Oliver Scholars: Providing a Pathway to Success

Posted By Terri Williams on July 27, 2017 at 7:54 am
Oliver Scholars: Providing a Pathway to Success

Students in underserved communities face numerous barriers that decrease their chances of achieving academic success. While some grapple with the roadblocks to paying for college, other students are sorely unprepared to make the academic leap from high school to college. The Oliver Scholars program is a nonprofit that identifies high-achieving black and Latino students and helps families navigate the financial aid process to allow them to attend some of the best independent schools and colleges in the country.

But money isn’t the whole story. Students also receive one-on-one support (which can last up to 10 years), in addition to after-school and summer coursework and pre-career training.

David Allyn, CEO of Oliver Scholars, tells GoodCall®, “Oliver Scholars is distinctive among access programs for its commitment to providing transition support for the whole family, developing students’ social-emotional skills, and instilling an ethos of giving back.”

Since the organization was founded in 1984, more than 1,100 students have graduated. Even more impressive, Allyn says, “Nearly 90 percent of Oliver alumni have attended U.S. News & World Report Top 100 colleges, and over 30 percent have attended Ivy League institutions.”

The Oliver Scholars process

Oliver Scholars partners with dozens of New York-based elite day schools (and one day school in Englewood, N.J.), and boarding schools in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and California.

There is no cost to students or their families, as the independent school partners award roughly $6 million to the scholars each year. “By removing economic and social barriers to achievement, Oliver Scholars helps gifted, underserved students achieve their potential as next generation change-makers, thought leaders and trailblazers,” Allyn says.

“Our mission to serve low-income black and Latino students is more critical than ever, and Oliver aims to reward hard work, recognize talent that might otherwise go ignored, and dismantle barriers to opportunity for these students.”

Scholars have the opportunity to enter the program in fourth or seventh grade. So how are they selected? In addition to the organization’s aggressive recruitment process, high-achieving students also can be nominated. “We work closely with hundreds of New York City public school guidance counselors to identify students who would thrive in, and benefit from, an independent school setting,” Allyn says of the competitive program. “Last year, we had close to 1,000 nominated candidates for 85 spots.”

Program details

Allyn says the organization aims to equip scholars with everything they need to compete and transition from high school to college to a successful career launch. “Oliver provides ongoing career counseling and mentoring to scholars in their freshman year and throughout college, and facilitates access to exclusive internships,” Allyn explains.

The curriculum helps students develop leadership skills. In addition, Allyn says, “To help passionate and engaged students reach their full potential, they are given courses on how to be more self-aware, less self-conscious, and masterful at decision-making, and are asked to give back through community service.”

In fact, Allyn says that scholarship, leadership and service are core values, and this is reflected in programmatic activities and special events, which include:

  • Community Service Day: Provides scholars in day and boarding schools with an opportunity to reconnect with one another, while giving back and serving the community.
  • In Our Own Voices: A leadership training conference that gives scholars the opportunity to learn how to earn respect from peers, parents, teachers, and beyond, using thoughtful communication techniques and strategies. They build their confidence in themselves and their ability to say what they mean, mean what that say, and say it concisely.
  • TuesdayTalks @ Oliver: Alumni and other professionals in a range of fields speak to the scholars – also open to any high school student in New York City on a first-come, first-served basis).

A graduate’s perspective

Zozi Flores, who graduated from Church Farm School this spring, and is in Brown University’s Class of 2021, tells GoodCall® that Oliver Scholars really boosted his level of confidence. “I used to be so shy, but going through the program helped me to believe in myself and to believe that I am capable of doing great things,” Flores says. “Now, I am interested in trying new things, participating in new activities, and being a leader, not just a member.”

Also, Flores says he now takes advantage of opportunities. “I really go after what I want, instead of procrastinating,” Flores explains. “I think differently about the future because I know, from this experience, that doing things now will always help me in the long-run.”

In addition, Flores believes the program’s outreach efforts have helped him understand the significance of community, and the importance of paying it forward.  “I have a stronger sense of myself, my identity, and where I came from because of Oliver’s focus on community service,” Flores says. “I feel humbled by my experiences and the opportunities I have had, and I want to keep giving back to my community, even as I head off to Brown University in the fall.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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