Cooke Scholar Gabby Nicholas on Mentorship, College Access and Success

Cooke Scholar Gabby NicholasCooke Scholar Gabriella (Gabby) Nicholas received our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in 2014, after completing a two-year degree at Seminole State College of Florida. Now a recent graduate of the University of Florida, Gabby reflects on how new interests and experiences challenged her to reconsider her career goals.

Looking back at my academic journey, I’m reminded of the opportunities I was given, and how they affected my transition from a journalism major to an aspiring educator.

I began my junior year in college confident that I would become a journalist who specialized in human-interest stories. After all, my interest in journalism was long established, beginning in middle school. I loved telling stories and providing a platform to those who weren’t able to share their own. But, as semesters passed, I began to feel disconnected from the industry. I began focusing more of my time on my extracurricular activities, including two organizations that placed mentorship at the heart of their missions. I realized that these face-to-face interactions made me happier than I ever was when I was writing an article. I wanted to write these stories, but, even more than that, I wanted to put myself into the narrative.

During one semester at the University of Florida, I attended an address by Paulette Brown, president of the American Bar Association. She spoke about efforts to combat the criminalization in school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. A reoccurring problem was the lack of funding and, as a result, students weren’t receiving the proper help and guidance they required. She explained, “If we want to ignite or sustain academic curiosity, the curiosity needs to be discovered and promoted.”

A common thread I’ve noticed among Jack Kent Cooke Scholars is that we recognize the privilege of a higher education. When I became a part of the scholar community, my passion for education grew stronger. I found myself surrounded by individuals who were intent on changing the world for the better, motivated by the very opportunity they were given. Before Brown’s address, I hadn’t consciously thought of this aspect of my education. A majority of my academic achievements were strengthened, even dependent, on mentorships and faculty support.

I heard about 12+ through Larry Thi, a fellow Cooke Scholar who worked with the Philadelphia-based organization at its formation. I was intrigued by 12+ and its mission to provide students with the support and care they need. 12+ works with high school students at three of their partner schools (Kensington Health Sciences Academy, Hill-Freedman World Academy, and Penn Treaty School) to guide them in their academic journeys, providing aid in college applications, SAT preparation, tutoring in school subjects, and conducting workshops.

During my last semester, I made the decision to pursue education after my graduation. I’ve seen the positive impact of mentorships and meaningful extracurriculars, and I’ve witnessed the success students can achieve if they’re given the resources. According to the Office of Institutional Research at California State University, students that participate in these activities perform much better in terms of retention, six-year graduation rate, academic good standing, and cumulative GPA. During my time at this organization, I hope to be a positive mentor to the students who visit the 12+ PLUS Centers, while continuously working to reduce the gap between performance and potential.

Besides moving to a new city, I’m excited to grow as an educator and help build the college-going culture that 12+ is promoting. Student empowerment is one of the first steps in leveling the playing field, and I’m excited to be on the front lines of this fight. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to continue my higher education and I want to help others find their opportunity.


Are you a driven community college student like Gabby? Apply for our Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship to continue your higher education:

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