When Daniella Arthurs was a student at Hartford’s Weaver High School, she began participating in the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education’s Career Beginnings program. She appreciated the opportunity to participate in workshops at various area colleges and universities, where guest speakers would offer insight into the wide variety of issues a student and their family would encounter when they applied to and eventually attended college.
Prior to her senior year in high school, Daniella was assigned a mentor, Pearl Shah, who met with her a number of times to help her prepare for such things as writing college application essays and studying for the SAT. Daniella was accepted to and attended Central Connecticut State University, and received her Bachelor’s degree in business management in 2014. During her time at CCSU, Daniella would check in with Pearl, Daniella sharing what she was doing in school and Pearl offering advice and support.
“My involvement with Career Beginnings was an incredibly valuable experience which helped me not only to prepare for applying and getting into school, but provide the support I needed to keep working to obtain a degree,” said Daniella, who is currently working toward a master’s in public administration at the University of Connecticut. “Having a mentor like Pearl was also important as she really made me feel like I could accomplish my goals.”
Now more than 200 first-generation students like Daniella from Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford and Manchester will receive support to help them not only get accepted into college, but to continue on and graduate, thanks to a three-year, $165,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education for its Career Beginnings Bridge program.
“We began the bridge and persistence program when we started to notice how many Career Beginnings students came back to us after high school graduation with many questions about getting to college,” said Martin Estey, executive director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. “A little research informed us that as many as 20 percent of college accepted students in Hartford DO NOT make it to college in the fall. We needed to do something and the Hartford Foundation has helped us address this need since 2012."
The grant is an extension of a previous Hartford Foundation grant, which supported the Bridge program in reducing the occurrence of “summer melt,” where students accepted into college fail to enroll after the summer following their high school graduation. The focus of the current grant is on helping students persist beyond initial enrollment. By extending the project for three more years through this grant, Career Beginnings will be able to measure graduation rates and the Bridge program’s influence on them.
“Many first generation college students who successfully enroll in college often struggle to make it through their first year and ultimately graduate,” said Pete Rosa, senior program officer at the Hartford Foundation. “This grant will allow Career Beginnings to provide their first-year college students with the supports and mentoring they need to continue and graduate.”
Career Beginnings offers students at 10 high schools in Hartford, Bloomfield and East Hartford workshops on the college admission paperwork process, one-on-one advising from staff, college visits, transition to college counseling, and pairing with volunteer mentors. With this grant, the program will also work with students through their first year of college studies.
“Prior to the Bridge program, we were constantly getting calls from students and their families seeking assistance with navigating the process of enrolling in college, getting financial aid and scheduling classes,” said Zakiya Edens, who serves as director of the Career Beginnings program. “The Bridge program helps first-generation college students and parents negotiate college and they have open access to our services, even on the weekends. Because the students have been working with Career Beginnings counselors during their junior and senior years in high school, they have developed trusting relationships and they know that the counselors are looking out for their best interests.”
According to Edens, the Bridge program has evolved over time to offer students additional services that better respond to their needs. Career Beginnings staff visits local campuses to get a better sense of the resources available to students and how to best access them. Career Beginnings recently hosted a workshop on college academic resources as well as various social groups and activities students might want to pursue. Career Beginnings is also working to educate students about available mental health services, as many college students experience a great deal of stress and anxiety during their transition to college life.