Vanessa Ferrer’s family moved around a lot while she was growing up. They couldn’t afford to stay in one place for very long. She struggled with English, but had to learn quickly to help her parents and start working at age 9.
“My parents always preached the importance of hard work and education but they couldn’t help me with my homework or saving money for college,” Vanessa said. “Their encouragement was all I needed because it fueled me to seek the resources elsewhere. That’s where College Possible came in.”
Vanessa built a family with her College Possible high school cohort and began to find her identity as someone who could go to college.
“My College Possible coach not only believed in me, but she made me feel capable, smart and she saw the potential in me that others didn’t,” Vanessa said.
In college, Vanessa turned to her coaches when she thought she may quit or fail as she faced the pressure of a competitive nursing program. They helped her connect with resources on campus at St. Catherine University, and they became her friends.
In December 2014 Vanessa graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing, earning her credential as a registered nurse and a job as a school nurse. Today Vanessa is working in a hospice facility and growing as a palliative care nurse.
“Students like me would never have been able to go to college if it weren’t for College Possible,” Vanessa says, “And the world would miss out on many talented professionals from diverse backgrounds who just needed someone who knew the college process to guide them.”
Vanessa, third from left, at college graduation.
Open doors, open opportunity
By Houa Lor
Both of my parents work two jobs. They make less than $25,000 a year. My dad has a high school diploma and my mom has completed elementary-level English language classes. It was their dream for me to go to college.
I almost didn’t make it. I had a very low GPA when I applied to join College Possible, but the coaches at Central High School took a chance on me. I came very, close to falling through the cracks.
I took on every opportunity that came my way, did everything that my coaches asked of me and never looked back. I got so much support from College Possible and I never lost sight of what I wanted to do or where I was going.
Houa at college graduation, with his College Possible mentors
My students and I came from similar situations and all of us shared one goal, which is going to college and paving the way out of poverty for ourselves, our family and generations to come.
I’m proud to say I graduated from Augsburg College in 2012 after serving as student body president, and I gave back by serving as a College Possible coach for 40 high school juniors. It was such a privilege to come back to the organization that gave me the chance to succeed.
Today I’m working at a nonprofit organization empowering low-income people by providing job training.
Engineering My Future
By Fushcia-Ann Hoover, M.S.E., PhD, Ecological Sciences and Engineering, Purdue University
As a woman of color in engineering getting my PhD, I am thrilled that I can set an example for other young women who are interested in pursuing a similar path but lack confidence in their ability to succeed.
Growing up, I lacked role models who looked like me and were interested in science or engineering. It was hard finding the confidence to pursue this path.
I had a lot of shame and self-doubt around being low-income and not having parents with college degrees. I was afraid of loans, the college process and not being accepted because of my background. I didn’t think I was smart enough.
College Possible changed that. Being part of College Possible made me realize I wasn’t alone. I formed a special bond with my peers over our shared desire to find a way to get to and afford college. It was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in that journey.
My College Possible coaches were like my big sister and brother, helping to show me new information and making the path a little easier. I am still in contact with my coaches today and they check in on me from time to time. They like to know that I’m doing well.
College was definitely hard for me. On top of the challenging course work, I struggled to find a place in my engineering program where I felt supported and accepted. Being the only woman of color in my cohort, and one of few coming from a low-income, first generation background only exacerbated my feelings of isolation and not belonging.
Had it not been for College Possible, I might never have done as well as I have.
In 2009, I received my bachelor’s degree from University of St. Thomas in mechanical engineering. In 2012, I was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship in Research. In 2013, I received my masters in science from Purdue University where I’m continuing to work toward my PhD in engineering.
Each degree has been a boost of self-confidence and provides a safety net for my future. No one can take away my education and the knowledge I’ve gained. This gives me something to hold on to that is mine, that is earned and that is irreplaceable.
I have learned that I am intelligent, strong and society benefits from my contributions.