for the sake of the game.

My jaw dropped. For decades the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has emphasized that it wants its athletes to be students first. Nevermind that the term “student athlete” was created so that the NCAA wouldn’t have to pay a kid who was injured while playing for a college. Yet, here is a premier coach focusing on the game, and not the student part.

Furthermore, it’s only in revenue generating sports that we seem to care about the student part or the game. Baseball players often do not go to college at all, and get drafted right into the minor leagues. Tennis players and golfers turn pro as early as they are able. At some point we are going to have to come clean and talk about how “the game” doesn’t really accommodate the student part of athlete and either fix it, or get over being salty about a student leaving college and pursue financial security.

If I knew at age 19 that I was good enough to go right into a career that would leave me without student loans then I think I would have been “one and done” also.

On Mentorship

I’ve shown Ava Duvernay’s speech at the 2013 Film Independent Forum to every student with whom I have a mentoring relationship. I can only do as much work as the student is willing to do for themselves. I find that students can Google so many things, but the very things they want and need to advance their careers or their personal interests.



Today we’re proud of our student Katiera Rutledge! Katiera is a student we’ve worked with over the past two years who was interested in transferring from her community college to the University of Maryland at College Park. Her story was featured here.

Katiera was originally denied admission, but after some encouragement from us, called the Admissions Office to find out how to become a stronger application. At that point the Admissions Office discovered that her file had simply been misfiled! Katiera had earned admission to her dream school after all.

This student’s story tells us a few things about the transfer process.

1) It can sometimes be scary. 

Katiera was used to the community college setting, and, even though she wanted to transfer, was a bit reluctant to apply to the larger, flagship school. We worked to demonstrate just how prepared, and ready she truly is, to allay the “I’m not good enough” fears.

2) Follow up can make all the distance.

Katiera did not call the university ranting, but she did ask questions regarding her application, and what she could do to make it stronger. Not all universities are open to such calls, but the lesson here is to let them tell you no rather than assuming the answer without speaking to someone first.

3) Seek outside help. 

Katiera has worked with us over the two years to bridge the gap between her community college and her dream school. Guidance counselors, and university officials are great places to start looking for information about college or transfer, but don’t discount the web, and books! There are a wealth of people in the world who want to see students succeed, and are willing to answer questions. This site is one of those places as well.

Hiding from the Economy With Loans

Dear Student:

I know that the American employment landscape is quite frightening and has been for a while. Friends of mine are moving home to regroup and figure out how to survive while looking for work, or even as full time employees! It is tough for everyone and I want to fully acknowledge that. However, despite how safe school feels you have to go ahead and get out there.

I’m quite saddened and, quite frankly, startled to see young people staying in school unnecessarily to avoid facing the economy. Most colleges only require 120 credits to graduate, but I am seeing students with 150 and more. Some of these students say they are adding a second major to be more competitive. However, I implore you to figure out the long term costs.

Tuition at my institution is quite expensive. Tuition, fees, room and board tops 56 thousand dollars. 56 thousand dollars is more than many Americans earn per year. Staying in school to add extra credits at a cost of 56 thousand dollars does not make long term fiscal sense. Even if your university expenses are less think about what your starting salary may be and how you will pay off that extra year of schooling.

Even though the economy is tough it is better to get out there and start your career and build experience. You may have to live at home and that’s okay. You may have to share an apartment or house with several friends. Again, doing so is okay, and actually pretty fiscally sound if you put away the money you save on rent and pay down student loan or credit card debt contribute to your retirement or put it in a good old savings account.

If you insist on staying in school then I suggest that you earn another credential. Adding credits to your bachelor’s degree does not help in the marketplace. Also, employers may question why you did not graduate on time. Earn a certificate or master’s degree if you can instead. You may not be able to use the graduate education right away, but at least there will be tangible evidence of your extra time in school.



What are your fears about graduating and getting out there? Maybe we can offer some solutions. Leave a comment.

Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The season between Thanksgiving and spring semester is usually a joyous break for universities. Students celebrate Chanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or winter solstice after slogging through final exams. Faculty grade final papers and exams and then look forward to the time off. We staff try to take the time we’re in the office to catch up on paperwork. However, not everyone enjoys the slow period between Thanksgiving and New Years and these are the students we need to keep an eye on.

This winter period for some students is the end of their collegiate career. Many students go home and hear from their families that they cannot return to school because the family cannot afford to send them anymore. Although the greater economy has “recovered,” many of my students’ personal economies have not – not at all. Families wait until the student is home to tell them so that they can at least pass their fall classes.

Some students do not receive family or community support to attend school in the first place, and retreat home where they feel valued. Many of these students actually do not return after Thanksgiving. Many times this group includes first generation college students because they are learning new values and cultural norms that may be in conflict with what they learned at home. Families may reject the student for being too “uppity” “brand new” or “out of their place.”

Finally, many students experience depression and suicidal thoughts. They aren’t coping well with school already and the change in the weather to dreary days exacerbates their illness. If grades come in and the student has not done well this problem can descend into deadly territory quickly. Some students do not have consistent families and the cheer and love of the holidays feels like someone is steadily reminding them of their lack.

What should we do as practitioners? Be a bit more mindful that sometimes the grades we see and the excuses we get have some underlying cause. This time of year can be especially frustrating as we get students “grade grubbing” for marks they did not earn, or students come in with problems we could have helped them solve had they talked to us months ago. We not be able to work with every student to become an academic superstar, but we can let them know that no matter the outcome of their grades or academic standing that they are valued as people, and there are options.

Families, and community members, hug your students this winter break. Remind them of why you care for them outside of their accomplishments or lack thereof. If they have not met your expectations certainly remind them of where you stand, but try to be gentle. If your student comes home with “newfangled” ideas talk to them about their new beliefs and see if you can find some way to have a family discussion about your own values with them.

We in academic affairs want all of our students to come back to us in the spring semester, or at least be well enough to live out their dreams through a different path. We want our students to be mentally well and to feel supported. The most wonderful time of the year is not always so wonderful for everyone, so let’s try to help make it a little better where we can.

Square Peg – Round Hole

As a practitioner in higher education I see students at all stages of growth simultaneously. It is not unusual for my day to begin with an undeclared freshman and end with seniors ready to tear into the world. One thing I’m noticing across the spectrum is a disconnect between desired occupation and the requisite skills needed to join the occupation.

Most recently I’ve seen students interested in prestigious companies, agencies, or titles, but with little desire to learn the skills necessary to reach those positions. For example, one may want to work for the United Nations or the International Monetary Fund, and yet, not want to travel abroad, not want to experience a culture that does not speak English, and yet wants to train workers who may go abroad. Another example, is a student who wishes to go to law school but hates writing. In fact these students typically emphatically dislike any course that includes writing. In discussing options with these students it can be challenging to steer them toward their interests and aptitudes while not appearing to crush the dream they’ve had since they were seven. However, we must challenge these ideas if we are to be of service to our students.

The disconnect between skill and desire is coming from multiple aspects of a student’s life. Some students are pressured by parents to get a “good job.” Other students are listening to the reports that say if they do not major in science, engineering or mathematics (STEM) then they are doomed. Other students are looking at their student loan balance reports and are trying to head for the sure bet come hell or lack of interest in a field. Inevitably these students fail miserably in their courses or eventually in their ability to get a job because they cannot articulate a true purpose for why they are interested in their subject of study. These students are outperformed by those who actually want they thing, whatever it is, that they are going for.

It is debatable whether the United States really needs more STEM graduates. It is certainly debatable that humanities and social science degrees do not pay off. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook shows art students doing fairly well: These students are not wealthy, but they aren’t impoverished either. What I see in my work is that regardless of the degree, if the holder is not enthused about the work then the job hunt is merciless as they are beat out by passionate and skilled individuals. Toning down the rhetoric that one must be in one field to do well would go a long way to ensuring that students choose majors and careers that are a good fit.

Year in Review

Our First Scholars

It’s been a super busy year for First Generation University. After so many of you generously gave to our scholarship efforts this year we raised the most money in the four year history of fundraising. Those funds went to a wonderful student from Connecticut, and really made a difference in her being able to stay in school! Thank you again.

This year also marked the beginning of our first program. It’s been a dream to bring the academy to the community, and a partnership with the anti-poverty organization Martha’s Table made that dream come true. I met the director of the teen program, Timothy Jones at the Words, Beats, and Life annual Teach-In where he gave a presentation on hip-hop education. Timothy is a brilliant educator I’d been conversing with online, and when we realized our missions aligned a partnership was born.

In the fall I started the College Pro program on Thursdays. The first half of the academic year we worked with two seniors applying to college. Choosing which colleges to apply to, and working out fee waivers, letters of recommendation and the FAFSA were some of our biggest challenges. In the spring we focused on preparing for the first year in college and dealt with everything from study habits to dating and values.

We’re extremely proud of our two students Jamika Acevedo and Tariq Broadnax. Jamika is headed to Temple University to study biochemistry. Even more impressive is the fact that she earned over 30 thousand dollars in scholarships! Jamika’s advice is to apply for every and any scholarship you qualify for because you never know what may happen. Tariq is headed to the University of Oklahoma to study engineering. Tariq attends Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and decided to apply to the special program Banneker has with OU. Not only does OU provide an opportunity to study engineering, but is a chance for Tariq to get out and experience living in a different part of the country, which he’s very excited about.

We look forward to continuing our work this year, and hope you’ll continue to support what we do.



Getting Entrepreneurial with Your Major

A student came in this week interested in one of the great, though struggling industries – magazine publishing. This student is quite bright and curious, but I had to caution that the publishing industry is struggling and jobs are scarce in the field. While choosing the right major is important, the student is interested in journalism, I suggested that what is more important is obtaining the right skills and standing out. The student may be able to do that through the journalism major, but that isn’t the only option.

This particular student is interested in fashion magazines. Since Sex and the City many young women dream of heading to NYC to write thrilling articles about fabric, accessories, and trends. That dream is doable, but no major alone is going to produce that result. To even land the internship that leads to that kind of job this student will need experience. She’s landed an internship for the summer, but I also stridently urged her to make a name for herself. With all of the resources on campus for funding, and the world wide web, a fashionista without clips or a web presence is doomed.

Our campus newspaper doesn’t have a fashion writer. I suggested she pitch herself. Maybe she should start a blog, or a podcast. Whatever the method one chooses for distinguishing herself she should know that employers are indeed looking for go-getters. Employers haven’t had training programs for new employees since the 1980s, and especially not in competitive fields. They want people to be ready to go on day one. This reality is not always fair because job seekers then must shoulder huge costs trying to get their foot in the door, but knowing that the market is as it is helps one to plan accordingly.

In choosing a major, and job seeking, the world is almost like seeking out a romantic partner.

  • Employers want someone interesting and different, and not just another person like the one they already have or the one they just fired. BE YOURSELF.
  • Just like a particular outfit can get you noticed on the quad, so can the great internships or experience get you noticed in a pile of resumes. If you created a job for yourself then even better! You’ve already shown leadership. Continue to amass experiences that fit your interests and the type of work you want to do.
  • There is no set formula for snagging the job. An employer likes what they like and there is no guaranteed combination of major or experience that does the trick.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Low-Income Students SHOULD Be Applying to Top Colleges

The research shows over and over again that low-income students do well at “elite” colleges. However, top schools, including the Ivies, keep stating that they do not get applications from these students even if they are highly qualified.

A recent NPR report reemphasized the problem and hypothesized that part of the issue is that low-income students in areas where there isn’t a top performing high school just aren’t being encouraged to push and apply to these schools. You can check out the report here.

In the Washington, D.C. area we have several high schools that are geared toward preparing our varied population to attend college. However, even many of these students, as our own program shows do not necessarily know how to select a list of schools to which they want to apply, and how to prepare a competitive application.

We who work with young people have to encourage them to apply to all types of colleges. Many of these schools will provide a fee waiver for the application if a student reaches out and asks. One of the problems I find is that students are afraid to ask, or do not know to whom to write. We have to teach them to craft professional emails to people in power. This is one of the first lessons we teach in our program.

Another issue is that many times those of us who went to college rely on our own experiences. We have to remember that when we attended we were working with information that was relevant at the time. Just because we didn’t like a particular institution, or it wasn’t affordable to us doesn’t mean that the young people we mentor will have the same experience.

Encourage low-income students with great grades to apply to the schools of their dreams.  The schools are waiting for them.