Stillwater native helps low-income students in Milwaukee reach college
A 2008 Stillwater Area High School alumna and recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has spent the last year helping students achieve their dream of college through a non-profit group called College Possible Milwaukee.
Lauren Savstrom found out about the program when she went to some college and career fairs while at school in Madison.
“I knew I wanted to do meaningful service work and that’s why Americorps was really awesome, because it focused on social-justice related programs: education, youth, and homelessness,” she said. But I thought that helping students make it into college was important to me and that’s what College Possible allows me to do,” said Savstrom, who is a political science and social welfare major.
College Possible makes college admission and success possible for low-income students through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support. Launched in 2008, College Possible Milwaukee serves more than 2,000 low-income high school and college age students through its college access and completion programs. The organization has branches nationwide in Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Portland.
The opportunity fit Savstrom because she is a first-generation college student and felt she could help students by sharing her experience. This last year, she helped 39 students in two different high schools study to increase their ACT scores by 19 percent. She recently agreed to stay on next year as a second-year senior coach to continue helping her students through the application and financial aid processes to get into college.
“I can’t tell you how much her students love her she has had incredible results with the kid’s ACT scores and I’m thrilled that she agreed to work with her students for another year. We don’t invite everyone who’s interested to come back and I really feel that Lauren will be a great leader going forward,” said College Possible Executive Director Edie Turnbull.
Turnbull said good leadership and enthusiasm is especially important for Milwaukee’s College Possible branch since the numbers are so low for Milwaukee-area students who even consider going to college.
Savstrom said the biggest challenge for her over the last year was motivating students to increase their ACT scores.
“To keep them engaged and motivated going into their senior year, especially when their junior year is tedious and long and in a lot of cases tougher than their other years in school, was a big challenge,” Savstrom said.
The students went through four tests during the year and took initial ACT tests in April and June. A higher score means more options for Savstrom’s students going forward. Savstrom’s payoff was phone calls from her students telling her: ‘Oh my gosh, I have to tell you how well I did on my test.’
“It’s just great. I never really saw myself working with high school students but in some capacity going forward I know I want to continue to be involved with them, it’s not something I ever really considered doing before but I hope that I can continue to do public service and work that is important to me going forward,” Savstrom said.
“Lauren has been just great,” said College Possible spokeswoman Kelly Diggins. “She’s incredibly positive and knows how important it is to build one-on-one relationships with the students. She built a lot of trust within her group.”
When it comes to helping her students next year Savstrom is really excited to get started.
“I’m really excited to see all their hard work pay off next year and I guess to see it become more real for them,” Savstrom said. “I hope they all find a college that’s a good fit and help them to ease their transition so all their success in junior year pays off for each of them.”