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NCAN Alumni Spotlight: Recognizing 25 Years of Progress and Student Achievement

Tuesday, August 18, 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 features the stories of outstanding alumni who have come through our member organizations over the years.

JWells, Ph.D., Denver Scholarship Foundation Alum

Jazmine Wells, known professionally as JWells, is an alum of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, where she became a DSF Scholar while attending Colorado State University–Pueblo. She served as the lead peer tutor/mentor in DSF’s inaugural year of its Retention program at CSU–Pueblo, impressing everyone with her commitment to fellow Scholars.

JWells earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, and currently serves as the Assistant Director of Lower Division Writing at UT Austin’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing.


Linwaun Fulton, Crosby Scholars Community Partnership Alum

As a Crosby Scholar, Linwaun Fulton’s passion for service was clear to everyone. He never missed a Saturday service activity, and was always recruiting other kids to get involved.

After Linwaun graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a bachelor's in English, he worked in the Carolina Advising Corps, where he met with seniors at three Warren County high schools to provide guidance through the college application process. Eventually, Linwaun returned to Crosby Scholars to work as a senior adviser, while also working part time at Wake Forest University as a financial aid counselor.

The common thread throughout Linwaun’s career? His commitment to access and opportunity for higher education.


Zachary Lane, Partnership for the Future Alum

Zachary Lane’s mother and stepfather always stressed the importance of education. Although neither of them attended college, they reminded Zachary that no one could ever take his education from him.

Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Zachary joined Partnership for the Future and took advantage of all PFF had to offer, including an internship with the McGuireWoods law firm for three summers. PFF awarded Zachary with the Horatio Alger Scholarship, which supported him through college. Although his stepfather and mother both passed away while he was in high school, Zachary went on to James Madison University and the University of Memphis for his B.S. and M.S., respectively.


Zelalem Alabo, CollegeTracks Alum

After applying to and attending a fly-in program at the University of Rochester, Zelalem Alabo set his sights on making his dreams come true. He got his degree in digital media studies, and partnered with Upward Bound for his capstone project: a three-workshop series dedicated to exposing underrepresented high school students to photography, videography, and DJing. He created the promo materials, facilitated the workshops, and built a website to display the students’ work.

Knowing what CollegeTracks did for him, it was important for Zelalem to reach back and bring a slice of his college expertise to his community.


Jennifer Covahey, CollegeBound Foundation Alum

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 â€“ 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.


Michelle Y. Bess, Degrees of Change Alum

Michelle Y. Bess currently serves as the global diversity, equity, and inclusion director at Sprout Social. She also serves as the board chair at Degrees of Change – the first-ever alum from any of Degrees of Change’s programs to hold that role. Michelle credits the same organization for making that investment in developing her own leadership skills years ago. It’s propelled her to incredible heights, including recognition in 2018 as AdWeek’s Rising Brand Star Changing the Landscape of Chicago.

Michelle's commitment to DEI is not only rooted in wanting better opportunities for herself, but for her family and those who can see themselves reflected in her.


Elsa Martinez-Pimentel, uAspire Alum

Elsa Martinez-Pimentel’s journey with uAspire (formerly known as ACCESS) began with her own ACCESS adviser and the ACCESS Last Dollar Scholarship, which helped support Elsa’s way to a college degree. Thirteen years ago, Elsa joined the uAspire team as a financial aid adviser, moving up the ladder to where she now works as uAspire’s Massachusetts regional director, overseeing the organization's largest regional office.

Elsa has also represented uAspire in Washington, D.C., on numerous occasions, to share her own college experience and those of the students supported by uAspire. During the Obama Administration, Elsa partnered with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics to host webinars for Hispanic students and their families about paying for college.

Her passion for and experience in college access and success run deep.


Joseph 'Joe' Palombo, Scholarship America Alum

Joseph "Joe" Palombo is an alumnus of the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, managed by Scholarship America. Joe believes in the power of a scholarship to change a life – a power that he and his siblings experienced firsthand after facing unimaginable tragedy.

Joe lost his father, a New York City firefighter, on 9/11. The Families of Freedom Scholarship fund was established days after 9/11 to help provide college funds for the children whose parents died or were permanently disabled. As one of 10 siblings, Joe and his family could worry a little less about the future – all the Palombo siblings were able to attend college with the Fund’s support.

Sadly, Joe lost his mother to colon cancer. Losing both parents made Joe realize life is precious, and with that precious time, he should help others reach their dreams – just as Families of Freedom helped him. He currently serves on the board of trustees for Scholarship America and volunteers with Tuesday’s Children, where he mentors participants in the program and served as co-chair of the Junior Board.


In spring 2020, Kaila Holloway found herself in the same boat as millions of students across the country. As a second-year medical student, her classes were now all online.

When she was a young girl, Kaila knew she wanted to become a doctor. Growing up in New Orleans, Kaila would visit her grandmother at the hospital, where she worked as registered nurse. On Kaila’s visits, it did not take long for her to realize there were no female doctors who looked like her. So, Kaila made it her mission to change the narrative.

After graduating from Howard University in Washington, D.C., Kaila returned to New Orleans to pursue her M.D. at Louisiana State University. While Kaila has faced tragedy and loss in her journey through college, she is determined to be the representation for the next generation of Black doctors to come.


In 2010, Danjuma Quarless graduated from Whitworth University as the institution’s first bioinformatics major. Danjuma always had an innate curiosity for life and the world around him. College supported that curiosity, providing an environment to research, discover, and challenge.

After completing his Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego, Danjuma began working at AbbVie Inc., a pharmaceutical company.

And as Danjuma says himself: “People are seldom successful in isolation.” He, too, had a mentor through Act Six – a program at Degrees of Change – who would not let him give up after one failure early in college.


After working at a handful of peer organizations, including BUILD, PeerForward, and College Success for Chicago Scholars, Loreal Latimer says that if she were to return “home” to OneGoal, “It would have to be a leadership capacity so that I could flex my skills.”

She currently serves as OneGoal’s director of program innovation, but she knows firsthand how the organization supports students and helps them succeed – having been one of those students herself as a OneGoal Fellow!


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