Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Editorial from tnAchieves Executive Director, Krissy DeAlejandro

Commercial Appeal Guest column: tnAchieves helps forge pathway to higher education

By Krissy DeAlejandro, Special to The Commercial Appeal
Sunday, December 1, 2013

I am a first-generation college graduate. In fact, I am one of very few from my mother’s family to complete high school. I am from rural Tennessee. My parents still live in the small town where I grew up. With my mom completing only her sophomore year and my daddy only graduating from high school, we lived a simple life.
The opportunity to receive a postsecondary credential changed my life. As a low-income first-generation student, I am proof that pursuing and achieving a degree can end a family’s cycle of discounting the value of higher education. Because the opportunity was given to me, my children will never face the obstacles of college access that so many students across our state confront. 
With students like me in mind, the founders of the tnAchieves scholarship program made a bold decision one August afternoon in 2008. Against outside expert advice, they unanimously decided that a program seeking to “change lives and transform communities” must not place parameters around acceptance. Thus, the initial program in Knoxville, known as knoxAchieves, launched with the mission of giving every student the opportunity to pursue an education beyond high school with both financial and mentor support. 
In only three years, knoxAchieves supported nearly 1,300 students into enrollment in a community college. More than 65 percent were the first in their families to attend college. The program’s first class has an impressive 52-percent persistence rate in college, with a graduation rate higher than the state and national averages. 
Recognizing this early success, the tnAchieves board, with encouragement from Gov. Bill Haslam and support from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, expanded into 22 additional Tennessee counties in 2011. This new phase of college access and success launched tnAchieves, a program that has sent nearly 6,500 students to a postsecondary institution — including more than 1,000 in Shelby County. 
With the addition of Metro Nashville Public Schools, tnAchieves offers last-dollar scholarships with mentor guidance in 27 counties to nearly 50 percent of Tennessee’s graduating high school seniors. This means tuition cost should no longer be an obstacle when a student is deciding to attend a community or technical college. 
The scholarship funding is obviously critical. I believe it is the incentive that sparks a student’s thought of pursuing a postsecondary credential; however, we believe the mentoring component is the reason behind the success of tnAchieves. Each applicant is assigned a mentor who assists in eliminating the barriers associated with access to a postsecondary education. The mentor supports the student through admission and financial aid paperwork, motivates the student to meet deadlines, and perhaps most important, encourages the student to reach his or her potential. 

Without the guidance from our volunteer mentors, many of the students would slip through the cracks associated with the transition from high school to a postsecondary institution.

Too often, our students are not assured that college is within their reach. There is no incentive to persist with their education after high school because they cannot envision the possibility of walking onto that college campus, assuming the life of a college student, and being the first in their family to graduate from college. These are lofty and far-fetched goals. 

In a short time, however, tnAchieves mentors positively influence students’ perception about postsecondary life and ultimately about themselves. 

Since launching in 2011, nearly 1,050 Memphis and Shelby County students have entered either Southwest Tennessee Community College or the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Memphis with financial and mentor support from tnAchieves. With donations from Memphis businesses, foundations and individuals, the program is working to pair nearly, 4,500 applicants with a volunteer mentor. 

To accomplish the governor’s goal of reaching a 55-percent postsecondary attainment rate, however, tnAchieves needs support from communities in all 95 of Tennessee’s counties. 

Leading tnAchieves is a gift. Since 2008, I have spent the greater part of each day promoting this bold idea that every student, regardless of family income, ZIP code and even academic preparedness, deserves the opportunity to receive a college credential. I read all the reports and appreciate all the statistics surrounding the success of specific student demographics; however, multiple times a day, I witness the power of intervention, the influence of encouragement, and the impact of support. 

My vision is to eliminate the predetermined destiny of our state’s students based on their socioeconomic status. I want to promise them a better quality of life and the ability to make a lasting impact in their communities by providing the resources necessary for success. 

All Tennessee students deserve the support that tnAchieves offers. It changed my life. It will change our students’ lives and transform our state. 

Krissy DeAlejandro is executive director of tnAchieves.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Memphis Ambassador Steps Up at Peace Conference

18 October, 2013 - Memphis, TN - Ghandi-King Conference 2013 held at BRIDGES. 

On October 18, 2013, twenty Memphis/Shelby Achieves Ambassadors volunteered at the 10th annual Ghandi-King Youth Conference hosted by BRIDGES.  

At the conference, peace advocates, students, community leaders and activists come together for two days to participate in workshops and listen to speakers.  Participants engage in training to make positive change in the community. 

To make an event of this size successful, many volunteers are needed. Memphis/Shelby Achieves Ambassadors helped out with check-in, lunch, and general activities.
(L-R) tnAchieves Ambassadors Katie Phillips, Paul Hatton, Holly Fields, Meghan Smith, Danny Nguyen, and Megan Hill volunteer at Ghandi-King peace conference.

"tnAchieves volunteers made all the difference," said BRIDGES volunteer coordinator, Johnathan Boswell. "We would not have been able to have a successful conference without them." 

Johnathan also pointed to one student in particular, Gary Clear, who stepped up when an extra workshop facilitator was needed. Gary led the group without receiving any training or prior experience.
Gary Clear, Memphis/Shelby Achieves Ambassador, Class of 2012.

"This was my first time working the conference, but I wasn't nervous... My job was to listen to students explain their situations involving bullying and address them with a young group of students from the NAACP," Gary said about his workshop. 

"I learned at the conference that many students face their problems in different ways, but when they share a common goal they don't have anything to worry about.  Overall, I had a great time at the conference, and I was able to do it because of tnAchieves."

Gary is a Graphic Arts Production major with a double minor in Print Production and Interactive Media at Southwest Tennessee Community College.  He currently has a 3.8 GPA and continues to impress us every time we hear from him. 

Congratulations to our November Student of the Month, Gary!

For more information on becoming a tnAchieves Ambassador, visit our website. Applications open January 2014!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

8 ways to save money on college textbooks

Recently, one of our mentors, Jane Ray, sent us an interesting and helpful article from U.S. News, 8 ways to save money on college textbooks.

College classes begin in less than one week. Being prepared on the first day is essential to being successful throughout the entire semester. For those of you scrambling to check off the "to do" list before Monday, here are some tips from Robert Berger's article to make things a bit less stressful: 
(Photo: Jupiterimages)

1. Steer clear of the bookstore. This is the No. 1 one way to spend less money on textbooks. Shopping at the college bookstore for textbooks is akin to picking up all your groceries at the corner gas station. Convenience, in both cases, means higher prices. You may need to pick up some specialized materials in your bookstore, like packets printed out by a professor for a specific class, but most of the time you can – and should – shop elsewhere for your books.

2. Buy used. College students have been buying used textbooks for years, and they shouldn't stop now. Buying used books can save you a fortune, and often, the books are in good condition. You may be tempted to just pick up used books from your bookstore, but you can often find better prices online.

The easiest way to shop for used books online is to use ISBN numbers. These numbers are specific, so you'll get the exact book and edition your class is using. Websites such as Amazon, eBay and are great places to shop around. also offers a free search tool that compares prices from dozens of online stores.

3. Share. One option that works for some courses is simply to share. Split the cost with a roommate or close friend taking the same class, and share the book. As long as you can arrange study schedules so that you both get the book as often as you need it, this can work out well. Some professors are adamant that students have their books available during class, while others use the texts as supplemental reading and focus class time on lectures. Figuring out a professor's style before you decide to share textbooks may be a good idea. 

4. Check the library. While your school library may not have a copy of every single textbook, it's likely to have copies of some of them – especially fiction and non-fiction books for liberal arts classes. The key to using the library is to ensure you can get the books when you need them. Ordering books ahead of time or using the interlibrary loan system can help. But you might want to keep some backup cash in case you can't get the book at the library and need to buy a copy.

5. Rent books. Renting books is becoming a more popular option and can be a good way to save. Rentals are especially popular for the most expensive books, like math and science texts. If you want to rent books, you will likely have to deal with your campus bookstore, but this is one case that makes sense to do so.

First, you need to make sure you understand the terms of the rental. You may need to take extra care of rental books so you don't lose money when you return them. And take time to see how much a used version of the book would sell for, as it might make more sense financially to buy the book and then resell it later. Finally, be aware that renting is not always the cheapest option, particularly when you factor in the resale value of a textbook you buy.

6. Opt for ebooks. Many textbooks are now available in ebook format, and you can buy or rent them in this cheaper format as long as you have an e-reader. If you're taking classes that require historical texts, fiction, biographies, poetry and essays, you'll likely find those texts in ebook format. One key to success with ebooks is to make sure you can easily navigate the book. Sometimes it's more difficult to find a particular page using an ebook, which can be frustrating when participating in a seminar that involves jumping around by page number.

7. Consider buying the older edition. The California Student Public Interest Research Group published a study in 2004 that found new editions cost 58 percent more than older editions. Newer editions are often not that different from previous editions – they just sometimes look nicer and have different page numbers. You will want to compare old and new editions to ensure there aren't any major differences between them, and you'll be prepared to hunt down information during lectures, since your page numbers will probably be different.

8. Decide which you'll use long-term. Once in a blue moon, it's a good idea to buy a brand new textbook, even if you have to pay full price. This isn't normally the case for introductory classes, as you'll likely never use those books again. But once you get into the upper-level courses for your major, those textbooks could come in handy during your future career. Think carefully about which books you might use over the long term, and consider purchasing just those books new. That way, you'll get a book without several students' worth of wear and tear.

Being a tnAchieves Scholar means not having to worry about paying tuition costs - we do that for you! Take advantage of these tips, and you can check "find money for books" off of that list... and still have enough cash to fill your gas tank.