Students and supporters of College Track — a national educational organization that empowers students from underserved communities to fulfill their dream of going to college — filled the Rotunda of City Hall on March 2 during College Track San Francisco Day.
The event introduced 200 College Track San Francisco students from the Bayview Hunters Point to careers in fields such as technology, engineering, science, sales and finance — in alignment with College Track’s ongoing collaboration with Mayor Ed Lee and the City of San Francisco.
A San Francisco native, high school senior Iyahna Smith, stole the show as student guest speaker for the event. Smith, a 2013 graduate of College Track, defied the odds by rising up from a rough and underserved San Francisco neighborhood through College Track.
After graduating from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory this spring, Smith is off to Howard University in Washington, D.C., on an academic scholarship to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
“College Track was my second family,” Smith said. The vibrant young woman was very confidant, yet humble, and gave all the credit to her mother, Sheila Hall, College Track, and her mentor.
Platinum sponsor Chase presented a check to College Track for $1 million. Andy Carney — California regional manager for Chase’s consumer and business banking — wowed the crowd when he presented the big check.
“Our partnership with College Track empowers students from underserved communities to reach their dream of a college degree, positively impacting the students’ lives and investing in their future,” Carney said.
City dignitaries — including Police Chief Greg Suhr, School Superintendent Richard Carranza and Ron Conway from the Technology Chamber of Commerce — were in attendance. A festive energy filled the expansive hall as students with bright yellow shirts waited in anticipation to hear their names called over the loud speaker as they were paired with their mentors.
Laurene Powell Jobs, who co-founded College Track in 1997, was in the audience admiring the scene as mentors from San Francisco companies Twitter, Zynga, Square, Riverbed, and Dolby Digital met their mentees for the first time.
San Francisco College Track site coordinator Omar Butler was the master of ceremonies, which featured many heart-felt speeches, including College Track CEO David Silvers, who summed it best when he said “College Track is opportunity.”
College Track sites, similar to campuses, are where the students do their scholastic training, while completing a comprehensive program of academic support; leadership training; community service; and extra-curricular involvement in preparation for college.
According to College Track data, 100 percent of participating students graduate from high school, and over 90 percent of these are admitted to college. At least 400 College Track students are currently enrolled in top universities, including Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Columbia. Up to 85 percent of the students will be the first in their family to earn a college degree.
College Track provides specialized support for the students to ensure that they are academically, socially, and financially able to complete their degree. Students are required to complete at least 12 scholarship applications.
College Track expanded to San Francisco in 2007, with a center in the Bay View Hunters Point neighborhood. College Track’s first San Francisco center served 200 students from Bayview Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley/Sunnydale, and Mission/Excelsior neighborhoods.
Recently, College Track expanded again to a new 13,000 square-foot location in the heart of Bayview, which will serve 500 students within five years, including a third of all Bayview Hunters Point high school students. There are two other sites in the bay area, including Oakland, and East Palo Alto – where it all began.
Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson established College Track in 1997 while mentoring low-income high school in East Palo Alto who had a desire to go to college, but lacked the appropriate resources.
Atziry “Itzy” Gutierrez, a charismatic and beautiful woman with a big smile, was mentored by Jobs and graduated from Stanford University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. She did so well in preparing for college under Jobs through the mentorship program that she had to decide between the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, Palo Alto — where she was accepted by both.
Gutierrez became the first student in the College Track program to graduate from Stanford University, and she was hired by College Track as an organizational development associate upon graduation.
Gutierrez said that College Track was her second family, and her second home, also. Her parents were undocumented and she spent time in foster care. “I felt prepared for college, and I was inspired by Laurene’s desire to help our community,” she said.
Graduating debt-free is also a large part of the benefits that College Track provides for students, so that young scholars are not burdened with worry after college and can to go out and excel within their community.
Malia Okusa, a College Track alumna of the Oakland site, recently graduated from The New School University in New York on a full scholarship. She was on hand greeting folks as they entered the event. Okusa, a Pacific Islander with a sweet disposition and a caring personality, said that both of her younger siblings are attending college now after completing the College Track program. “I highly recommend that young students get involved with College Track,” Okusa said.
More information can be found about College Track at www.collegetrack.org