Beyond the Classroom: Supporting TMA Alumni in College

Although many high schools measure their success by the percentage of students accepted to college, Thurgood Marshall Academy – whose mission is to prepare students to succeed in college, not simply to be accepted – has an Alumni Support Program to ensure that our graduates are able to fulfill the school’s mission.

Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programs, and Emma Levine, Alumni Program Manager, often travel to university campuses around the country to check in with TMA alumni. Earlier this month, they traveled to upstate New York to visit Taylor Middleton (Syracuse University ‘16), Earica Parrish (Syracuse University ‘17) and De’Sean Suarez (Union College ‘14).

They toured the college campuses, spoke with admissions counselors and connected with alumni over dinner. It was an opportunity to hear from alumni about challenges and obstacles they face as first year college students. “We help them decode financial aid packages, offer strategies to self-advocate for more resources, to get through to professors, or give them feedback on a thesis,” said Mr. Mitchell.

TMA’s Alumni Support Program is a rare continuing support feature. As Earica noted, “I know a lot of students who graduated and their high schools did not offer any further support for them in their college endeavors. Not only [does TMA] help us get to college, but they provide us with as much support as they can to help us to stay in college.”

Mr. Mitchell added, “You find alumni programs more often at private schools.” However, Alumni Support Programs are particularly important for students from urban and low-income environments, since many are first in their family to attend college. In addition, many alumni don’t receive the same campus visits from friends and family as many of their college classmates because of the financial burden of travel costs. The visits, said Ms. Levine, “means a lot for the alumni to have us come up. It maintains connections to DC and shows students that we care.”

Heading into the home stretch of her first semester at Syracuse University, Earica credits the recent visit with Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Levine for giving her a confidence boost as she delves into her term papers and final exams: “This was definitely the support I needed to get myself motivated to join more clubs and gain confidence in my academic abilities,” she said.

Beyond emotional support and valuable advice, TMA’s Alumni Program helps ensure that alumni have all the resources they need for a successful semester. For Taylor, this has included financial assistance covering a portion of costly college textbooks and for travel to and from Syracuse for school holidays.

Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Levine both connect alumni visits to their work as college and alumni counselors. “The Alumni Program is not just visiting students,” says Mr. Mitchell, “but also experiencing different colleges and making new connections at schools that our current students are interested in. If we can meet with admissions representatives there and see the campus, we’re better able to guide current students through our first-hand knowledge of the school environment and culture.”

The Alumni Support Program has several additional trips scheduled for the rest of the school year, including visits to University of Maryland, College Park; Marshall University and Fairmont State University in West Virginia; and Penn State in Altoona. These schools represent just a fraction of the colleges and universities where Thurgood Marshall Academy’s alumni are pursuing college degrees. “If we had more resources,” says Mr. Mitchell, “we would visit every single graduate during their first or second year of college.”