Interview with Caroline Altman Smith from Kresge

What motivates a funder to partner with the College Advising Corps? We asked this question to Caroline Altman Smith, Senior Program Officer at The Kresge Foundation.

A $3 billion national foundation, Kresge first began partnering with the College Advising Corps in 2009. Earlier this year, we were thrilled to announce that the Foundation renewed its partnership with the College Advising Corps and would contribute $750,000 over the next two years to support our national growth plans. Altman Smith explains why, offers tips to advisers, and shares other insights from a funder’s perspective in the below Q and A.

For those not familiar with the work of Kresge, can you tell us a little bit about your foundation and how you go about selecting a partner?

I’d be happy to, thanks. The Kresge Foundation is a private, national foundation based in Detroit. There are six different program teams (Arts and Culture, Detroit/Community Development, Education, Environment, Health, and Human Services), and collectively, we award almost 500 grants per year that total more than $150 million. In 1924, our founder, Sebastian Kresge, himself a first-generation college student, established the foundation for the “promotion of human progress.” Our education work today focuses on helping more low-income students and students of color get into and through college. We work nationally but with a particular focus in our home state of Michigan, and in Texas, Southern California, Arkansas, and the 57 cities that are competing for the Talent Dividend Prize. We seek to partner with organizations and institutions that share our mission, have dynamic leadership, a strong track record of success for students, and ambitious plans to grow.

What are you most proud of from your partnership with the College Advising Corps thus far? How does this partnership map to Kresge’s goal to increase the number of college graduates in the United States who come from low-income backgrounds?

We are extremely proud to have had the privilege and pleasure of supporting the College Advising Corps with three grants totaling almost $3 million over the past five years. The college-going process is confusing, bureaucratic, and inequitable. Low-income students deserve a fair chance to enter and succeed in college but don’t often receive the same level of support and guidance that upper-income students receive. The Corps works to level this playing field of opportunity with the unique twist of service. One of my favorite aspects of the program is the fact that the experience has such a positive impact on everyone involved. The high school students get the benefit of near-peer mentoring and high-quality college advising services. The advisers have the chance to serve in high-need communities and to play an important role in the lives of young people by helping them fulfill their full potential. That’s a tremendous responsibility and an honor.  I’m very proud of the fact the Corps was founded at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, soon after I graduated – unfortunately, I just missed the chance to be an adviser!

Too bad, indeed. Fortunately though, we’ve still managed to collaborate together! What are some of the goals that Kresge has in partnering with the College Advising Corps over the next two years?

This grant will is designed to help the Corps grow in four ways: 1) Expand in two of Kresge’s focus states that already have established programs (Michigan and California); 2) Launch the first College Advising Corps chapter at a Historically Black College and University; 3) Support the national office’s ability to manage growth in programming in the South and West, which don’t have as many chapters as other regions in the country; and 4) Explore the idea of expanding the program to Arizona, a state that currently lacks a Corps chapter.  Through all of this, the Corps will continue to serve students who might not otherwise have anyone to help them navigate the college admissions process, help create a college-going culture in hundreds of schools, and create a legion of Corps graduates who are passionate and knowledgeable about equity and education issues in disadvantaged communities.

What advice would you give to our program directors and advisers who are working in underserved schools around the country?

I would first say, “THANK YOU, advisers,” for choosing to serve your country in this way!  It is a huge gift of time, energy, and heart to undertake a year or two commitment like this, but I honestly believe there is no more important work to be doing. You are playing such an important role in the lives of young people, and I know you take that responsibility seriously. The long hours that you put in after school, your battles with the online FAFSA, the creativity and energy that you bring to your work with high school students—that service is acknowledged and appreciated. You may never fully know the impact of your time as an adviser, but you are making a real difference.  Enjoy it, and no matter what lies ahead in your bright future, carry the lessons and stories of the students and families you serve with you always.  Keep working to make the world a better place and open doors of opportunity for others, no matter where your journey takes you!