Philistin, Johanne Meet July’s alumna spotlight, Johanne Philistin!

Johanne graduated with a B.A. in Accounting from Northeastern University in 2010. She is originally from Haiti, and moved to Boston ten years  ago. She is currently a Staff Accountant at Industrial Economics. Her goal in the next few years is to go to graduate school and get a CPA license. Johanne currently resides in Hyde Park where she enjoys riding her bike.


High School: Hyde Park High School

College: Fisher College & Northeastern University

Graduation Year:

Job: Junior Accountant

Bottom Line Memory: The first time I met Dave, I remember him trying to reiterate the fact that the service was free and I thought it was a sales pitch just to get me to sign up. Little did I know the service was, in fact, free.

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with:
Starbucks gift cards and Kit Kats

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line: They supported me through college, and now it’s my turn to support them.

People would be surprised to learn that I used to: Do ballroom dancing. ( I wasn’t a pro or anything, but I wasn’t bad either.)

The BEST part of being a college graduate is: No homework! (Just kidding). Working in my field and putting all of that theory into practice.

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is: Loan repayment  

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by…. Joining me on the Rodman Ride or supporting me by going to my fundraising page to contribute!

On September 28th I will be riding 25 miles in a non-competitive ride to support Bottom Line. I ride with Bottom Line because I want those college students to have the same opportunity that I had as a Bottom Line student. I was in their shoes not too long ago, and I know what it feels like to want to walk across that stage and receive that diploma. I believe Bottom Line can help them achieve that goal, and I want to contribute to their success and be part of their journey.


An exciting report that was released on Thursday, January 17 and was featured in The Boston Globe and on WBUR. According to the report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern and commissioned by the Boston Foundation, the 6-year college graduation rate for Boston Public School graduates increased from 40% to 47% between the high school graduating classes of 2000 and 2005. In addition, college enrollment and persistence rates have increased steadily since 2000.


When Bottom Line was founded in 1997 here in Boston, it was because we could see that students lacked the support, guidance and preparation to succeed in college. In the 16 years since then, we have been dedicated to changing the outcomes for those students, and we have been joined in our efforts more recently by many others in the community who have also recognized this significant challenge. This report acknowledges that we have made real progress in preparing and supporting our students so they can be successful in college and beyond. From the class of 2005, nearly 7% of all BPS degree earners received Bottom Line’s support throughout college. Our guidance played a critical role in the success of those students.


However, for our organization and for the community as a whole, our work isn’t done.

 Even with this progress, more than half of college-enrolled BPS graduates still were unable to earn a degree in 6 years. However, we have continued to grow every year since 2005, and we will continue to expand so that we can make a real, significant impact on our students and the community moving forward. The size of our class has tripled between 2005 and 2012, and, within the next two years, we will grow to serve 450 Boston Public School graduates from each high school class year, in addition to students from the Greater Boston and Worcester areas. With this growth, we hope to play an even larger role in the progress of our students and our community moving forward.


Mike Wasserman

Executive Director – MA

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JohnsonGregIt is hard to believe that 2012 has come and gone.  Time flies at Bottom Line, especially at the end of the year when high school students are scrambling to send off their college applications and colleges students are wrapping up the fall semester and waiting anxiously for their grades.

I am pleased to say that in 2012, Bottom Line did our part to jumpstart the economy, adding 12 new full-time staff positions and producing 120 new college graduates. Some of the year’s other highlights include:

We launched our national support office and began to look at additional expansion opportunities.

Our New York office doubled in size from 4 to 8 staff and served more than 300 students in just our second year.

In September we kicked off a $5 million growth campaign in Boston and announced a $2.5 million dollar gift from the Grand Circle Foundation. Inside of 5 years, we expect to reach virtually every eligible high school and college student in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury and provide them with Bottom Line’s one-on-one support.

We continued to refine our College Success program model and curriculum to ensure the highest level effectiveness and lead the national dialogue.

At Bottom Line, every year has been bigger and better than the last and we expect this to be true again in 2013.

  • Our NY office will once again double in size – growing from 8 to 16 employees.
  • We plan to open a second Boston location in Dorchester, MA to make it even more convenient for all Boston students who want access to our support.
  • We expect at least 160 new college graduates by Summer 2013.

As the year winds down, with few exceptions, we see very little movement on the national scene that would make our work unnecessary.  While there is constant rhetoric about making college accessible and affordable and ensuring more students graduate, the systems that surround higher education are very slow to change.  College costs continue to rise, student to counselor ratios remain ridiculously high and colleges rarely recognize that that the bureaucracies they have in place don’t yet serve the first-generation, low-income students who they enroll.

So Bottom Line must grow- we must continue to be available to serve the students who need us, and we must spread the word that there is another way.  High-quality, relationship-based advising can steer disadvantaged students towards the finish line and help build their impoverished communities that are so desperate for our help.

– Greg Johnson

CEO, Bottom Line

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Sarah Place – Director of Curriculum & Training

In a recent Education Week blog article, “Community College Transfers Often Do Well at 4-Year Institutions,” author Caralee Adams cites positive data from the National Student Clearinghouse regarding the success rates of students obtaining BA degrees after transferring from two-year colleges.  This report states that “In the 2010-11 academic year, 45 percentof all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution.”

I must admit that I was surprised to find such a successful rate of transfer students in this report; throughout my 6 years of experience working with low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts, I have not witnessed the same result for students who begin their education at a two-year institution.  Out of the hundreds of students I have worked with at Bottom Line, I can count on one hand the number who have successfully transferred from a community college and received a bachelor’s degree within six years–so these students are the exception, not the rule.

In order for students to transfer to a four-year college, they must be successful at the start of their two-year college experience, and this is often not the  case. Getting to the Finish Line: College Enrollment and Graduation, a report by the Boston Private Industry Council and Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that tracks graduation data from the Boston Public High Schools’ Class of 2000, found that only 12.5% of students who enrolled in a two-year public college directly after high school obtained any kind of college degree within seven years. With this rate, it’s no surprise that counselors and college professionals are hesitant to recommend starting the college experience at a two-year institution.

Massachusetts ranks 47th on the National Student Clearinghouse’s report with only 23% of four-year college graduates getting their start at a two-year institution.  While there may be a variety of reasons for this, in my experience, students in MA often have a negative association with attending a two-year college that doesn’t as appear to be a prevalent in a states like Texas, where 78% of four-year college graduates start out at a two-year school.  The students in our program that enroll at a community college are usually doing so because they did not get accepted anywhere else and are often discouraged before they begin due to the stigma and low graduation rates at many of these institutions.

Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense for certain students to start off at a community college.  Ideally, these schools offer an affordable option for students needing remedial academic support, and a safe place for students to explore whether or not college is the right path for them.  Financially, a student can complete general education requirements at a community college for around  $4,000 per year and it can be covered by a Pell Grant. Academically, students unprepared for Bachelor’s degree level coursework are better off beginning their college experiences at a community college where credits are more affordable and remedial academic support is offered.  Because so many of the students entering community college are those needing remedial support, however, their path to getting a degree is a long one.

As tuition and fees continue to skyrocket at four-year institutions across the state, more students are going to need to explore creative ways to obtain a college degree.  I for one look forward to the day when more students can begin their college careers at two-year institutions.  It would save them money and often could save them time, but until there is a shift in the stigma associated with Community College this will not likely be the case.  In order to change the perception, we must start seeing more positive results in graduation and transfer rates at these institutions.  While the northeast is often looked upon as leading the way in higher education, this seems to be a clear example of where we have a lot to learn from the states to our south and west.


–  Sarah Place

Director of Curriculum and Training


Cross-posted at Aspire Wire: Ideas, Conversation, Action on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Meet Hermese Velasquez, our December Alumni Spotlight!

Hermese Velasquez is currently a Business Analyst at Arbella Insurance. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Certificate in Business Analysis from George Washington University and plans to attend business school in the near future. Hermese is originally from Belize and came to Boston at the age of 11.  She enjoys traveling to warm climate countries, trying new foods, spending time with family and catching up with friends.

High School: John D. O’Bryant

College: UMass Amherst

Graduation Year:

Job: Business Analyst at Arbella Insurance Group

Bottom Line Memory: Visiting UMass Amherst with the Bottom Line

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with: Trader Joe’s Almond Vanilla Granola Clusters and Eucerin Body Lotion (weird combination but I couldn’t start my day without either!)

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line: I support and believe in Bottom Line’s mission and values. I stay involved with Bottom Line because they not only believe the people in my community can beat the odds but they ensure that they do.

People would be surprised to learn that I used to: Write for the O’Bryant newspaper

The BEST part of being in college was: Spending a semester abroad

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is: Cooking, though the food wasn’t always great in college, at least I didn’t have to cook.

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by: Donate if you’re able to, if not support with your time and skills.

Success Counselor Kira Terrill talking with a student at our Worcester Office

It’s hard for my First Year students to believe that the Fall 2012 semester is almost over! With that disbelief also comes the students’ awareness that their grades may not be as good as they were in high school. Many students really struggle with the transition from high school level to college level work.  Luckily, Bottom Line students have their counselors to really help guide them through the transition.  Bottom Line addresses this issue by providing summer programming and has developed specific tools to help our students find success during their critical first year.

Our summer transition program includes both group workshops and one-on-one meetings. One workshop on time management always seems to be especially eye-opening. After adding classes and study time to a weekly schedule, counselors bombarded students with different responsibilities and activities that also needed to be taken care of, on top of all of their studying and homework!  I can remember one student shouting “I don’t have time for all of this extra stuff!” Although a little early, it was an easy way for students to prepare for things they were about to face during their first (and every other) year of college. Some students immediately internalize the lesson and others need more reinforcing once they arrive on campus.

This fall, I’ve been working with many First Year students on improving their time management and study skills. I have 38 First Year students at four different colleges and have had 196 campus meetings and phone follow-ups this fall.  Additionally, I met with over 50% of my First Years who felt like they needed extra support for time management and test prep strategies meetings. Simply reading over notes doesn’t really cut it on college exams. My students and I have worked together to create study plans tailored to each of their exams, as well as their learning needs. With some students, I can simply suggest recopying and summarizing notes or making flashcards for vocabulary words. With other students, they may need to draw diagrams, attend tutoring and office hours, and form study groups. Helping students create these study plans and break down when things need to be done, makes the task of studying a little less daunting. Showing students how to put in a little extra effort and attack problems from different directions to make success possible shows the value of our meetings to my students and is why I love working for Bottom Line.


– Kira Terrill

Success Counselor

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Since the start of the school year, our Success Counselors have traveled to 20 campuses across Massachusetts to meet one-on-one with all of our 1,300 students. Liz Hood, a second-year Success Counselor, reflects on a busy month of the school year…

In the month of September, I had ninety-one campus meetings and traveled a total of four hundred and thirty-two miles to visit students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston College and Wentworth Institute of Technology. Despite that seemingly never-ending stretch of I-90 between Worcester and the exit off to Amherst (I went to Smith College and the Pioneer Valley will always hold a place in my heart) one of the things that I enjoy the most about being a Bottom Line Success Counselor is the ability to support students on campus and in person. A standard meeting that takes place in September is the first year check in meeting. This forty-five minute meeting addresses issues related to academics, campus life, financial aid and anything else that may arise.

Last month, I met with all of my first year students on their own campuses.  By being on campus I am able to more effectively connect students to the resources that are available to them and encourage them to advocate for themselves. First year students are often times intimidated by the idea of asking for help. The other day I met with a student who had an unresolved issue with her bill and she did not know where to go or what to ask.  We discussed her bill issue and acted out the conversation in a quick role-play, and I walked over with her to the bursar’s office.  She was able to resolve the issue on the spot. Another student I met with was struggling in Chemistry class, but did not know where to go for extra help.  We went to the tutoring center together and he signed up to meet with a tutor once a week.

I really enjoy working with first year students; I get to watch as students see the world opening up to them.  There is so much optimism and excitement as they begin to figure out who they want to be and what they want to do. I strongly believe that campus visits play an integral role in strengthening counselor-student relationships and demonstrate to students that Bottom Line is really invested in their success and wants to see them excel.

Liz Hood

Bottom Line Success Counselor

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Students Celebrate Start of College at Send-Offs

On August 14 and 15, hundreds of students in Bottom Line’s Success Program celebrated the beginning of their college careers at Success Send-Off events in Worcester and Boston. On the 14th, 75 Worcester students gathered at Hanover Insurance’s national headquarters to get to know their new college classmates and participate in team-building exercises. On the 15th, over 200 Boston students converged on Hill Holiday’s high-rise offices for a night of celebration and reflection.

Two future Framinham State Alumnae

At both Send-Offs, students were grouped into teams according to the college they will attend, giving them an immediate support network of peers when they arrive on campus. The groups were led by their Success Counselors, who support the students throughout their college careers. Students also received t-shirts representing their individual college and ate dinner with their new classmates. At the end of the evenings, teams competed to create and perform the best school cheer, and gift cards for textbooks were raffled off.

At the Boston Send-Off, Robert Lewis, Jr., Vice President for Program with The Boston Foundation, gave a rousing speech encouraging students to live up their potential and to work with their Success Counselors.

“Knowing that you have someone from Bottom Line here, knowing that you’re coming here with other great students that are your support network…the shot you have to succeed is great,” said Mr. Lewis.

At the Worcester Send-Off, Yuisa Peréz Chionchio, Advanced Placement Coordinator for Worcester Public Schools and member of Bottom Line Worcester’s Advisory Board, stressed how college can help students become America’s future leaders.

Bridgewater State and UMass-Lowell were well-represented

“You are future CEOs, politicians and educators like myself,’ said Ms. Chionchio. “You guys are going to college that is your solid foundation. Bottom Line is going to help you to succeed in that.”

Students left the Send-Offs energized and hopeful. And, when they need support, as Mr. Lewis reminded students, “Bottom Line is only a phone call away.”

See video of Robert Lewis’ speech>>

See video of Yuisa Perez Chionchio’s speech>>

For Class of 2012 high school seniors, the past month has been full of college decisions. After months of hard work and waiting, students finally get to survey their options and choose a college that suits them. At Bottom Line, we spend a lot of time talking about “finding a fit” – meaning a college that meets a student’s academic, financial, career, and personal needs. Affordability is an integral part of this discussion. By enrolling in a college that meets their financial needs, a student can complete a degree without accumulating an excessive amount of debt. In many cases, Bottom Line advises students to enroll in full-need schools, such as College of the Holy Cross and Tufts University, or state schools, such as UMass Boston and Worcester State University, which have a low cost of attendance.

Ariana Campos of University Park Campus School in Worcester (below) is just one student who, we are proud to say, has found her fit! After getting accepted to all 9 of the schools she applied to, and after looking over her award letters with Bottom Line, she was glad to find out that she can graduate debt-free from Harvard University. We are excited to help all 785 seniors from Massachusetts and New York choose a school in the coming weeks.

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Earlier this month, students, staff, volunteers, supporters, and corporate and community leaders gathered at The Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston to celebrate 15 years of helping students get into college, graduate from college, and go far in life. College students Yaritza Peña, Melissa Peña, Julie Rorie, and Joe Rowell spoke of the challenges that they have overcome to succeed in college and their experiences growing up in Boston and participating in Bottom Line. Bentley University President Gloria Larson reminded us of the need for a college-educated workforce and the benefits of providing services to students on campus. The event also honored USA Funds CEO Carl Dalstrom for his ongoing commitment to low-income and first-generation students; Senior Vice President of Access and Outreach Bob Ballard accepted an award on Dalstrom’s behalf. Because of the generous support from the attendees and sponsors, $550,000+ was raised to help low-income and first-generation students complete a college degree. Thank you to everyone who continues to provide students from our community with the guidance they need to reach their full potential.

As part of the event’s programming, we presented this video, which shares some students’ thoughts and experiences about college and Bottom Line.

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