News: Member News

NCAN Alumni Spotlight: Loreal Latimer, OneGoal

Wednesday, September 9, 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.

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!

Read more about Loreal’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.

Throughout my college career, I was always very resourceful as I knew that I wouldn’t be able to complete my degree alone. While in college, I had a couple mentors back home and on campus who supported me.

One that sticks out in particular was extremely helpful due to her hands-on nature. This mentor would invite me to dinner, transparently reflect on my academic performance with me without judgement, and she stuck by my side throughout all of college.

All of this support was essential toward my ability to cross the finish line.

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

As a student, I faced many hurdles and obstacles. I struggled with balancing academics and the social and emotional component, especially because I was a first-generation student attending a predominantly white institution. Financially, I struggled as well and had to consistently work a part-time job to send money home to support my family. There were a few semesters where I was on academic probation, and even after graduating, I struggled to obtain a physical copy of my degree due to an outstanding balance on my student account.

I do not believe I was prepared for what I experienced in college, but I had support as I navigated through each of these obstacles from my network and family.

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

I knew very early on into high school that in order for me to escape the realities of my neighborhood, I needed to go to college. I also remember my program directors from OneGoal saying that 8% of students by the age of 25 are expected to get a postsecondary degree and that people who do get a degree make, on average, $1 million more than people who earn a high school diploma in their lifetime. I knew I wanted to be a success story.

Finally, I come from a family of 10, and only one of my siblings went to college at the time I started the process of applying. Seeing what her experience was like inspired me to want to go and finish.

What inspires you to work in your field?

The possibilities of the future generations not having to struggle from an access or opportunity perspective inspires me. I want to make sure the next generation knows that there are no ceilings for them outside of the ones they create for themselves and have a role in shattering those ceilings firsthand.

I believe we owe it to the next generation to ensure they can just exist without inequities for simply being.

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?

It doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish! Every part of your story does not define you and impose limits on how far you can go! When things feel tough or you feel stuck, remind yourself of who you are and how far you’ve come. Know that there are more people in this world who want you to succeed than haters.

A handful of the alumni nominations we received are for people who currently work at the organization that supported them when they were in high school or college! What drew you back to OneGoal?

What drew me back to OneGoal were my experiences working at other organizations and observing OneGoal become a leader in the college access and success space from afar. I was always moved and blown away by the uniqueness of the model and how quickly so many students were being impacted by it.

After working at a few peer organizations, I knew that if I was going to come “home,” it would have to be in a leadership capacity so that I could flex my skills. I didn’t want to apply to just any role or use my status as an alum to provide me with any shortcuts in the process. I applied for the role of director of postsecondary support, and no one on the interview committee knew I was an alum until I was offered a position.

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

I’ve seen the college access and success field change in being more inclusive of the intersectionality of the students targeted for services. I’ve seen the field change in redefining what success looks like in postsecondary education and what counts as a postsecondary credential. I’ve lastly seen the field change in delivery of content in ways that allow for more students to access it.

Why is it important to you to give back to OneGoal?

It’s not as important for me to give back to OneGoal as it is for me to contribute to the fight for equity at large. The fact that I get to do so with OneGoal is an added bonus. I do acknowledge the ways in which this organization gave me opportunities, but I feel obligated to show up for the future generations and do everything I can to eliminate the systemic barriers to their self-actualization with or without OneGoal.

I do the work with OneGoal because I know the organization puts people first, and as an alum of this program, there were so many times where I didn’t see possibility and I had countless people speak life into me. I will never forget those moments and it is the memories of those moments that fuels my passion as I show up to work every day.

Read more stories of incredible alumni who have come through NCAN member organizations.