For many college students, particularly those who are first in their families to attend college, the goal is simple: Do whatever it takes to earn the right to walk across that stage.
It’s a glorious moment filled with tears and cheers as families and friends see a student’s hard work and sacrifice pay off. No matter how many graduations you attend, witnessing this moment never gets old. But before students reach that moment, we have to make sure their degree is the ticket to the success they want it to be.
That journey begins with a rigorous K-12 education. Nearly half of all Black children who begin kindergarten do not graduate from high school. Of those who enroll in college, only 40 percent finish within six years.
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) continues to provide the resources necessary for students to get to and through college and we are also partnering with reform-minded organizations that understand how important it is for students to get the best education, before college, to enable them to succeed in college. Currently, we sponsor more than 15 professional development programs to help students gain a competitive edge in securing career opportunities beyond graduation and become high-performing professionals.
One of our premier programs is our annual Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., which offers a forum for equipping college students with the skill sets they will need to be successful as interns and early-career professionals. The progam helps ensure that students of color know what opportunties are available and provides them with the skills and confidence to pursue those opportunities.
We are currently recruiting for the Walton-UNCF K-12 Education Fellowship Program (UNCF.org/Walton), which selects undergraduate juniors from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to participate in leadership development and a paid intern placement in innovative K-12 education reform enterprises. The components include: a paid summer internship, participation in the leadership conference, career coaching, alumni networking and mandatory participation in the Education Reform Case Competition to strengthen critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills. It’s been named one of the top 10 fellowships for summer 2018 by ProFellow.com, a source of information for professional and academic fellowships.
UNCF now has had nearly 200 undergraduates and alumni who have gained exposure into ways in which they can use their degrees to support K-12 education and how they can make their voices heard as advocates for all students. Some have gone directly into teaching. Others have gone to law school or graduate school. We are not just providing them with a fellowship, but an opportunity to grow and achieve success in the education reform field.
UNCF helps students to realize their full potential. We remind them: You are coming from a reputable university. Participating education reform organizations are not just giving you an opportunity, but they are also benefiting from your valuable education, talents and experiences. You can learn to speak their language while bringing forward your authentic self.
Visit https://www.uncf.org/pages/Applying-for-Scholarships-and-Grants to learn more about the Walton-UNCF Fellowship and other internship opportunities.
Lomax is president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. Follow him on Twitter @DrMichaelLomax.