Onward and Upward: Why I Joined Students Rising Above…

By Carolina Martín

I am so thrilled to be the new Executive Director of Students Rising Above.

I’m thrilled because I am joining a team whose mission has been so near and dear to my heart for my entire professional career: Helping young people facing long odds fully realize their potential through education.

I’m especially fortunate to be joining an organization that has set the national standard for helping low-income, first-generation students get into college, through college and into a career-ladder job. The pioneering work that Executive Director Emeritus Lynne Martin, Barb Hendricks and the entire SRA team have done for many years is nothing short of astounding.

My Story

I can relate to the challenges many SRA students face because I experienced them firsthand.

I moved here from Mexico City with my family when I was 1½ years old. We were poor by today’s standards, but my mother and father always knew that education was the way to a better life, both economically and personally.

After arriving on the East Coast, we moved to California, where I earned my Bachelor of Art’s degree in Education from University of San Diego (USD). Then I returned to California so I could get a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from USD.

The more education I received, the more career opportunities opened up for me. My education and commitment to professional development helped me land positions of increasing responsibility at Summerbridge, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, in the private sector at SallieMae, and most recently at DonorsChoice.org where, for eight years, I was Senior Vice President and head of Partnerships and Business Development.

Throughout my journey, I encountered my share of challenges, especially in college. At times, I wanted to give up, but my parents were always there offering love and encouragement. Without them, I’m not sure I would have made it through the difficult times.

SRA’s Magic

The support I received from my own parents mirrors the support that SRA provides to its students. That’s what makes SRA so special. SRA is family for many students who have no families or for students whose families can’t comprehend the struggles of going to college as a low-income, first-generation student.

The truly impressive aspect of the program is SRA’s total commitment to students. SRA makes a five-year financial commitment to students so they leave school with a degree and minimal college debt.  As important, SRA advisors and mentors serve as surrogate parents who are always there in moments of doubt or personal crisis.

SRA was among the first organizations to recognize that students need the opportunity to talk to someone who understands them and the college experience – to ask the most basic, personal and potentially embarrassing questions – in an atmosphere of total trust.

The 360-degree support for students is the reason SRA has a 90% college completion rate. It’s also the reason 93% of our students are in a career-ladder job or graduate school within nine months of completing their four-year degree.

Innovator and Change Agent

SRA’s college completion rate and its success in kick-starting the careers of graduates are not the only reasons SRA is so successful in helping break the cycle of poverty.  SRA is also one of the most innovative nonprofits in the Bay Area and recently developed another ground-breaking innovation – College2Careers Hub.

Launched just 2½ years ago, the SRA College2Careers Hub is an online resource for college-bound students that has more than 10,000 users in California. Over the next five years, my goal is to substantially grow the Hub to make its unmatched resources available to tens of thousands of students across the country.

The Hub has grown quickly because it provides everything tech-savvy students need.  They can communicate online, ask questions of one another, find valuable information and create relationships. The Hub is like an online meet-up that allows students to get the resources and help they need quickly. And, it offers something else unique: 24-hour turnaround time to student questions from a trained SRA advisor.

Looking Ahead

My entire career has been focused on helping others reach their potential.

Joining SRA is a perfect match of both my professional and personal interests. I look forward to getting to know the entire SRA family, and I welcome the opportunity to work closely with students, advisors, parents, corporations, foundations, and our exceptional team.

Together, our future is very bright!

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