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Dream Project

Mentors “teach” Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success team members

by Karl Gapuz, community partnerships co-lead

On July 14, eight Dream Project mentors, leaders and former mentees presented to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success team, leading a part of their strategic leadership retreat. The presentation, which occurred at the Gates Foundation headquarters in downtown Seattle, included more than 50 program officers and administrators from across the country.

Our role in leading this session was to bring together a diverse set of students for a real discussion about our first-hand experiences of working through and overcoming the barriers to completing college. We spoke about our journeys from two perspectives: what we have learned about the postsecondary opportunity gap as first generation students ourselves and what we have learned from our own mentees. High-level policy discussions like this often use quantitative, statistical facts to drive change, but the Dream Project student leader team was asked to provide exactly the opposite. Dream Project mentors and former mentees—all at vastly different points on their postsecondary pathways—provided their candid anecdotes about the challenges that too many of us face on the road to competing higher education.

After our presentation, we went out to continue the conversation about our lives, our plans and how we’d like to see change across the US system of education over dinner. Being in the presence of such influential individuals and being asked to represent the challenges of a generation was a daunting task, but the Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success team listened intently to the teachings of a group of undergraduates, and together we were able to remind each other about the value of student voices.