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Every Step of the Way

By Matt Larson

Students Rising Above helps guide our youth from high school to college, and

then a career.

The job market of 2018 is more competitive than ever, and not having a college degree makes the hunt even more difficult. Still, many young adults don’t even consider college as a viable option; not because they don’t want to go, but because they feel it’s impossible.

Financial constraints, bad grades, familial responsibilities … any number of obstacles can stand in between a student and his or her future. If you are, or know, a student who feels they simply can’t consider college—consider again with the help, guidance, and support, of Students Rising Above (SRA).

“Since roughly 1998, we have been really excited about getting first-generation, low-income students to and through not only college, but into the workforce,” said SRA’s Executive Director Carolina Martín. “Each year we accept roughly 75 students, and each is given a ‘portfolio’ of support.”

This includes a designated advisor, who will remain as such for the next five years; a health navigator to help ensure they’ll have health benefits before going to college; a social mentor to help coach them through any social obstacles, from fitting in to moving in; financial assistance to fill in any gaps not covered by aid or scholarships; and finally, SRA’s Career Development Team will help them find their place in the workforce.

“Out of the 835+ students we’ve served, 91% graduate from college and 78% enter career-ladder jobs, or graduate school, within 12 months of graduation,” Martín said.

Based in San Francisco, SRA has accepted students from nine Bay Area counties, 20% of which have come from Richmond or Contra Costa County. One student from Richmond graduated from Sonoma State University thanks to SRA and now has a job in the tech industry focusing on talent acquisition. Another Richmond local with SRA, who had once been homeless, is now attending UC Berkeley pursuing a degree in public health.

Few programs, if any, provide such an all-encompassing service as SRA, but sometimes that’s the only way to ensure success. “We have students that have major adversity,” Martín said. “When they go away to college, one slight failure or challenging situation could trigger them to think, ‘I don’t belong here.’ So our job is really about getting them to and through college, and then into a career path.”

Students can really end up developing a strong bond with their advisor, who may also play the role of a friend, even a parent. “One of our advisors knew that his student was going to drive to UC Merced and move in by himself, so he drove him all the way to make sure he had a great move-in experience,” Martín said. “Some of our advisors have walked some of our students down the aisle, or have been there when their children were born … these are lifelong relationships and, in some cases, these are the first real love/parent experiences these students have ever had.”

SRA is all about meeting students where they are, and adapting their services for each of them. If a talented applicant approaches them with a low GPA, due to something like a failed freshman year, SRA will dive deeper to understand that real-life challenges may have prohibited their academic success. “We’re not going to place judgment,” Martín explained. “We’re going to make you shine by focusing on the stellar aspects of you as a human, versus yelling at you about your freshman year.” So it’s the individual, not the academic numbers, that determines your acceptance into SRA.

75 students per year is amazing, but SRA gets hundreds of applicants that are also in need. So for everyone else, especially students in more rural and remote areas, they created a virtual platform called the SRA Hub, providing 24/7 access to professional advisors, resources, and tools, to help students pursue a college education and enter career-ladder pathways. The SRA Hub has more than 15,000 registered users nationwide, including students, educators, and partners.

It takes a village, and SRA is equipped with a dedicated team of amazing advisors from a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds, all here to make a real, solid difference. And it’s not just for the students, but for their families and future generations. “That’s the coolest piece for me,” Martín said. “It’s not only changing this person’s life, but far beyond.”

Mark your calendars for their 16th Annual Gala on March 21, 2019. They’re actively looking for social and career mentors of all kinds to join their efforts, as well as any company wanting to open their doors for internships. They’re also a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit if you’re able to donate. Follow up with them at, or call them at (415) 333-4222.

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