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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In 2011, Bottom Line…

  • Guided 145 high school seniors and 91 college students from Worcester to and through college
  • Guided 493 high school seniors and 852 college students from Boston to and through college
  • Helped 137 new graduates finish college, which expanded our alumni network to include 608 individuals
  • Increased our lifetime graduation rate to 74%, which is nearly twice the typical graduation rate for students from Boston
  • Helped 97% of high school seniors who completed our College Access Program enroll in college this fall
  • Launched a third office in New York City and began to serve 125 high school seniors in Brooklyn

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters (that’s you!), students from low-income homes and the first generation of their families to attend college received the guidance they need to earn a college degree. With a college degree, these students are much more likely to obtain high-paying jobs, build meaningful careers, provide adequate care for their families, and become engaged members of their communities.

To read more about the incredible feats that you helped students achieve during the past year, download Bottom Line’s 2011 Annual Report or the Year in Review of our Massachusetts or New York programs.

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Last Wednesday, 100 guests joined us at Mechanics Hall in Worcester for our third annual Get In, Graduate, and Go Far Reception. Now in our fourth year of operation in Worcester, Bottom Line has continued to grow and expand: we serve 150 high school students and 165 college students locally. On Wednesday, we were lucky enough to hear the stories of two of those students, Crismel Calderon (a senior at Assumption College) and Fredery Muñoz (a first-year at College of the Holy Cross). Their stories of resilience remind us why we all support Worcester’s youth. Thank you to the Worcester community for helping us guide Crismel, Fredery, and hundreds of other determined students to and through college. Below are videos of Crismel and Fredery’s speeches.

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Throughout the country, thousands of students are walking across stages to accept a milestone for which they have worked tirelessly: their college diploma. The month of May marks the culmination of numerous study sessions, group projects, and research papers as well as the beginning of a new journey. Particularly for low-income and first-generation college graduates, this time is transformative.

Last week, Odalis Polanco, a new graduate of Northeastern University and Bottom Line’s College Success Program, was profiled on Boston.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  As a Torch Scholar and a Bottom Line student, Odalis demonstrates the determination that many students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds exhibit. To Odalis and the many other students graduating this month, congratulations. To the organizations, institutions, and individuals who supported these remarkable students, thank you.

Hear what Odalis says about working with Bottom Line…

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Mock Interviews at Bottom Line's 2009 Go Far Forum

In two weeks, Bottom Line will host the annual Go Far Forum, a student event that features a career fair, mock interviews, presentations from industry leaders, and (new this year) a networking reception. All the planning for this event has got us thinking, Why is it important to help college students with their professional development and careers? Below are four things Bottom Line focuses on helping students in our College Success Program with to promote their success after graduation.

1. Interviewing
With few exceptions, most undergraduates will never be assigned homework that requires them to undergo a professional interview—the kind where you have to answer abstract questions that indicate your work ethic and team-working abilities, wear a modest pencil skirt or tie, and generally present yourself as a polished and qualified individual. This just isn’t part of the curriculum for an engineering program or a humanities degree.

While some colleges require students to take a speech class where they learn how to speak confidently and make eye contact, promoting oneself to a potential employer can be remarkably different than giving a presentation in class. You need to be prepared to answer difficult questions, such as why a company should hire you over someone else, why you left your last job, and how your studies have prepared you for the industry. Unless they seek the advice of a mentor or their school’s career center, a college student will probably not be asked one of those questions until they land in a job interview. Furthermore, many jobs that students interview for prior to completing their degree don’t require the same preparation and skill set that an interview for a post-graduate job does.

2. Networking
College is a great place for learning how to mingle in social settings, but not necessarily professional ones. It’s possible to spend an entire college career traveling between class, a lax on-campus job, your dorm or home, and the occasional gathering with friends without experiencing a business social setting. This is another place—other than the job interview—where college students could develop the skills of tactful self-promotion and professional confidence. When a student leaves college, being able to network would greatly benefit their job search and general success in the business world.

3. Dressing Professionally
When you’re a teenager, you can get away with wearing an ill-considered outfit, even if you’re filing or answering phones in an office. But when you’re an adult with a college degree who is applying for jobs that require you to represent someone’s business, an employer will be looking for you to look the part. Most college students spend their days in jeans (if not their pajamas) and don’t necessarily have a reason to own an iron or lint remover. In fact, these details probably escape you when what you’re wearing is irrelevant to completing a 12-page paper or passing an exam. For this reason, exposure to a business setting can be important for college students to learn how to carry themselves professionally.

4. Exploring (Realistic) Post-Graduation Options
While professors may impart how your schoolwork will help you in the working world, it’s not always clear how spending twenty-something hours a week in a classroom translates to you being qualified to work in the field. For English or History majors, it may not even be clear what kinds of jobs you should pursue.

Exposing college students to their field through meaningful internships or introducing them to successful professionals can show them their options, give them a feel for what they may like to pursue, and allow them to make informed decisions when they graduate rather than searching blindly for a career path. Many college graduates would probably say it would have been nice to know which industries could use their talents, what the salary offerings are like, and how much more schooling they would need to land their dream job, prior to entering the working world. Information about what employers are looking for allows graduating seniors to set appropriate goals, whether that means attending graduate school to become a psychologist or climbing the career ladder from an editorial assistant to an editor in the publishing world.

While Bottom Line doesn’t expect to impart all of this wisdom to our college students in a 3-hour event, we hope that the 2011 Go Far Forum offers a great jumpstart for them to prepare for their careers. In the coming months, we will help our students write resumes and cover letters, apply for summer jobs and internships, and get one step closer to becoming confident professionals and pursuing fulfilling careers.

Jen Bees
Success Coordinator

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Greetings from UMass Lowell!

As a brand new target college for Bottom Line, UMass Lowell presents some unique challenges for college counselors. Our inaugural class here is comprised of eleven students, all of whom are first-years. Each student is assigned to one counselor, Rachel Smith, who has very busy days when she visits campus at least once a month.

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

For many of our students, going to college is a huge step and one that is not always easy to take. Our first-year students often require a lot of support and we devote a great deal of our time to making sure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Today we are on campus to make sure all of our students have a study plan for finals and have registered for spring semester classes.

I am on campus today to support Rachel so that we can see all eleven students. I just finished meeting with Jamal Grant who was one of my high school students last year. It was great to see Jamal. He just finished his first ever season of crew and enjoyed himself despite the early wake-ups and cold mornings on the Merrimack River. He is also doing well in classes despite a difficult major: Mechanical Engineering.

Many of our students here are majoring in engineering fields, which means lots of science and math classes. (As a political science graduate, this sounds awful to me!) But our students here are dedicated and doing their best to connect with the academic resources they need to succeed.

Since UMass Lowell was a new school for Bottom Line’s College Success Program, it was important for our staff to learn the campus and develop connections with the various academic and administrative departments so that we can best serve our students. Over the summer, a team of Bottom Line counselors visited UMass Lowell and met with representatives from a variety of offices, including Financial Aid, Health Services, Academic Support Services, and Career Services. The staff members we have met in these offices have proved invaluable over the course of this semester. Countless times, Rachel has given Christine Robbins a call to discuss a student’s financial aid issue or emailed Maureen Souza to help a student find a work-study job. Having people on campus who understand Bottom Line’s program and mission makes our jobs much easier because it allows us to get fast answers to student problems.

We’ll be checking in with our UMass Lowell students again after the semester ends to assess their progress and address any challenges they’re facing. Hopefully we will hear good news about their semester grades!

Check back soon for more updates from the field.

Justin Strasburger
Transition Coordinator

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In September, Bottom Line’s office began to fill with boxes. By exam season, our back room was teeming with snacks, branded dishes, empty mailing boxes, and turquoise crinkle paper. On October 27th, Bottom Line’s halls filled with the sounds of stuffing, taping, labeling, and the laughter of Bottom Line staff. In assembly-line style, we made care packages for our college students.

Care packages are one of the most revered parts of Bottom Line’s College Success Program, by staff and students alike. Last week, our office got to pause for an afternoon to package what we hope are the comfort and support our students needed to make it through their exams and midterm papers. After the last care package was wheeled away in a mail bin, the assembly line disbanded and we returned to checking emails, making calls, and meeting with students. Then the thank yous started coming in.

“I just got my care package! I totally love it! The package came right on time too… I just came out of an Orgo exam and the package made my night!” -Jen, Northeastern University

“Thank you so much for the care package that I got. It was such a nice surprise (I haven’t gotten any packages yet!). I’m already 90% done with the food that you sent me. Thanks!!” -Valerie, Boston College

“Thank you for the care package… I love the soup bowl and spoon! You guys are awesome. :)” -Leticia, Tufts University

While helping students plan study schedules, connect with tutors, and prioritize classwork during exam season is necessary, reminding them that there’s someone out there rooting for their success is just as important. That’s why we focus on delivering a “life” curriculum: our students need someone who can offer well-informed advice and the support and encouragement they need to get through the tough times.

Thank you to all our supporters and alumni who made it possible for us to send nearly 900 care packages this semester.

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Since the day that Bottom Line began supporting students it was obvious that just working with them through the college application process wasn’t good enough.  The at-risk students we help “get in” are far too likely to drop out of college before completing a degree. Consequently, we built our programming model to remain connected and supportive until our students graduate from college. Until now, it wasn’t clear how big of an impact our program was having.  A study released by Harvard Doctoral candidate, Kolajo Afolabi, has been able to take a comparative look at our work and the results are impressive. According to the study, students in Bottom Line’s College Success program are up to 43% more likely to graduate from college than their peers.

In 2002 Bottom Line made a few changes that set the stage for this study.  That year marks the moment that the demand for our access program had grown too large for us to support every high school senior in our College Success program. It was then that our Success program began to evolve to supporting students at what we call “Target Schools”.  These are the schools where the majority of our students attend.  They are the schools that tend to be more affordable than others – often public colleges and universities and all in Massachusetts.  This change created a unique ability to measure the graduation rates of the students who went on to our Target colleges vs. those who decided to attend another school.  The populations we are comparing, while not exactly the same, have much in common.  Furthermore we were able to control for variables including ethnicity, high school academic performance and type of college attended.

While I am not surprised that the students who joined our College Success program have done better, I am impressed at the size of the disparity between the groups. Students who remain in our program are up to 43% more likely to complete a college degree than those who receive our college access support and then do not join our college program.

Kolajo’s work will help demonstrate to others why it is so important to think of the college application process as a beginning and not the end.  Coupling his research with our day to day work reinforces our belief that “getting in is not good enough.”  Please read the full study or the executive summary, and let us know what you think.

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