Recap of SIF & Alray Scholars "A Call to Action: The Valedictorians Project"

Reflections, take aways, and next steps
Panelists at Valedictorians Project discussion
Panelists (from left to right): Teresa Pina, aspiring Registered Nurse; Meghan Irons, Social Justice/Race reporter for the Boston Globe; Neil Swidey, Author/Staff Writer for the Boston Globe; and Bob Giannino, Chief Executive Officer of uAspire

Like us, many of you may have read the recent Boston Globe's Valedictorians Project report and felt urgency to learn more and take action. The Social Innovation Forum and Alray Scholars, a local education nonprofit and member of SIF’s coworking space, recently brought together our community for a panel and an action-oriented discussion. In a room filled to capacity were Boston Globe reporters, students, nonprofit leaders, and philanthropists eager to gain insight into the challenges Boston public school students face as they navigate the path to college graduation and beyond. 

The panel featured Neil Swidey, Author/Staff Writer of the Boston Globe Magazine; Meghan Irons, Social Justice/Race reporter for the Boston Globe; Bob Giannino, Chief Executive Officer of uAspire; and Teresa Pina, aspiring Registered Nurse and first generation college student. The panelists, as well as many of our audience members, brought lived experience as well as powerful insights about the challenges and opportunities on the ground. It was  clear right away that there are many people who care about this issue and are willing to direct their resources to solve it. It was also clear that our best chance of making real progress on this issue is to listen to those living it every day.  
Teresa Pina is successfully pursuing her goal of becoming a nurse at Bunker Hill Community College with the support of Alray Scholars. Teresa’s willingness to share her story allowed the guests in the room to see a path to supporting other students facing barriers to complete their education and reach their goals. Teresa strongly agreed with Bob Giannino’s assessment that a key ingredient for a successful college experience is mentoring that is “differentiated and intrusive.” We also heard the importance of support during and after college to connect students to internships, trainings, and job opportunities and to build social capital. 

Meghan Irons closed the session by sharing her deep admiration of the valedictorians who she called her heroes. It is difficult to capture the power in Meghan’s comments as she reflected on the positive outlook, work ethic, and pride in overcoming many challenges that the valedictorians shared with her. What was not difficult for the audience to capture was that we can help by listening, learning, and taking action to improve systems and support those already doing great work. With that in mind, we asked our guests to share any and all resources with the Social Innovation Forum team and we promised to share those resources with our guests. Our goal is to continue learning and move to action.  

Convening is a first step. Universities will need to step up. Boston Public Schools has clear hard work to do. What SIF can do is what we do best - raise up the nonprofits doing this work well and ask our community to help them do more. 

Next Steps

What we hope is that people will read the piece, listen to those in the community doing the work, review the resources gathered below, talk to one another and better understand how you can direct your resources most effectively work make progress on this issue. At SIF our commitment will be to leverage our strengths and seek funding partners interested in addressing this issue with a social issue track for our 2020 Social Innovator Accelerator. In doing so, we raise the visibility of the issue, strengthen leadership and accelerate social change by building networks and bringing more resources to the issue.  If you are interested in learning more about partnering through a social issue track please contact Carolyn Shaughnessy at


Thank you to our guests for sharing your knowledge. If you know of an additional resource that belongs on this list, please email Kassandra Goncalves at

Local Nonprofits Focused on College Access & Success
(*SIF Social Innovator, finalist, or coworking member)

Special Initiatives, Collaborative Efforts and Systems and Policy Impacts

Local K-12 Innovations & Initiatives

Reports, Articles & Resources

National Organizations & Universities Focused on College Persistence

Funders & Financial Supporters


Thought Leaders

  • Kristin Hawley-Johnson, Sallie Mae
  • Andrea Howard, West End House
  • Anthony Jack, author of The Privileged Poor
  • Dr. Karen Mapp, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Makeeba McCreary, Museum of Fine Arts
  • Linda Nathan, author of When Grit Isn’t Enough

Suggestions from Panel Attendees

  • Listen to students
  • Expand support from guidance counselors
  • Survey corporate college internship programs with emphasis on diversity and inclusion
  • Address the need for STEM education and training
  • Employers need to play a role in informing the preparedness of students
  • Start to landscape funding mechanisms in higher education to institutionalize funding for these wraparound advising supports
  • Build cohorts of higher education institutions, nonprofits & funders interested in exploring pay-for-success as a mechanism to fund supports for access, persistence & graduation

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