Member Spotlight: Lauren-Ashley Wood

Lauren-Ashley Wood is a College and Career Ambassador professional working with Promise Corps. An alumna of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Lauren-Ashley majored in Political Science and double minored in Hotel Hospitality, Tourism Management, and the French Language. Lauren-Ashley worked for The Philadelphia Eagles Organization as a Game Day Staff Member for two football seasons. She is the former President of the College Democrats of America at Cheyney. She also worked as a volunteer for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Lauren-Ashley has a passion for public and constituent service in the Philadelphia community. As an AmeriCorps member, she provides high school students with college and career access through advocacy within the school setting. Since the 2017-2018 school year has started, Lauren-Ashley and her team at Overbrook High School have provided 10th, 11th, and 12th graders through mentoring and motivational assistance, which they will continue to do for the remainder of the year.

lauren a headshot

With a background in politics, Lauren-Ashley was very interested in helping support the recreation of Student Government at Overbrook High School. The students took to the idea like moths to a flame. Both school administration and the Promise Corps team promoted the idea of non-partisan campaigning to the students and… Boom! The Promise Corps classroom became a mini campaign headquarters. Multiple students were working on their campaigns after school simultaneously. The high school seniors were creative while campaigning, giving their speeches, and debating one another. What was most exciting was when the commissioner’s office came to Overbrook High School to promote voting and even registered some 18-year-old seniors to vote. Lauren-Ashley and the rest of the Promise Corps team will reveal the winners any day now. Members like Lauren-Ashley are reasons why the Promise Corps program is a critical key component in college and career success within the Promise Zone Education Initiative.


– Lauren-Ashley Wood, College and Career Ambassador at Overbrook High School

Promise Talks: College Access

This past Monday, West Philadelphia High School held our first of five modules for the year. We decided to call our module series “Promise Talks,” referencing the widely-known Ted Talks. Our first Promise Talk was focused on College Access. I invited my longtime friend Kerrivah Heard, who is a fourth-year student at Drexel University. She will be graduating in 2019 with both her Bachelor and Master of Science in Communication. She wants to work for a publication firm with a strong digital and social media presence. To prepare herself for life after college, she created her own website and launched a blog that profiles Black youth. She has also gained experience with 6abc, CBS, NBC10, WHYY,, Comcast NBCUniversal, CHOP, and more.


We started off the program with an icebreaker and asked students what their dream college or university was. A few students listed HBCUs, state institutions, and other places not too far from home. We also asked what they would want to major in. Majors from Criminal Justice to Neonatal Nursing were mentioned. After the icebreaker, we jumped right into the discussion. Kerrivah and I gave our personal experiences regarding the entire college application process. We first discussed the colleges we applied to and how we made our final decisions. I stated how at first, I was apprehensive of going to a big campus, so I settled for a small junior college in rural Maryland. There, I was able to properly get acclimated to the college lifestyle. After that year was over, I transferred to West Chester University to complete my degree. Kerrivah and I spoke about how we applied to many schools out of state because we did not want to stay in the city they grew up in. We both applied to Howard University and got accepted. Kerrivah applied to Clark and Drexel as well. In the end, she chose Drexel because they gave her the most award money.

Next on our agenda was to explain what it was like to apply for student aid. We both had similar experiences where we did it all on our own. Our school counselors had been very overwhelmed. We both recalled late nights writing essays for scholarships and chasing our parents around to get their part of the FAFSA done. We encouraged the students to get their FAFSAs completed as early as possible, so that they will be able to secure the maximum amount of aid possible. We ended our “Promise Talk” with some words of advice for the students: to do as many internships as possible, and to NEVER SAY NO!


– Dionna Sanders, College and Career Ambassador at West Philadelphia High School

Collaborating for Student Success

On August 17 and 18, Leya and I joined our colleagues from all spectrums of college access and success at the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable Conference.  From school counselors, to college admissions counselors, to other programs focused on students in high school and helping them develop a postsecondary plan, educators gathered to engage in the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable’s 25th year of “courageous conversations,” as the conference was aptly named.

We attended different workshops ranging from retaining at-risk students, FAFSA completion strategies, helping students who will be the first in their families to attend college develop a roadmap, and so much more. We were able to see one of our former CCAs, who is now working for another program that supports high school students.

We heard from two amazing keynote speakers – Sara Goldrick-Rab and Uva Coles. The first speaker, Sara Goldrick-Rab, had a research center in Wisconsin that focused on the issue of college students facing homelessness and food insecurity. She is now opening a research center based out of Temple University. She shared that the real debt crisis is that many students leave college in debt, but without degrees. Uva talked about college access and success professionals being the links in the chain that lead students to success. Uva is the Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Strategic Partnerships at Peirce College. Peirce recently launched a workforce training program for parents and their children, taking a two-generation approach to providing both job and life skill readiness.

Throughout all the sessions and speakers, a message that was echoed was to start both the conversation and preparation for postsecondary planning earlier. The sooner students get the message to start planning for life after high school, the better. We worked on strategies on how to implement this urgency with students, and came up with actionable steps we can all take in our respective fields- whether they be in the high schools, in after school programs, colleges and trade schools, and career-readiness programs.

Perhaps the best part, for me, was the relationships I was able to both strengthen with colleagues I have previously met, as well as creating new relationships. It was so encouraging to collaborate with others who work for the same mission. At the heart of all of our conversations was putting students first. We do this work so as to share knowledge and not to reinvent the wheel. That is the goal of the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable: to provide tools, resources and opportunities for discourse; support leadership development in the field; and seek to bridge the gap between policy, research and practice in the area of college access and completion.

It was a jam-packed two days full of productive work that has us starting the year with great momentum.

– Kerry DiNardo, Promise Corps Site Supervisor

The End of A Journey

On June 13, we held a graduation ceremony for our 20 CCAs. After giving so much of themselves to their respective sites and students, this day was to celebrate the work they have completed over the past school year (or two years for our two peer leaders!).

All weeks are busy for CCAs, but the weeks leading up to graduation felt especially so. They were filled with checking students’ grades, attending classes, checking in with teachers – doing everything to ensure their students were on track to move up a grade or graduate. There were field trips, end of the year parties, and graduations. What I’m saying is it didn’t seem like CCAs had a quiet moment to reflect on the end of their chapters with Promise Corps. Even as this day came, I’m sure CCAs’ minds were thinking about their two final days at school, which would be filled with more graduations and goodbyes with their beloved students.

We heard from a member of the community regarding the importance of volunteerism and the role our CCAs have had in West Philadelphia over the past year(s), and will continue to have no matter where they choose to go. This weight of this role was magnified when members took the AmeriCorps pledge, when they stated (among other things) that, “Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.” Our members have lived out these ideals in their work as CCAs. It is not always easy to get students to buy into the program or trust our members, but CCAs were creative in taking action to address this. They found common ground with their students, as well as teachers, school staff, and partner organizations. They fostered relationships that allowed them to dig deeper and support students beyond the surface level.


Awards were given to members who dedicated the most hours of service to the program, coached the most students through the program, and those who quietly led by example.

Despite the multitude of events and emotions leading up to and surrounding this day, graduation did allow for a beautiful moment that prompted members to reflect on the journey they have had as CCAs. Two members were elected by their peers to speak on behalf of the twenty CCAs, and they offered accounts of where they started, where they are now, how they got here, and what they feel looking forward. In the grand scheme of things, ten months is a very short time, but because of the great amount of time and effort members put forth during such a short time frame, these ten months can have a profound effect on not only one’s future career path, but their personal values and mindset as well.


In their speech, a tone of optimism and humility was ever-present, with an emphasis placed on important relationships cultivated in their time as CCAs. The two speakers closed with a beautiful quotation that was reassuring to CCAs – some of whom know what their next move was, and still some who are not sure, “There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going… Your career and your life will have stops and starts and zigs and zags. Don’t stress out about the white space – the path you can’t draw – because therein lies both the surprises and the opportunities.”




Pathways to Alternative Careers in Education

Some people join Promise Corps thinking they want to be teacher. Some have no idea what they want to do, but want to get some experience in education. It doesn’t take long for members to figure out if they want to be teachers or not. If they do not, some still know they want to stay in education, but with so many pathways to a career in education, it can be daunting to figure out which way to go. Especially when there are so many little-talked-about careers in the education world!

So, we rounded up experts in all various fields of education to participate in an “Alternative Careers in Education Panel” event late this May, as members were in the wake of figuring out which career step to take next.


Panelists ranged from teachers, to school administrators, to those who work in behavioral health and housing. They were asked questions such as what advice they had for people just starting to plan a career path in education. Panelists encouraged people to embrace their strengths, as well as always being on the hunt for new ones. They recommended to be humble and get comfortable accepting criticism, as it’s a great way to find problem areas and quickly address them.

All the panelists emphasized the importance of people skills. They urged new educators to network and connect with as many people as possible. This advice helps bring confidence into the interview process. Talking to more people allows you to feel comfortable with being yourself and communicating who you are as a person, which is the best strategy in an interview. The panelists all frequently interview new people for positions at their schools and organizations, and they wanted everyone attending the panel to know that it’s easy for them to tell when someone is being inauthentic. They also offered that it helps to do your research beforehand and assure your interviewer that you are familiar with the organization and their mission.

Finally, the panelists stated that learning to forgive yourself and knowing that you are worthy of a fantastic job opportunity builds confidence, which will show in your interview. Additionally, going outside of your comfort zone will not only expand your horizons, but it could potentially earn you valuable new skills, as well as showing your work ethic.

After the formal part of the panel, there was time for networking. Attendees had time for more personal conversations with panelists and more directed advice based on their individual interests and situations. All in all, it was a successful event that we are hoping to continue in the future!

Think Tank Connects Students & Professionals

Over the week-long Spring Break in April, when students could have been sleeping, working, or hanging with friends, a several students from the four Promise Corps schools were in a high rise in Center City Philadelphia presenting about issues affecting their neighborhoods and solutions that could be implemented to address them. They presented to a panel of Chief Executive Officers, senior analysts, program managers, and more.


The idea behind Think Tank, as the event is called, is to connect young Philadelphians with professionals who can help them hone and implement their own ideas to positively affect their communities. Panelists ranged from those native to Philadelphia and those who came to the City of Brotherly Love from elsewhere. They included those who work in the public space – some in government and some in education. Many panelists are career changers. Though they have a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, all the panelists know what it is to work in public service. Because of the passion, each of them wanted to participate in this event to support students who are showing an interest early on by giving feedback to their presentations and advice for the future.

Students presented on various topics, including youth violence, human trafficking, alternatives to athletics in extracurricular activities, and the dearth of counselors in Philadelphia public schools. Their presentations of the issues not only included statistics backing up the magnitude of these problems, but also personal anecdotes making these issues feel tangible for those in the room. This was something the panelists all commented on as adding a sense of urgency and a call to action following the presentations.


Solutions included creating a crisis and support center for victims of human trafficking, expanding extracurricular programs to give students a voice and to combat youth violence, and creating a program to increase the number of counselors and mentors in Philadelphia high schools.

The feedback to the students from the panelists was both constructive and insightful. Some of the feedback involved presentation skills, such as projecting their voices more, and some feedback included ideas for making their arguments stronger. All in all, the panelists were impressed at the amount of work that went into the presentations, and the amount of courage it took to get up in front of a room of people to present their findings. In addition to constructive criticism, the panelists shared advice with students as they start to think about life after high school and potential careers. The students were encouraged to take their time finding the perfect career and to continually build their skills – opportunity will strike at the right time. They were encouraged to keep participating in events like Think Tank, “because you’ll never know who you might meet and where those relationships will take you.”


Their words were honest, too, and some panelists admitted they are still trying to figure out their own career paths. Having had a mind for public service since high school, one panelist told students new to the public sector not to be afraid to take risks, and to avoid letting others limit them.

Think Tank proved to be not only a way for students to get involved in their communities, but a venue for them to explore their future options in public service and gain experience as well.