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NCAN Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Covahey, CollegeBound Foundation Alum

Friday, July 24, 2020  
Posted by: Carm Saimbre, External Relations Associate
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The college access and success field is old enough that classes of students we’ve supported have graduated and are now creating the change we want to see in the world. As NCAN marks 25 years of progress in the effort to close equity gaps in higher education, our Alumni Spotlight series will feature the stories of outstanding alumni who have come through our member organizations over the years.

At a time such as this, we believe it’s still important to share the success stories of the students our members serve. We hope you enjoy the series and this week’s alumni.

Jennifer Covahey graduated from Baltimore City Public Schools in 2004 – the first high school graduate in her family. She went on to participate in the Incentive Awards Program (IAP) at the University of Maryland, College Park, becoming the first college graduate in her family, too.

After graduation, Jennifer returned to CollegeBound Foundation – the same place that supported her when she was in high school – as an adviser. Jennifer now serves as the director of college success as CollegeBound Foundation, where she oversees all college completion initiatives and a scholarship program for over 600 Baltimore City public school graduates.

Read more about Jennifer’s story below.

Note: the responses below have been lightly copy edited for clarity.

Tell us a story of how a mentor or counselor helped you on your journey to earn your postsecondary degree/credential.

Being a first-generation college student I did not know how to navigate the college process. During sophomore year of high school, I met my mentor and she dramatically changed my life. She knew students from inner-cities typically score much lower on their SATs and immediately signed me up for SAT tutoring. She also understood the importance of college fit and took us on campus visits. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have known to apply for financial aid or scholarships. She helped me through the process of achieving a full scholarship to University of Maryland, College Park. Without her my college journey would have been a lot more challenging.

As a student, what hurdles did you face while getting your postsecondary degree/credential?

I faced many challenges while attending college. The biggest challenge was transitioning to college classes and the rigor of the courses. Going to an inner-city high school, I felt extremely underprepared entering college. This caused me to feel inadequate, leaving self-doubt and thoughts of dropping out.

My mentor helped me find resources on campus to help my writing and math skills. They also encouraged me to utilize my professor office hours, which really helped.

Why was it important for you to get your postsecondary degree/credential?

Neither of my parents have a high school diploma but they understood the importance of education. Coming from a blue-collar household I saw how hard my parents struggled financially. They instilled in me that getting a college degree would help me avoid the struggles they faced.

What inspires you to work in your field?

I am truly humbled to help students from the inner-city reach and get through college. I know what it means to have people who understand your situation and know the resources available. I believe more students would attend college if it was affordable and they knew it was an option. It is my goal to help as many students understand that.

In light of COVID-19, it’s important for students to hear words of encouragement from those who were in their shoes not long ago. What advice would you give to students right now?

We are truly in unprecedented times, and I understand sometimes we may want to quit college. I am here to tell you we will all get through this together. Please utilize your resources and community to do whatever it takes to stay the course and finish college. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, but the first step is to ask.

Five years from now, you will look back and be proud of everything you overcame. You will realize just how much this time helped you grow and learn as a person.

What drew you back to CollegeBound Foundation?

I graduated college during the Great Recession, and there weren’t many job opportunities. I learned CollegeBound was hiring and chose to give it a try. Ten years later, I couldn’t image myself doing anything else. This is another reason I believe everything happens for a reason.

Why is it important to you to give back to CollegeBound Foundation?

I truly believe in the mission of CollegeBound and to get students to and through college. Most of the students we serve are from lower-economic homes and I believe education is the way the way out of poverty. I also feel students should be aware of all resources available to them to help make college a success (i.e., financial aid, scholarships).

How have you seen the college access and success fields change?

College access and success fields have definitely progressed in my last 10 years. As for college access, I’ve seen more colleges become test-optional, free community college, change of the SAT, enacting prior-prior year for FAFSA, and so on. All of these changes help students from inner-cities to go college.

With college success, the amount of mental health, multicultural, and overall resources have increased significantly for underrepresented students. This has helped increase college retention and graduation, which is the main goal.

Read More Alumni Spotlights: