CollegeBound Elects an Alum, Alicia Wilson, to Serve as Board Chair For the First Time
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Posted by: Lindsay Broderick, Staff Writer
NCAN member CollegeBound Foundation is a college access and success organization that helps Baltimore City public schools students enroll in and graduate from college. Additionally, the organization strives to improve Baltimore’s economy by increasing access to higher education and creating a more educated workforce.
Last year, CollegeBound announced a new chair for its board of directors: Alicia Wilson (pictured right). Ms. Wilson, an alum of CollegeBound, first joined the organization’s board in 2008.
NCAN spoke with Ms. Wilson and CollegeBound’s executive director, Cassie Motz, regarding Ms. Wilson's contributions to CollegeBound and where the two plan to take the organization in the future. The following is a record of an email correspondence that took place between NCAN staff and Ms. Motz.
What’s it like having a CollegeBound alum on the board of directors? How have Ms. Wilson’s previous experiences with CollegeBound and her unique perspective contributed to the organization's work?
Alicia is one of two CollegeBound alums on our board of directors. The other is Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott.
Alicia and Brandon bring unique perspectives to our board because as alums, they have experienced firsthand how CollegeBound advisers work directly with Baltimore City students and their families. They know the program's strengths (and weaknesses) and as board members can shape strategy to ensure that CollegeBound makes the biggest impact on Baltimore's next generation.
Alicia's election as our new board chair at the end of 2018 was particularly special because it was our 30th anniversary year. Alicia is the first alum to serve as board chair, as well as the first person of color and first woman.
Do you think bringing Ms. Wilson on has increased CollegeBound’s connections and reach within the Baltimore community?
Alicia's election as CollegeBound's board chair has absolutely increased CollegeBound's visibility in Baltimore and beyond.
During her first month as board chair, Alicia received a call from Michelle Obama, inviting Alicia to bring 150 students to Washington to hear Mrs. Obama speak as part of her book tour. At the beginning of the program, before Mrs. Obama took the stage, Alicia was one of five young leaders invited to speak on stage.
Our students were thrilled – you could hear the cheers from the Baltimore CollegeBound students throughout the arena! During her second month as board chair, Forbes magazine wrote an amazing profile of Alicia.
That's pretty incredible national exposure for CollegeBound in Alicia's first two months as board chair!
Alicia also has an enormous network within Baltimore. Many of her colleagues may know of CollegeBound, but have not worked directly with us until now. Alicia is generously introducing her friends and colleagues to CollegeBound.
What are some goals you have set for yourself and the organization going forward?
CollegeBound has both a college access high school-based advising component as well as a college success/retention component. We are looking to expand both parts of the organization. We also want to continue to expand our Alumni Association, which is now five years old.
The following is a condensed transcription of a conversation between NCAN staff and Ms. Wilson.
How did CollegeBound support you when you were a student? Is there a specific story or memory that really sticks out?
CollegeBound assisted me in a number of ways. First, it provided me with fee waivers to take standardized tests and college applications. Additionally, they took me on college tours, provided me with college counseling from ninth to 12th grade, and helped me acquire scholarships and other opportunities that really positioned me well to be able to go to college.
When I was in ninth grade, I had a desire to go to college but wasn’t sure if I could afford it. So I went to a trade school to get a good education but also have skills to start working right after high school. One day, a teacher at the trade school saw my report card, took me to the CollegeBound office and helped me get a fee waiver to take the SAT. I scored very well, and that really was a turning point in my life in many respects. That $45 fee waiver for the SAT really set me on a path where college was no longer a far-off dream, but more of a realistic option for me, and allowed me to focus on how I would pay for it in three years when I was graduating.
Two years later, as an 11th grader, I went on a college tour with CollegeBound to UMBC. Prior to that, I was planning on going to a very local school here in the city. During that tour I was able to meet Freeman Hrabowski during lunch, and that was a critical moment for me. He asked me the questions like: What are you reading? What’s your SAT score? What do you want to be? I remember at that time I told him I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. Having that experience sharing a meal with him and the other students from my trade school in the city was tremendously formative. I ended up attending UMBC on a full ride and became the first Truman Scholar in UMBC history.
What made you return to CollegeBound as a professional?
Once I graduated from college, I felt a burning desire to give to an organization and to young people in the way that I’ve been given to. Almost immediately after I graduated from college I started volunteering with CollegeBound. I would go to speak with students, go and speak at fundraisers to try and raise money for our kids, I would go and speak before the General Assembly or the City Council to advocate for the expansion of CollegeBound.
When I got into law school, I was invited to join the Lawyer’s Campaign for CollegeBound, which was a group of lawyers and law students and those in the profession that were focused on fundraising within the legal community for CollegeBound and college access.
Maybe two years after leaving law school, I was invited onto the board of directors of CollegeBound. That probably was the sweetest opportunity I had to give to an organization that had given so much to me and build out programs and policy and really learn the inner workings of corporate governance, but with an organization that I knew was touching the lives of kids in our city. So it wasn’t hard to return to CollegeBound; I sometimes say I never left it just because I understand how important the organization was in my life and, more importantly, in the lives of so many kids in the city.
What is your favorite thing about working with CollegeBound?
Literally, working with reasons to hope, and getting to see the fruit grow from the seed that we’ve planted. I get to see kids in ninth grade, 10th grade that are dreaming of going to college. And then, because of how long I’ve been with the organization, I’ve been able to see those same young people as lawyers and doctors and dentists and teachers and principals in the course of five or six years. Getting to see these kids grow is truly powerful.
What are some goals you have set for yourself and the organization to accomplish during your time there?
We have a couple of goals as a board when we look to the future of CollegeBound. And I think we’re really poised to achieve them at this moment in time. One is to expand CollegeBound across the district to serve as many schools as comprehensively as possible.
The second is supporting students to and through college, and driving them back to Baltimore to occupy the public and private institutions that make up the fabric of this city. We want to make sure when those kids go away for college they know they have a home right back here to fulfill all their hopes and dreams.
The third is making sure that we are continuing to grow in terms of how we support students through college, and honing in on those internships and experiences that add critical moments to their college experiences and help them succeed. Just the continued expansion and deepening of our work with retention in college and supporting those that need help getting through the challenges that are faced in college.
What advice do you have for others working in the college access and success field?
One, continue to be audaciously hopeful about our young people and their potential as you go into this field. Some of the challenges we face in the continued rise in cost of tuition, or the usefulness of the standardized tests that our young people are taking, and the psychological and social barriers to entry for underrepresented and marginalized groups that we know if they have the opportunity, they will perform well. Many times, the young people we serve need adults to believe in times when they doubt themselves, and so I just hope those who are working with our young people are hopeful and remain optimistic and act accordingly.
The second is to be creative when presenting and advocating for the young people trying to get into universities where many times they aren’t thought of as competitive candidates. We need to help our young people figure out a way to tell their stories in a way that really relates the rich education they had in life, being able to be resilient and knowing how to navigate very difficult spaces, and how that speaks to the grit that will allow for them to excel in college. And making sure that we don’t reduce the stories of young people who may have challenges to the challenges but rather to the strengths they demonstrate in the fact that they’ve been able to succeed despite those challenges.
NCAN congratulates Ms. Wilson on her new position. We are excited to witness the great work CollegeBound continues to do for Baltimore City public schools students.