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Success Counselor, Cara and 2015 Bottom Line Graduate, Najma at Recognition Night in Boston.

Senior Recognition Night is a chance to honor graduating seniors for their hard work and perseverance in earning their college degrees. This year’s events were graciously hosted by Bottom Line corporate partners State Street in Boston and Bowditch & Dewey in Worcester.

On June 3rd, 2015, Worcester area graduates, family members, friends, staff, and supporters gathered at Bowditch & Dewey to commemorate the graduates. They heard from keynote speaker Second Worcester District Senator Michael Moore and from Framingham University 015 graduate, Brittany Booker. Similarly, on June 15th, 2015, Boston-area graduates heard from keynote speaker Chris Gabrieli, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, and from Bottom Line student and recent Suffolk University graduate, Najma Hussain.

This was an exciting evening as many of Bottom Line’s graduating seniors are the first in their families to receive a bachelor’s degree. For some students, the path to earning a college degree was a challenging journey of hard work, uncertainty, and promise. Today, however, the final phase of Bottom Line’s motto, to “Get In, Graduate, and Go Far”, is where the Bottom Line class of 2015 now finds itself, having crossed the stage, diploma in hand, armed with the skills necessary to pursue a career in their field. Now more than 200 Bottom Line graduates are joining a growing network of more than 1,000 alumni.

Najma Hussain, a graduating senior from Suffolk University, was the student speaker for the evening. She shared her story of moving to the United States, learning English, the lessons she is taking with her from her college experience, and her hopes for her future career: “I started Bottom Line with the process of applying to college, and this year with Bottom Line, I completed the law school application process– I will be starting law school at Suffolk Law in the fall. With my law degree I want to promote social justice, coexistence, and mutual understanding. Everyone has a voice, and that voice counts toward societal changes that make a better world for all of us, regardless of our race, gender, and religious identity.” Along with Najma, today we celebrate all of the inspirational Bottom Line graduates—of whom we are very proud.

As Bottom Line counselors, we provide our students with a little bit of support and encouragement in a few key areas. But ultimately all the credit belongs to these young adults, whose commitment and resilience, from late nights studying in the library, to working long shifts to help pay tuition, is what has brought them to where they are today. Congratulations to the class of 2015!

Written by Erin O’Donnell, Bottom Line Success Counselor

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Bottom Line Success Students at 2015 College Expo.

On Saturday, March 14, 2015, Bottom Line launched its 3rd Annual College Expo at the Reggie Lewis Center. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Bottom Line students, and members of the local community attended the event. The College Expo helps students make an informed decision about which college they want to attend. What made the event unique was that Bottom Line had student representatives from each of our twenty target schools. Students from schools like Boston College, Northeastern University, UMass Amherst, Boston University any many more were there to share their current experiences as a college student and answer any general questions.

Baker and Student

Governor Charlie Baker at Bottom Line College Expo.

Students left feeling more confident and less weary of the college decision-making process.“I had a student who was reluctant to apply to a certain school because hadn’t heard great things about the campus. She spoke to some students at the expo who gave her a different perspective the college and diversity on campus. I think she walked away more open-minded and less apprehensive about wanting to go to that particular college,” said Access Counselor Emily Nolan.

Success students demonstrated strong leadership skills and provided important insight for high school students. “I felt proud watching my current Success students take on a leadership role to help guide younger students towards a positive college choice. Our Success students drew on their admissions experiences, they listened attentively to the high school students and offered sound advice,” said Success Team Manager Amy Markarian.

Written by Salem Gebrezgi

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Students practice interview skills at the Boston Go Far Forum.

This month Bottom Line – MA hosted Go Far Forum events in Boston and Worcester. More than 500 college students, graduates and local professionals gathered at the Sheraton Boston to participate in Bottom Line’s seventh annual Go Far Forum on January 6th. Sponsors of the Boston Go Far Forum included State Street, Liberty Mutual, Sun Life Financial, BNY Mellon, Boston Children’s Hospital, iRobot and Wicked Smart. In total, 32 companies, nonprofits, and professional associations had exhibitions at the event.

Bottom Line Worcester hosted their Go Far Forum at the DCU Center on January 9th with more than 100 Worcester college students, graduates, and local professionals in attendance. Fallon Health, Hanover Insurance Group, National Grid, Nypro, a Jabil Company and Saint-Gobain sponsored the event. In total, 18 companies and nonprofits were in attendance.

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Students attend career fair in Worcester.

Students at both events participated in mock interviews with volunteer professionals, attended round table discussions with human resource professionals, listened to job search panels, and met with representatives from companies and professional organizations at a career fair.

The Go Far Forum provides students with an exciting opportunity to explore different career paths, gain professional skills and network with experts in their field.

 

Over the past 10 years it’s become clear that the work to increase the public high school graduation rates and lower drop-out rates has had an impact, as 80% of students from the high school class of 2012 earned their diploma as the US Dept. of Education reported in their April 2014 report. However, these improvements have not translated to college success for students from low-income households. For almost 40 years the college graduation rate for low-income students has remained flat at about 20%.

Bottom Line has been squarely focused on the issues of college access and success for low-income students for almost twenty years. We know that the solution to improving the college success rate for low-income students won’t come easily. We are pleased to see more attention being paid to the disparity between the “Rich and the Poor”, as in this week’s Wall Street Journal article, Big Gap in College Graduation Rates for Rich and Poor, and the recent study, Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States published by the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute for Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

As with the improvement of the national public high school graduation rates, the factors that relate to college success are complex. There is no quick fix or low-cost intervention that will solve the problem. However, we have identified one key differentiator that we believe leads to long-term college success and that is the importance of having an experienced family member, mentor or counselor to whom students can turn to when faced with a challenge.

Through nearly two decades of work supporting students through college, we have learned that virtually all of the challenges faced by low-income college students fall in to four categories:  Academics, Career Development, Affordability, and Social/Emotional.  Our DEAL Model for college success is built around this framework. When students are faced with challenges from one or more of these categories, they need a trusted resource to provide guidance, and a strategy as they work to overcome the challenges they face. Bottom Line can be that resource for some or many of those students, but we need a national investment of time, talent and resources to help.

Questions? Thoughts? Share them with us here!  

 

 

Alcoa executives and Bottom Line students who attended the career event

Alcoa executives and Bottom Line students who attended the career event

Every year, January turns into “career month” for our college students at Bottom Line – New York. This month, there were a variety of career events for our nearly 800 college students to attend while they were home on break. In addition to the Go Far Forum, our signature career readiness event that is held annually, we offered a number of smaller career events at the offices of our corporate partners.

One of those events took place at Alcoa, a global leader in lightweight metals technology, engineering and manufacturing. Alcoa CFO Bill Oplinger, a Bottom Line – New York Board member, kicked off the event by reminding students that “where you start won’t be where you end up,” encouraging students to consider jobs that they might not originally have thought about and to stretch themselves professionally – a theme that his colleagues echoed throughout the day.

To learn more about one student’s impressions and takeaways, read Bottom Line student Shaquille Bent’s account of the day and how he plans to apply what he learned at the Alcoa career event going forward.

Name:  Shaquille Bent

College: SUNY Buffalo State

College Year: Senior

You’ve been to a few career events with Bottom Line now – how did this one compare to past ones you’ve attended?

This one with Alcoa was extraordinary. In a way, it was more hands-on because we got to interact one-on-one with senior executives at Alcoa from very different departments and hear about their career path. It was unique because I got personal feedback on things that I did well and things that I can improve on during that one-on-one career coaching.

Shaq receiving one-on-one career coaching from one of our Alcoa volunteers

Shaq receiving one-on-one career coaching from one of our Alcoa volunteers

What were some of your favorite parts of the career event at Alcoa?

I did research before the event because I had not previously heard of Alcoa. So, it was great to learn more about a company that I didn’t know about before. I really enjoyed hearing about people’s career paths, and I learned that what you study in college does not necessarily determine what type of job you get. My favorite part was the one-on-one conversation with Guru (an Alcoa employee), because he had a similar career path to the one I want. He studied mechanical engineering; I’m studying industrial technology. He also has a MBA, and I’m interested in obtaining one too.

What was the most intimidating or most challenging part of the event for you?

I don’t feel like there was a really intimidating part because Bottom Line has helped me really prepare for events like these. If I were still a freshman, I probably would have been much shyer and not known how to interact with everyone. I definitely wanted to make a good impression on the Alcoa executives, though!

What were some of your key takeaways?

First, I remember Sue (another volunteer from Alcoa) saying how important it was to “make sure you stretch yourself and go after all opportunities.” Guru said the same thing – to look into opportunities outside of the state where you live, to be flexible, to take risks, and do things out of the ordinary. All of the Alcoa employees that we met with have achieved professional success; they inspired me to want the same for myself.

Second, Daniel from Alcoa said that you need to find mentors and keep relationships alive. That was really important for me too. I feel like I’ve started to do that, but I’ve struggled with how to keep the relationship alive. They gave us some specific examples for what to do, like sending an email every now and then just to check in, so that you can build “a repository of advocates” as Daniel said.

What types of careers are you considering, and how did this event help you prepare for them?

I’m thinking long-term about becoming a project director or project manager. Right out of college, I think I want to be an analyst somewhere and gain experience in the business world. I can then interact with professionals as well as other project managers and learn from them. Down the line, I also want an MBA.

This event helped me prepare for that by learning about other successful business professionals’ career paths. They shared their stories about how they got to where they are. They all had very different paths, so I realized that you have to be open to all opportunities because you never know where they might lead.

Any advice for students who are graduating from college soon and starting to make plans for their careers?

One thing that I’ve learned throughout my college career is that you have to network. Networking can open up a whole range of opportunities that you never thought existed.

You also have to find mentors and keep the relationship alive. You can learn a lot from mentors because they have lots of experience and the knowledge that they share with you can help you find a career.

In the middle of the semester, during midterms when stress levels are rising, students need a little extra fun. Campus socials are a way for Bottom Line students to meet up with each other and their counselors and build community, while taking a breather from the academic demands of the semester. Counselors plan an activity ranging from arts and crafts to trivia and bingo nights, often accompanied with food and music.

The Fall semester’s Crafty Campus Social at UMass Dartmouth was a great success with a turnout of about forty students—mostly first and second years, who were excited to hang out with friends, meet new people, and speak to a few upperclassmen who are always happy to share their experiences and provide insider advice.

Students put their artistic skills to work, decorating wooden initials and inspirational words with paint, glitter, rhinestones, and stickers to hang on their doors or keep at their desks.

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Students display their artwork during a campus social.

Alejandro Lopez is a Sophomore and a Bottom Line Student Ambassador at UMass Dartmouth. He helped to plan the event, and was pleased with outcome: “Our campus social was a great experience—it was good to see happy familiar faces full of excitement and to see the underclassmen’s eagerness to decorate their initials. Overall, Bottom Line socials are a great opportunity to meet other students who are a part of the organization, to gain perspective, and to learn about where everyone is from.”

Kimberly, a freshman studying Political Science had the following to say: “The social was a great experience. Not only did we get to show our creative talents, we also got to meet amazing people who share UMassD pride. These socials are important because they unite Bottom Line students in a positive atmosphere.”

Each semester, counselors face the challenge of taking the social to the next level. The Crafty Campus Social may be hard to beat next semester, but we have some great ideas in the works.  Spoiler alert—it may involve making homemade ice-cream outside, if the sun is shining!

Written by Success Counselor Erin O’Donnell

As the fall semester comes to a close, Bottom Line-New York counselors are finishing up their final round of on-campus meetings to help students prepare for their finals. Read below for an account of the process and what it means to our staff and our students from one of our Success counselors, Courtney Ng:

“How are you?” I ask Kelly. Those three words, as common as they may be in daily life, mean something to our students. They know that when we ask them, we ask earnestly, seeking to help.

“Overwhelmed,” she answers, “there’s just so much to do.”

Her response is why I’m there. For the past three weeks, Bottom Line-New York counselors have been traveling to campuses all across the State to help students develop a solid plan to prepare for their upcoming final exams, papers, and projects. For our students, finals are the last opportunity to give their grades a boost. But finals prep, like all of the services we provide students, is important for a larger purpose – it’s an opportunity to help students strengthen the skills and traits they can carry with them long into the future.

A color-coded finals prep calendar

A color-coded finals prep calendar

In a finals prep meeting, we guide students through creating a calendar to map out their plans to prepare for finals. On a basic level, the act of calendaring when finals will take place helps students think about managing their time. Realizing they have three finals in two days triggers them to think about when they will have time to study and to consider starting to study sooner, if not right away. The meeting also challenges them to think about how they will study, taking into consideration the practices that have or have not been useful throughout the semester. For example, we often talk to students about how reading over notes is a passive form of studying, whereas making a study guide that synthesizes key ideas and facts is an active way to internalize information.

For some students, finals prep is a prime opportunity to talk about using their resources   and seeking out help when they need it. We guide them to this realization by asking specific questions about their finals: what topics will be on exams, how comfortable they feel with the material, and whether they understand why they might not have performed well previously in the semester. If they are unsure of the answers, we nudge them. Ask your professors. Sign up for tutoring. Make an appointment at the writing center. Where can you get the help you need? When will you get it? In asking these questions, we challenge students to take responsibility for their own success and remind them that if they struggle, they don’t have to do so alone. We wish for students to walk away with more than a colorful roadmap for finals prep, but with the skills and confidence to guide them through the numerous obstacles to come later in life.

At the end of that 45-minute planning session, I often ask students how they feel now that they have a plan. Relieved, some say, that they now know what they need to do. Scared, say others, that things won’t go according to plan. You’re right, I tell them, they probably won’t.

In that moment, finals prep opens a conversation about a skill we value deeply at Bottom Line-New York: flexibility. We know that students won’t walk away and follow their plans to a tee. We know that distractions will arise and students will fall off track. This reality, I reassure them, is an opportunity to embrace a valuable life lesson, that even the best laid plans have to be reworked at some point. And when they do, when you need help, we are at the other end of the phone, ready to ask those same three words.

Rebeca

Rebeca, Worcester State University, ’16

My name is Rebeca and I live in Worcester, Massachusetts with my mom, brother, and two sisters. I grew up in a loving home with a mom who worked long hours in order to ensure we had everything we needed. I remember when we were younger she would get us ready for school before the sun was up and drop us off at my aunt’s house so that she could get to work.

My mom worked hard and made it her mission in life to make sure her children would have the opportunities she didn’t. 

When I was 12 my mom got engaged and together they started planning a future for our family. Our plan was to move to Connecticut and buy a house. My mom would get married and we would be one big happy family. She worked hard as a manager at McDonalds and with two incomes, the future looked bright. But when I was 13 everything we had planned fell apart on us. My mom was in a terrible car accident where she sustained serious injuries. She had been driving with her fiancé who did not survive.

My world was turned upside down. My mom needed around the clock care and couldn’t do anything on her own. We eventually had to move out of my childhood home. With the cost of medical bills and without my mom working we could no longer afford to make the rent payments. This was when we decided to move to Worcester to be closer to family. My mom eventually recovered and was able to return to work. Despite all of the challenges we had gone through, she still hoped for the very best for us and would constantly remind us of the importance of getting a good education. It was her mission to at least see us graduate from high school, something she wasn’t able to do.

My mom’s strength and endurance during this difficult time encouraged me to focus on my own future and my determination to go to college so that I could help support my family.

I sought out Bottom Line’s help when I was in high school because I knew I wanted to go to college, but didn’t know how to get there. I met with my guidance counselor at school, but I knew I would need more individualized support. My Bottom Line counselor, Ginette helped me with the college process throughout the year, and I grew to trust her opinion a lot. Ginette helped me navigate some pretty tough decisions and guided me towards the a financially responsible option. I decided to attend Quinsigamond Community College, and in May 2013, I graduated with an Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Bottom Line then helped me transfer to Worcester State University where I am currently pursuing my Bachelors in Early Childhood Education and Visual and Performing Arts.

Transferring to Worcester State University was not as easy of a transition as I thought it would be. My counselor, Kira, helped me prepare for this transition and encouraged me to visit the school and learn where all of my classes were so I wouldn’t get lost on the first day. It was difficult balancing my time with studying, friends, and work. Things didn’t come as naturally for me as they did when I was at community college. I felt lonely and overwhelmed. I went from a smaller community college where I knew my classmates to a larger school where I didn’t feel like I knew anyone, but Kira helped introduce me to other Bottom Line students at my school. Kira and Bottom Line were always available to answer my questions and made me feel like I had a strong support network. They also sent care packages with snacks, a gift and a card to say something along the lines of ‘hang in there, you can do it!’ The care package always seems to come right when it’s needed the most.

This past spring semester was particularly difficult. Towards the end of the semester, life at home was extremely complicated and it began to affect my classes. It seemed like one bad thing was happening after another. Our family was facing some financial challenges and the electricity was turned off at my house for a couple of weeks. Then, in the midst of this darkness our house was robbed and my favorite camera was stolen. I remember feeling very unsafe at home and overwhelmed by my coursework. I felt on edge and remember waking up throughout the night startled by noises. Kira was the first person I reached out to when this had happened. It was difficult to focus on my classes after this and I wanted to withdraw from a challenging class, but Kira wouldn’t let me. She told me that it was only a few more weeks until that semester was over, and that I could make it through. Looking back, I’m glad Kira made me stick with it and I received a C+. I am very proud of the C+ because I thought I was going to fail.

With Bottom Line’s support I was able to keep focused on my goals and learn how to balance what I was experiencing in my personal life with my schoolwork.

In addition to helping me with classes and financial aid, Bottom Line helped me apply to a service trip in Nicaragua, which was an experience that helped open up the world to me and made me realize how important education is to understanding other cultures. While I was in Nicaragua, I was able to gain hands-on experience working with children teaching English, working at a clinic and teaching pre-school. I realized how much I love to help others learn and challenge myself to see things through another person’s perspective.

Growing up, my Mom’s goal for all of us was to make sure we finished high school so that we would have access to better opportunities than she did. With Bottom Line’s support I am two years away from being the first in my family to graduate from college. When I walk across the stage to accept my diploma, I will be accepting it on behalf of my family, my community and generations to come.

Having a college degree is an incredible opportunity, but Bottom Line has taught me that it is also a responsibility. I want to be an educator so that I can help make it a little bit easier for the next generation. I recognize the impotent role education has played in my life and I know that I have a responsibility to those who will come after me. Thank you to my family, friends and Bottom Line who have made it possible for me to pursue a brighter future for my community.

This speech was given at the 6th Annual Get In, Graduate and Go Far Reception in October, 2014.

michele Pats

Bottom Line volunteer Michele Scavongelli receives “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week” award.

Bottom Line Massachusetts,  is celebrating education volunteerism with the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

The Patriots are honoring Bottom Line volunteer Michele Scavongelli as their “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week.” She was recognized at a Julie’s Family Learning Program event on October 1.

For the week of Sept. 28, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation is working in cooperation with Bottom Line Massachusetts, Boston Partners in Education, and Science Club for Girls to highlight dedicated volunteers and promote the importance of their efforts. The overarching theme of the week is empowerment through education.

Education volunteers are an important driver in helping end the cycle of poverty. First-generation students have less support than their higher-income peers to get into and through college. The Patriots and Bottom Line know that the more support children receive from the start, the better chance they have at reaching the end zone – college graduation.

Bottom Line this year celebrated the college graduation of its 1,000th student, and improved the overall graduation rate of Bottom Line students to 78 percent, well above the national average.

In addition to volunteering with Bottom Line, including serving on its Board of Directors, Michele is a mother of seven, an attorney and child-empowered legal advocate. Michele has raised over $50,000 as part of the Bottom Line Boston Marathon team – funds that ensure that first-generation, low-income students from the City of Boston have an opportunity to go to college. In fact, one in four college-bound seniors from the City of Boston receive support from Bottom Line during the college application process, throughout college or both.

She is a firm believer that her volunteerism is helping disadvantaged students realize the dream of earning a college degree.

“I am deeply committed to education and equality, and believe that education can help disadvantaged students transform their lives, achieve great things, and help lift them and future generations out of poverty,” Michele said.

Michele has also mentored countless Bottom Line students by helping with resume building, conducting mock interviews and participating in student roundtable discussions. She is selfless with her time and talents, and has also given pro-bono legal service to Bottom Line.

She also volunteers her time to the Youth Advocacy Foundation, and specifically The Education/Law Project, also known as Ed Law Project, working to ensure that Massachusetts’ highest risk children stay in school.

Throughout the football season, the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative will share the stories of dedicated volunteers, build awareness, and identify and educate others about volunteer opportunities.

Written by Elevate Communications

Since the start of the school year, our Success Counselors have traveled to 20 campuses across Massachusetts to meet one-on-one with nearly 2,000 college Bottom Line college students. In meeting with students, counselors discuss everything from adjusting to a new roommate, to reading a syllabus, to resolving any lingering financial aid issues.

Erin O’Donnell, a first-year Success Counselor, reflects on a busy month of the school year.

photoWhich colleges do you work with?

Suffolk, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth

What types of meetings have you been having on campus?

So far, meetings have focused on getting to know my first year students better and making sure they are adjusting well to a new environment, a new way of learning, and a new more independent lifestyle. With my first year students, meetings are often centered on connecting them to resources on campus, discussing organization tips and academic goals, as well as resolving outstanding bill issues and any other concerns they have. Meetings with second years cover a broad range of topics, including guidance in choosing a major, help with resumes and internship applications, assisting students with self-advocacy whether it is to reinstate scholarships, financial aid verification work for students who have yet to receive an award, transfer advising, and mapping out the rest of their undergraduate career in order to meet requirements to graduate On time.

Why do you think it is important to meet with in person and on campus?

Meeting on campus is a great way to experience a part of our students’ academic environments. The advice we give is all the more pertinent if it can be based on a personal, trusting relationship that develops over time, rather than a voice over the phone or email exchange.  In addition, being on campus makes it as simple as possible for students to meet with us without inconveniencing them with a commute, as many of our students are working a lot in addition being full-time undergrads, or currently live on campus a ways from Boston (in the case of UMass Dartmouth).

What do you like most about being a Success Counselor?

The best part about being a Success Counselor is that you get to connect with a diverse group of young adults who are striving to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them.  Many have inspiring stories, many grew up in a different country, and many are still learning English. To be able to assist these students with realizing their dream of graduating from college, and being the first to do so in their family, is a huge privilege.