by Cynthia L. McVey
Located in one of New Jersey’s least prosperous areas, Orange High School attains a 58 percent graduation rate – much lower than the state’s average of 86 percent. Those students who are academically proficient enough to beat the odds and make it to graduation often find the cost of higher education prohibits them from even considering college as an option. Orange High graduate and William Smith first year Maryum Raheem was well aware of the statistics.
“So many of my friends from high school are not in college – some never went and some started and stopped because of the money,” says Raheem. “My mother didn’t go to college and couldn’t afford much. But she wanted a better life for me and told me I had to get a college degree.”
Raheem and her mother found the opportunity she needed through the College Preparatory Program (CPP) of New Jersey SEEDS. SEEDS is a privately-funded statewide non-profit designed to help high-achieving students from low-income families beat the odds presented by their environments. Once students complete CPP, which is a three-year intense academic program conducted concurrently with public high school, the organization places them in the best colleges across the country with enough financial aid to enable them to earn their degree.
HWS Trustee J. (Jay) Paul Hellstrom Jr. ’64 and his wife Linda are long-time supporters of the N.J. SEEDS organization, with Jay being a member of its education committee. The two are close friends of one of SEEDS’ co-founders, Blair MacInnes P’97 (mother of Alexander B. MacInnes ’97 and mother-in-law to Katherine Adler MacInnes ’98). It was through their relationship with MacInnes that the Hellstroms became familiar with the work of SEEDS.
“These students are living in a pool of uncertainty and they have raised their hand to be in this supplemental program; they chose it instead of being led into it,” Hellstrom says. “So the carrot is that it’s a great opportunity to get into a college or university; the stick is that it’s graded. A student maintains the grades or is out.”
Raheem had institutions such as Princeton in her sights with thoughts of becoming a doctor and one day establishing a charitable organization.
“I have big dreams!” she says. “But, while I was always a good student, I knew I had to step it up in high school because I needed scholarships to achieve my dreams.”
She enrolled in CPP at the end of ninth grade and spent six hours every Saturday in a SEEDS classroom with students from other partici- pating high schools. Raheem juggled high school academics with the CPP curriculum and extracurricular activities. She was the vice president of student government and a member of the National Honor Society, Female Achievers (a community service organization), debate club and the Health Occupation Students of America. She also participated in a recurring internship for three years. Each summer, Raheem and her CPP peers spent two weeks with SEEDS on campus at Hobart and William Smith, which host the students in residence halls while they maintain course loads similar to what they will experience in college. Hellstrom was instrumental in creating this linkage between HWS and SEEDS.
He believes one of CPP’s greatest benefits is that its sessions take place on Saturdays and throughout the summer. CPP does not take students out of their public school environ- ments entirely, but rather supplements what students learn there. This leaves SEEDS participants in those schools where they can help inform and inspire other students.
“It’s like throwing a pebble in a pond,” says Hellstrom. “There’s a significant multiplier effect.” Since the program first sent students to Geneva in 2008, Hellstrom has been surprised to find a number of HWS connections, including fellow HWS Trustees Beth Yingling ’76, who had done pro bono work for the organization through her law firm, and Pete Buck ’81, P’12, whose family foundation is among the SEEDS organization’s supporters.
Also significantly involved as a SEEDS Trustee is Paul R. DeRosa ’63, who with his wife Elizabeth Johnston DeRosa ’65 are donors to the organization.
“I long ago realized the education problem is at the elementary and secondary level, not the university level,” says Paul DeRosa. “I saw SEEDS was right where they were supposed to be. It’s a small program, but it has a big impact on the lives of these students.”
“The Colleges are proud to participate in such a meaningful program,” says President Mark D. Gearan. “The students who have enrolled at the Colleges through SEEDS have made a significant impact on the campus and we hope to continue to attract more SEEDS students in the future.”
“We are enormously excited about our partnership with Hobart and William Smith Colleges,” says Ronni Denes, president of SEEDS. “The commitment to our scholars – starting with President Gearan and running through the faculty, the admissions and financial aid offices, and even the alumni – has created educational experiences that are nothing less than life changing. In return, we’re proud that SEEDS prepares its students to overcome years in underperforming schools and arrive on campus with the academic ability, motivation and the entrepreneurial spirit to become vibrant contributors to campus life.”
On campus, Raheem is a member of the cheerleader club and holds down four jobs. She plans to join the debate team and Sankofa, and apply to be a resident adviser next fall. The recipient of the John P. and Linda L. Hellstrom Endowed Scholarship, she doesn’t take the opportunities she’s had for granted. When she wrote a thank you note to the Hellstroms for the scholarship, for instance, she says she filled up the entire note card.
“I love that I received the scholarship. It tells me that someone believes in me and I’m so grateful,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to come here had it not been for that scholarship.”
The scholarship is designed for students such as Raheem, who meet the Colleges’ academic standards but would not be able to attend without financial support.
“We’d like to see this scholarship grow and eventually increase the scope and number of students who benefit,” says Hellstrom.
To date, four successful SEEDS scholars have chosen HWS for their college careers. Before coming to William Smith, Denise Arroyave ’13 and Ana Garcia ’14 completed the SEEDS Scholars Program, which enrolls students in middle school and prepares them to attend independent day and boarding schools across the country.
“It changed my path in life,” explains Garcia. “SEEDS exposed me to a world that I didn’t know existed. SEEDS gives you the chance to reach your academic potential. So long as the student is willing to do the work, SEEDS is an incredible opportunity.”
Like Raheem, sophomore Aloysius Kolubah is also a graduate of CPP and a recipient of full tuition support from the John P. and Linda L. Hellstrom Endowed Scholarship Fund.
Kolubah was born in Liberia and moved to Orange, N.J., at the age of eight. He first learned about SEEDS in eighth grade. He notes his mother was the deciding factor in his decision to participate in CPP.
“She basically told me “you will do this” — then I found out I’d be in school for six hours every Saturday,” laughs Kolubah.
He says he chose to enroll in CPP because, “while Orange High School had great teachers, the environment is not conducive to learning.”
“The first two years it took a while to balance everything. I was adjusting to high school and keeping up with both SEEDS and clubs,” he says. “I received my first syllabus with SEEDS and the work was at a much higher level. In high school we’d receive a reading assignment and not discuss it. In SEEDS, we would spend a whole class discussing two chapters.”
Like Raheem, Kolubah spent two weeks of every summer at HWS, where the schedule was even more rigorous than during the school year. Through SEEDS, summers include an academic schedule, extracurricular activities, work study experiences, a lot of reading material to cover in a short time and work designed to challenge students outside their comfort zones. Kolubah credits SEEDS and the rigorous CPP with preparing him for college academically and socially, and particularly for that adjustment period he refers to as “surviving freshman year.”
“Four weeks into school, I called and e-mailed my teachers from the SEEDS program and said, ‘Thank you!’” says Kolubah. “I realized how much of a role CPP played in my life. While I was participating in it, I was still maturing and wondering why I was getting so much work, had to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning, and was missing homecoming. Sitting down after my first finals at college I realized how much it meant to me.”
After spending his summers at HWS, Kolubah visited “everywhere else” when it came time to apply for college. He ultimately appreciated the fact that Hobart had the com- munity he was looking for.
“I fell in love with the people, the staff here, and the campus during the summers. During the last summer here with the SEEDS program, I had a long and great conversation with Dean Eugen Baer. I’ve found out since that it’s a normal thing at HWS to be able to talk to professors, the Deans, even the President!”
With a strong interest in fashion and business, Kolubah plans to become an economics and media and society double major and minor in international relations. Ultimately, he’d like to have a career that involves fashion buying. He’s currently involved in Hobart Student Government and Koshare in addition to carrying five classes. He dances with Koshare seven days a week and choreographed a piece last year.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Kolubah. “I didn’t realize the opportunity that I had until I was here. Coming from Liberia, going through a civil war, I have that sense that I have made it a really long way; I did something right in life. This is an opportunity to cherish and I will carry it with me forever.”