The November Orion Gives Back recipient is The College Initiative.
The College Initiative was founded by Gabriel Fotsing, who recognized the hurdles faced by first-in-family college attenders with no guidance counselors and no experience navigating the process of securing financial aid. He established TCI to provide college-capable, low-income high school students with the tools and mentorship they need to successfully apply to and succeed in college. The organization forms partnerships with school districts, energetic teachers, and college student volunteers to ensure that every student aspiring to go to college will have the opportunity to do so. Mr. Fotsing here gives us a glimpse into TCI’s achievements thus far and their hopes for the future.
Orion: We would love for you to tell us a story that will help our readers understand the impact TCI has in the Memphis community. Could you share with us one of your most memorable experiences surrounding a student that would be an example of this?
Mr. Fotsing: At The College Initiative, our motto is, “I’m able. It’s possible.” A few years ago, we had the pleasure of working with a young woman named Jasmine. When she started with us, her ACT score was 14, well under the score she needed to get into her dream college. Jasmine spent the next several months working with one of our program associates to complete the rigorous college preparatory curriculum we’ve designed for our students. We were beyond thrilled to learn that not only did Jasmine increase her ACT score 7 points, raising it to a 21, but she was also accepted at her top-choice school, Tennessee State University. These kinds of results are what’s possible for every high school student when they have the support and mentorship they need to succeed. Individuals like Jasmine are what keep us motivated to go above and beyond to help each and every TCI Scholar on their journey to and through college.
Orion: What’s the contribution or achievement of which you are most proud?
Mr. Fotsing: The growth we’ve experienced has been astonishing. Not only have we moved our headquarters downtown to Brinkley Plaza, but we’ve added 12 full-time staff to support our growth and expansion in the Mid-South and nationally as well. In 2014, our students earned over $5 million in scholarships and financial aid, and over 90% were accepted to more than 80 colleges and universities. We were also thrilled that two of our students were invited to attend the Beat the Odds Summit at the White House, where they were recognized for their accomplishments and commitment to their education.
Orion: What has surprised you most about working with TCI?
Mr. Fotsing: I’ve been most surprised by the willingness of each of our team members to go above and beyond for our students. Whether it’s responding to an anxious text message from a student at midnight, making sure a student has transportation to an important event, or creating opportunities for business professionals and community members to work with our scholars, everyone goes above and beyond to support our programs.
Orion: What do you wish other people knew about TCI?
Mr. Fotsing: While TCI has experienced substantial growth over the past three years, there is still an amazing amount of work to be done in our community. Currently, we partner with a one-third of high schools in Shelby County, but to do more, we must be more. That means hiring more program associates to work directly with our students each week in their high school; it means uncovering resources for our students to ensure that they go to their best-fit college with as much financial aid and as many scholarships as possible; it means connecting our students with community members and professionals to help them discover what’s truly possible when you have a dream and you work hard to make your dreams come true. The truth is, there’s a lot of work ahead for us, but we’re dedicated to our mission and up for the challenge!
Orion: What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating or volunteering to TCI?
Mr. Fotsing: If you care about closing the college attainment gap for underrepresented youth in our city, The College Initiative needs you. Whether you can support us through a monthly donation, volunteer for an event or as a mentor, or be an ambassador for the work we’re doing to promote equal access to education, there’s a place for you with us! Our mission is to provide college-capable high school students with the tools and mentorship they need to successfully apply to and succeed in college. You can help – contact us today! www.thecollegeinitiative.org