Last week, we introduced you to Debra Harris, Exadel’s New Sales and Business Development Manager, and mentioned that she volunteered with Students Rising Above (SRA), a Bay Area non-profit that empowers first-generation college students.
About Students Rising Above
Debra has been volunteering with SRA for over 10 years. SRA invests in low-income, first-generation college students who have demonstrated a deep commitment to education and strength of character. These students are typically overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness, and neglect. SRA helps each student realize their potential by guiding and supporting them through their entire collegiate lives: from applications to graduation to entering the workforce.
The SRA graduates are breaking the cycle of poverty within their own families, serving their communities, providing a new generation of employees and leaders from diverse backgrounds, and accelerating positive change.
As Debra explains, “these kids in the SRA program are capable and smart, but they come from situations that could make it hard for them to succeed. SRA gives them the opportunity, as well as the extra knowledge and experience they need to successfully achieve this dream. As these kids move on, and through into adulthood, they tend to give back to their communities. That is a huge reward to everyone.”
First Mentoring Experience
After working with the supply-gathering side of the organization for several years, Debra was asked to consider mentoring one of their new students, a five-year commitment.
Of her first mentoring work, Debra said: “I took on a high school girl who was starting her senior year at a West Oakland school. She had been accepted into the SRA program based largely on doing well in school in spite of having exceptional home problems. She had no relatives who had ever been to college. I became her personal access to someone with college experience and a different social knowledge that she might be able to put to good use. She went to UC Santa Cruz.”
The process of mentoring often relies on getting to know your student (lunch, walks, baseball games, etc.). In Debra’s case, she took her student to visit several of the colleges she was accepted to and helped her student to acclimate to college life.
“We would talk about her college decision. As time went on, I helped her sort through some roommate problems she had at the dorm and what college major to pursue. Much of it was just listening while she sorted it out,” she said.
The most rewarding aspect of the volunteer work, according to Debra, is being able to work directly with the students.
“There is a lot these students want to know about college, dorms, classes, growing, graduating, and working. I can be a source for them. I get to SEE the fruit of my labor blossom and grow,” she said.
At Exadel, we’re proud to foster a workplace culture that encourages employees to give back: Lynne Walter, our CFO, and Donna Burke, our VP of Technology Solutions also volunteer with SRA. Thanks to mentors like Debra, Lynne, and Donna, SRA has been able to increase the number of students being mentored from ten per high school graduating class, when Debra began volunteering, to 110 students per class last year.