Today, we’re happy to share 7 Questions answered by Dr. Rachel Mazyck, President of Collegiate Directions, Inc. Before joining CDI, Rachel spent two years as an assistant to the Chief Academic Officer in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Among other duties, she oversaw strategic planning, managed the budget, and coordinated the work of the academic departments. Rachel graduated with Highest Distinction and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After spending two years with Teach For America as a 4th grade teacher in Indianola, Mississippi, she earned a Master’s in Education Policy from Harvard. She then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a D.Phil. in Education for her research on the factors influencing African Caribbean families’ secondary school choices.
1. What motivated you to begin this organization (if you are the founder) or to begin working with it? What need does it fulfill and how are you (and your organization) working towards meeting it?
Only 11% of low-income, first-generation-to-college students graduate from college in 6 years. I joined Collegiate Directions, Inc. (CDI) because I passionately believe that students should have the opportunity to fulfill their academic potential, regardless of their socioeconomic status. CDI works with students from 11th grade all the way until college graduation. We help students with core academic and study skills, every step of the college application from developing a college list to essay writing, financial aid and scholarship applications and then we keep up with each of our students regularly until they graduate from college. In addition to all this, our trained counselors facilitate sessions on money management, career preparation, service opportunities, and internships, so that each student is prepared for success after college as well. It’s working! 98% of our Scholars have graduated in 6 years, and most do it in four.
2. What was your most interesting recent development, update, project, event, or partnership?
We’ve recently started an innovative partnership with E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in D.C. Our work at Haynes is two-fold: we are running our CDI Scholars program there, starting in the 10th grade, and we are also helping Haynes establish its college office by building the staff’s internal capacity to do college advising. We are excited to develop a replicable model for training counselors on college advising that we will be able to share more broadly in the future!
3. What other projects are you up to?
We have just launched our first official CDI alumni group. Thirty-four of our Scholars have graduated from college in the last 3 years, and in the next 3 years, that number will grow to over 100 alumni. One of our dynamic college graduates is leading the charge, with our support, to keep our alumni engaged, connected, and supported as they pursue their careers.
4. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?
Nina Marks, CDI’s founder, inspires me tremendously. I admire the way she translated her 37 years worth of expertise in college counseling into a private consulting business, and then transformed that experience into CDI, so that a broader range of students could benefit from her knowledge. I admire her skill, her savvy, her passion, and her tireless efforts on behalf of young people from different backgrounds.
5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances)? How are you working towards combating this issue?
CDI’s greatest challenge is maintaining the right pace to ensure success. We are committed to growing carefully, so that we can maintain the high-quality, tried and true services that support our Scholars to and through graduation. We are also committed to growing strategically, recognizing that the population of low-income, first-generation-to-college students who could attend selective schools is greater than many people realize. But we understand that, if it is to be effective, our work with students must be done in an individualized way.
6. What advice do you have for other people in your position? What’s your biggest take-away lesson you would tell others that you have gleaned from your experiences?
While having a big-picture view is absolutely essential for the success and growth of the organization, it is also important to maintain some ground-level connection to the work. The data must be complemented by our Scholars’ unique stories so that we remember why the work is important and how it should be done.
7. What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?
We continue to enhance our Scholar support – both in high school and college – with a revised curriculum that allows us to cover key content with our Scholars before they graduate. We are also expanding our program to the 10th grade, rather than 11th grade, to give us more time to work with our Scholars. As we develop the college office at Haynes, we are hoping to share college advising best practices more broadly.