Young Women Empowering Their Communities: Championing Change

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: On Tuesday, the White House honored 11 young women who are leading and empowering their communities as Champions of Change.

On Tuesday, the White House honored 11 young women who are leading and empowering their communities as Champions of Change. The program brought together young women from diverse backgrounds to share their stories of leading in their communities. The young women spoke of how they found the strength to lead, to inspire others and of those work of mentors and teachers who they relied on for help.

Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

As part of the event, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released an important an important new fact sheet on implicit bias and inclusive STEM education and in conjunction with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence published a new report “Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., 2015.”

In addition, in support of inclusive STEM education, the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) at Arizona State University announced the National Academic STEM Collaborative, a network of 10 academic partners and nine organizational partners who have committed to identify and scale effective, evidence-based strategies to improve STEM diversity in the nation’s colleges and universities, with a focus on women and girls from under-represented communities.

To expand STEM mentoring to girls in underserved communities, The National Girls Collaborative announced EmpowerHer, an expansion of “The Connectory” (a portal offering one-stop shopping for over 11,000 STEM mentoring and afterschool programs across the United States). A new interactive map will make it easier for parents and teachers in Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, and in cities served by the Administration’s Tech Hire Initiative to locate STEM mentoring opportunities. Additionally, Time Warner Cable has committed $100,000 towards a small grants competition to link mentors and girls.

To support affirmative visibility for girls and young women from underrepresented communities, the Smithsonian announced a special edition of it signature “Museum Day,” on March 12, 2016, which for the first time will be themed to “inspire the nation’s girls and young women of color.”

The Council on Women and Girls also highlighted a new webpage featuring information on advancing equity and empowerment for women and girls of color and their peers.

Before the event, the Champions shared their reflections with us:

Asha Abdi

I’ve always heard of the concept of repressed memories and feelings. I never thought I had any until the images of the 2011 famine had awoken a surge of feelings and pain I never knew existed. I was once a Somali child sitting under a make shift tent in a refugee camp on the coast of Kenya. It rained on the first night and the women were rushed to a nearby warehouse. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t find my mother. I can still feel the pain of what seemingly felt like my heart dropping to my feet. I rushed outside screaming for her and once I barely passed the door, I heard her yell out for me, she was in a corner breast-feeding my little sister.

That first night is the reason why I have decided to focus my life on giving back to not only those back home in Somalia, but also to my local community and those less fortunate. My faith and history have taught me that I have to be grateful and thankful for what I have. I could still be in a refugee camp, just like the 500,000 Somali’s who make up the largest camp in the world in Northern Kenya.

I have chosen to live my life by using the tools and passions I have for community and resource development to support the youth, especially young women, to have the set of skills needed to be successful in the fast pace and competitive world of Silicon Valley and to also help build a solid foundation for as many people as I can in Somalia.

Asha Abdi is a Faith Relations Coordinator VISTA at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco; as well as Director of Communications and Partnership with Agoon Foundation.

Diali Avila

When I was 17 years old, I became part of a community-based radio show, which consisted of segments about health, arts, education and advocacy. It was a way for us to talk about the issues that were happening around our community, as well as to celebrate the talent in the city. After a few years of being on-air, we started a non-profit organization to raise money for undocumented students — youth who unfortunately are at the mercy of decision makers that at times make it harder for them to continue their education. So far, we have awarded close to $50,000 in scholarships.

People take control of their lives through education; this empowers them to make decisions on their health, their future, and much more. My work with Planned Parenthood started when I joined the Affordable Care Act campaign to help families and individuals enroll in health care. After the ACA campaign, I started working on a campaign to implement comprehensive sexuality education in high schools. Young people should have access to medically accurate sexual education; learn about consent and healthy relationships, as well as their own bodily autonomy. Education is power, and access is our right!

Diali Avila is an Outreach Organizer with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and founding member of the Isac Amaya Foundation.

Yesenia Ayala

When I was in high school, one person completely shaped the path I was going to take with my life. My English teacher, Mr. Mullarkey, challenged, motivated, and believed in me when nobody else did. I was working full time, helping my parents raise my siblings, and trying to keep on top of my academics at a predominantly Latino school in Los Angeles. My family doubted the importance of higher education, but with Mr. Mullarkey’s guidance, I learned of a new possible future: Posse and Grinnell College.


Within my first few weeks of college, I realized how thankful I was for Mr. Mullarkey’s support. He encouraged me in the face of cultural opposition and inspired me to act similarly in my new home in Iowa. I became involved with Al Éxito, a state non-profit organization in nine communities that focuses on mentoring Latino youth, helping them graduate from high school and continue with post-secondary education. I helped create programs to inform parents about the education system in the United States, financial aid, essay-writing, and the entire college application process. My leadership with Al Éxito aided in the development of Latino youth leadership programs for Iowa high school students, allowing them to receive additional support from both the organization and their communities. Ultimately, I envision Al Éxito expanding and serving all of Iowa, and I plan to coordinate additional curriculum for teachers. After all, it was a teacher who made it possible for me to be able to help others.

Yesenia Ayala is a second-year student at Grinnell College where she is pursuing a sociology and Spanish double major with a concentration in Latin American Studies.

Meredith Boyce

My name is Meredith Boyce, and I am an 18 year old computer science student who started a program to service computers for blind students who use them for school work. During the past four years, my life underwent major changes. In 2011, an arteriovenous malformation (a fancy word for a kind of brain aneurysm) burst in my brain, and I required emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. This ordeal left me with epilepsy, neuropathy, and a scarred optic nerve, which caused me to go mostly blind. I had been at a private school before this happened, but with my new disabilities, I required more assistance than that school could provide. I transferred to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind in the tenth grade and became a student at the Blind School’s mainstream program at Spartanburg High School.

With the assistance of the School for the Blind, I went on to succeed in all of my classes at Spartanburg High School and at Daniel Morgan Technology Center. I had learned about computers before my brain injury and still was in awe of their potential in the 10th grade. The School for the Blind needed help taking care of the aging laptop computers that some students used to complete school work. I started by servicing the computers of my fellow mainstream students and teaching them how to utilize their assistive software to its fullest capacities, but it grew into a larger venture when students back at the main campus of the School for the Blind came to me for small repairs and help. I spent hours every week running diagnostics and doing repairs on students’ computers in the tenth grade. I did all of this while taking all honors classes and learning to read Braille because my vision was still declining.

In the eleventh grade, I enrolled in the partnership program at Daniel Morgan Technology Center through Spartanburg High School and was the only girl in the computer science department. I took the computer repair class because I thought that I should probably get some formal training if I was going to continue working on the blind students’ computers. It wasn’t easy being the only girl and the only person with a disability at Daniel Morgan Technology Center. I remember a substitute teacher asking me if I was lost when I walked into the room because, “cosmetology is down the hall, sweetie.” (Gender inequality doesn’t suddenly right itself as soon as one girl enrolls in a male-dominated field.)

At the same time, Spartanburg High School started a program where they assigned each student a MacBook Air. There was a learning curve for every student, but especially for the visually impaired mainstream students who were accustomed to using assistive software on their old PCs. I didn’t know how to teach my peers about VoiceOver or Zoom because I had never used them myself. I screwed up a lot at first, but eventually I got the hang of it and was able to teach my friends how to use the new software.

By the twelfth grade, the School for the Blind implemented the same program as Spartanburg High School and got MacBook Airs for each student. I was asked to advise the Blind School’s technology leader on what students would need to transition to Macs. I got to be a part of that transition as a peer technology coach and taught some on campus students how to work with their new devices. When I went over to the campus after school for Braille lessons or sports practices, there was always somebody who needed my help. I was happy to give it, even though it made me late for practice more than once.

I graduated this year from Spartanburg High School with honors and from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind as the Blind School student with the highest GPA. I am going to college in the same town as the Deaf and Blind School and I still plan to go back to campus and assist when I can.

Meredith Boyce is a student at Converse College in South Carolina.

Rita Herford

Growing up on a family farm I never put much thought into how our food was made. I was always involved in agriculture, so I knew the farm to fork journey. After returning home to my farm after college it became clear to me that a large percent of the population had little knowledge of how farms like mine grow safe, quality and affordable food for the rest of the world.

I feel very passionate about agriculture and helping consumers connect with farmers to learn where the ingredients that make up their foods come from. I am utilizing social media, giving farm tours, and partnering with organizations such as Farm Bureau and The American Society of Sugar Beet Technologist (ASSBT) to help drive transparency about our farm.

Our farm, like thousands across the U.S. strive to produce quality, safe and affordable food while using sustainable farming practices. Water and soil quality are very important at our farm, not only for us now, but so many more generations can enjoy the land. Being a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verified farm is one way we make sure we are being sustainable. We are also part of the Kellogg’s Origins Great Lakes Program, measuring continuous improvement on our farm as we strive to optimize our practices.

Rita Herford is a farmer from Michigan where she grows wheat, sugar beets, corn, dry edible beans and soybeans with her family.

Faatimah Knight

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in the neighborhood of Flatbush that was, and still is, colored by the Caribbean immigrant experience. All my life my mother taught, counseled and advocated for workers’ rights in her union and my father also taught and worked as a health care practitioner. Since childhood I had in my parents’ examples that good work was work that benefited other people.

There were so many reasons behind why I started the Respond with Love campaign to help rebuild black churches burned down by arsonists in the South. I had the somewhat-rare blessing of a good idea coming to me at a very prudent time. The greater blessing, however, was having the conviction to follow through, the people to partner with, and the providence to be successful.

In the wake of the attack at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the South saw a number of black churches burned by arsonists. Some feared that these attacks were in direct relation to the shooting at Emanuel AME and to the killer’s call for a race war. These fires were reminiscent of very old tactics to intimidate black communities across the South. Such a thing would take our country back to an era of unimaginable violence and ignorance. I felt compelled to do something that would take a stand against hate. I wanted to show myself that I did have to be crippled in fear and sadness by the hateful acts of others. The campaign raised over $100,000 in under three weeks, making it successful beyond my team’s wildest imagination. Most of the donors were individual Muslims from all over the country who were moved deeply to help.

As a black American Muslim I am implicated in anti-black racist violence. I am blessed to have so many intersections in my identity that although they make me a triple minority, also serve to broaden my scope in the best of ways. The values my parents instilled in me growing up in a Muslim home, as well as the edification I received in my religious and liberal arts education at Zaytuna College continue to inspire me to serve others with whatever small gifts I have been given. My hope is to continue to make a positive impact—especially in the lives of the vulnerable—through my writing and advocacy work.

Faatimah Knight is pursuing her Masters in Religious Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. She has her Bachelors in Islamic Law and Theology from Zaytuna College.

Ashley McCray

At my university there is a severe underrepresentation of native students, faculty, and administrative staff. Enrollment of native-identifying students has steadily decreased since 2012. My work seeks to challenge and shift the university’s views regarding native contributions. Specifically, I fight for curriculum reform, for diversity and inclusivity in syllabi and classrooms, ongoing education regarding native issues and issues that affect other marginalized and oppressed communities for all incoming students, faculty, staff, and administration.

I come from a long line of strong native women who have overcome obstacles such as extreme poverty, alcohol and drug dependency, domestic violence, and sexual assault. My mother’s family comes from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Many of my grandmothers and aunts were and remain instrumental to the fight for native rights and thus I see my activism as an extension of their work. I strive to carry forth my ancestor’s memories, struggles, stories, and acts of resistance to pave a better path for my people.

Ashley Nicole McCray is a Ph.D. student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine program at the University of Oklahoma, where she studies indigenous knowledge and serves her department as a graduate assistant.

Swetha Prabakaran

I would never have entered computer science if I hadn’t seen powerful women in this field from an early age, such as my mother and my freshman Computer Science teacher. Being able to see women I admired and looked up to in this space gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my love for computer science.

By 2020, we’ll have more than 1.4 million tech jobs in the US, but girls still hesitate to enter engineering and technology due to stereotypes. Without encouraging more young women to enter programming, we will never be able to fill those positions.

It was in that moment that my non-profit, Everybody Code Now!, was born. When I took my first Computer Science class in high school, I didn’t think that one day I’d be the one teaching kids to code. I really wanted other girls to have strong mentors and exposure to tech the way I did.

Through Everybody Code Now!, I’ve been able to teach hundreds of kids to code and raise thousands of dollars to run more science and engineering activities in schools. I’ve seen elementary school girls who had never heard of programming blossom into confident students building websites about their favorite sports or animals and watched the quietest students become the classroom leaders.

I hope to continue expanding Everybody Code Now!’s programs, both nationally and internationally, and show even more girls that they can become community leaders, innovators, and Champions of Change.

Swetha Prabakaran is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology with a focus on Computer Science. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Everybody Code Now!

Katie Prior

The year I started playing the trumpet, my great-grandfather, a World War II Army veteran, was in hospice care. My family talked about how great it would be if I could play Taps at his funeral, but he passed away before I had a chance to learn the notes.

Five years later, I learned that many veterans’ funerals have an audio recording of Taps because there aren’t enough military trumpet players available for every funeral. I realized that this was an issue I could do something about! I could use my trumpet for more than just performing for my parents at band concerts. I decided to recruit my trumpet-playing friends to help, too.

Experiencing the effect that live Taps has is truly inspiring. As anyone who has lost a veteran loved one can tell you, the final salute of Taps is something that stays with you long after the ceremony. Every time you hear Taps for the rest of your life, it reminds you of that loved one and the sacrifices they made for our country.


This is why I founded the Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps. We are a non-profit service organization that trains, supports, and recognizes high school trumpet players who use their musical gifts to honor the veteran community. We now have volunteers in 6 states and plans to expand nationwide.

I hope to inspire my peers to use their own gifts, whatever those gifts may be, to serve others and make the world a better place.

Katie Prior is a tenth-grade student from Oklahoma who earned her Girl Scout Gold Award for founding the Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps.

Amanda Tachine

I come from a land of juniper and pinon trees, beautiful yucca plants, and a breath-taking array of mesas, canyons, and valleys. I come from a lineage of strong and courageous Navajo people, who laugh, love, hope and pray. I am a Navajo mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, teacher, writer, and advocate. Where I am from and whom I am connected to influences the way I live my life.


My passion and vision is to inspire and increase Native peoples’ attainment of a college degree. I believe that higher education is a means toward the betterment of our tribal nations and society at large. To help achieve that vision, Helios Education Foundation, University of Arizona, Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Nation, and the Navajo Nation supported efforts to implement Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access, and Resiliency), a mentoring program that strives to increase college aspirations and attainment for Native Americans. When higher education institutions work closely with Native communities, they have a powerful role in creating positive change for Native peoples and tribal nations. Currently, I am grateful to be a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University where in which I look forward to advancing efforts to increase Native peoples’ dreams of receiving a college degree.

Dr. Amanda R. Tachine is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University.

If you would like to continue the conversation, you can share your story on, YouTube, Vimeo or other online sharing services using #ImagineHer.

Katharine Gallogly is a special assistant in the White House Office of Public Engagement

Guidance for Competency Based Education Experimental Site Released

The Obama Administration has worked steadily to increase access to and completion of high quality degrees for students of all ages and backgrounds. One specific thrust has been to remove barriers that stand in the way of innovation in higher education, including those that prevent promising new educational models from expanding. Competency based education (CBE) is one example of a promising new delivery model with the potential to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students and improve transparency and alignment of learning outcomes to the needs of employers and society. And the field is growing – recently, a survey suggested that as many as 600 postsecondary institutions in the United States are currently designing or implementing CBE programs.

In 2014, the Department of Education launched three experiments under the Experimental Sites Initiative – Competency-Based Education, Limited Direct Assessment, and Prior Learning Assessment – as an opportunity to learn more about this and related delivery model and to experiment with Title IV disbursement models designed to incent student achievement and student success. Among those, the Competency-Based Education experiment provided the most expansive regulatory waivers and modifications, and in the time since that experiment was announced, it has become clear that additional detail and guidance from the Department of Education regarding that experiment would be helpful to both institutions and accrediting agencies.

I am delighted to say that we are ready to release the CBE Experiment Reference Guide for institutions participating in the CBE experiment. We believe that this Guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new CBE providers as they implement this experiment. We recognize that many of you were anticipating that the Guide would be released earlier this summer, but it was very important for us to have a high level of confidence that the guidance it contains is on very firm ground. The Guide can be located at

Additionally, by the end of this year, we will be issuing an expansion of the current CBE experiment. The CBE experiment was designed to offer institutions a new approach to financial aid disbursement in the hopes of incentivizing student success and cost reduction. Following the release of the 2014 Federal Register notice, we received additional feedback from institutions about the approach provided in the 2014 notice, and we have been working to respond to this feedback. When the expansion is released, we are confident that this experiment will be even more useful to the field, particularly to institutions using a subscription-based tuition model with their CBE programs. As part of the experimental site initiative, ED will be gathering significant data from the participating institutions to enable a rigorous evaluation of the impact of CBE programs on issues of completion, affordability and transparency of degrees.

As always, I encourage and welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. We are eager to learn from these CBE experiments, and we remain committed to responsible innovation to enhance learning outcomes, lower cost and improve completion rates in higher education.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Hispanic Heritage Foundation Recognizes White House Initiative with Prestigious Award

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative

Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, accepts the Hispanic Heritage Award.

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation held its 28th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards on Sept. 17 at the historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The awards celebrated Hispanic culture and heritage and recognized Latino leaders in sports; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; innovation; youth work; education; music and health.

This year, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) was awarded the education award for its 25 years of service to the nation’s Latino community. Alejandra Ceja, executive director for the Initiative, received the award on behalf of WHIEEH.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award on behalf of the Initiative,” said Ceja. “As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the Initiative’s 25th anniversary, let us remember that investing in the educational attainment for Hispanics is absolutely critical to the success of our country. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of our efforts reflects the important role education plays in the lives of Latino students and families across this country. We look forward to working to ensure Latino students, and all students, have the opportunity to achieve their goals and dreams.”

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was entering the final leg of his “Ready for Success” bus tour, recognized the Initiative’s accomplishments.

“I am happy to congratulate Executive Director Alejandra Ceja and her entire White House Initiative team on receiving the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education Leadership,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s recognition of her leadership and the critical work her team provides is a testament to the service and dedication of our commitment to our nation’s students and families.”

Created in 1990 to address the education disparities of the nation’s Latino community, particularly the alarming drop out rate, the Initiative has continued to work with local, state and federal stakeholders in support of the educational attainment of Latinos.

Under the Obama Administration, the mission of the Initiative is to restore the country to its role as a global leader in education and strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Latinos of all ages. The Initiative also works to ensure that all Latinos receive an education that prepares them for college, productive careers and satisfying lives.

To learn about the Initiative’s efforts throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, visit and to see the other Hispanic Heritage Foundation honorees visit: 

Alberto Betancourt is a member of the press team in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Investing in Higher Education Innovation

As I have written previously, much is changing in higher education.  Student demographics have shifted significantly, as have the demands of a fast-evolving workforce.  Technology, powerful insights from brain science, and research on teaching and learning are creating vast new possibilities.

In order to build our economy and our democracy, we must invest in the kinds of evidence-based innovations that expand access, affordability, and success to communities that are not currently well served, such as students who would be the first in their families to go to college, those from low-income families, and students of color.

This is exactly what our First in the World (FITW) grant program seeks to do.

Today the Department of Education is awarding nearly $60 million in FITW grants to 17 colleges, universities, and organizations.

This year’s highly competitive applicant pool demonstrated the innovation and creativity flourishing at all kinds of institutions.  Grants will fund projects with a range of goals and approaches, including proactive advising and support services guided by predictive analytics, redesign of online gateway courses to increase student engagement, integration of adaptive learning software into a short-term bridge program, and open source developmental courses delivered through mobile learning apps. Read a few examples of these terrific projects and a list of all of this year’s recipients.

I’m especially pleased that nine of the 17 winning applications came from minority serving institutions (MSIs), three of which are also Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  These MSIs and HBCUs will receive a total of over $30 million in funding.  I was also pleased to see proposals from strong and broad collaborations: we simply cannot achieve the impact we need with every campus acting alone.

I only wish we were able to fund many more of the high quality applications we received. And in fact, while the President’s FY2016 budget requested $200 million for FITW, Congressional budget proposals have zeroed out the program. Without a change to those budget proposals, we will not be able fund these critical innovations going forward.

Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s grants, and our deepest thanks to them and to all the FITW applicants for their leadership and their commitment to the success of all our nation’s students.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education

Community colleges: America’s economic engines

Duncan talks with students at a roundtable at Cincinnati State

Community colleges are America’s economic engines. They are gateways to middle class jobs, and their open-access, affordable programs hold the key to college access, affordability and completion for millions of students from every walk of life.  This Administration has invested more than $2 billion in community colleges, from TAACCCT grants, to the President’s America’s College Promise proposal, to make two free years of college the norm for every responsible student, as well as the proposed American College Training Fund, to help more workers skill up for high-wage, high-demand careers.

The life-changing potential of a strong community college education was on powerful and moving display at Cincinnati State, where Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell visited as part of the Ready for Success bus tour. Among the speakers was Bryan Dell, who for years was a drug addict and dealer, before getting sober and enrolling at Cincinnati State to study social work. He spoke movingly of the turnaround in his life and the deep support from the college staff, credits in large part to Cincinnati State and its Black Male Initiative. “The one thing a person must have to succeed in this is commitment,” he said.

When Bryan arrived on campus a few years ago, he hadn’t been in a classroom since 1979 – the year he graduated from high school.  Since then, it seemed his life had jumped the rails. But Bryan had begun the long journey out of drug and alcohol addiction, and a colleague at the treatment program he was attending recommended he also consider going back to school.  As hard as it was to take that step, once he’d enrolled at Cincinnati State, Bryan never looked back. He was elected president of the Black Male Initiative, was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society, and earned a nearly perfect GPA, graduating cum laude. Armed with his Associate’s degree, Bryan transferred Northern Kentucky University – again earning top marks, and securing a Bachelor’s degree.  He’s now studying to become a licensed social worker and will graduate with his Masters degree from NKU this May – but he still gives back to the Cincinnati State community that helped him get a fresh start: continuing to support BMI, mentoring students and sharing his inspiring experience.

As Bryan puts it: he used to be addicted to drugs; today he’s “addicted to A’s.”  His journey shows how a great education can offer a second chance at a whole new life.  The America’s College Promise proposal – now a bill awaiting action in Congress – could make thousands more stories like Bryan’s possible.

Cincinnati State represents the strength of the community college model, welcoming 21st century students, including low-income, first-generation, minority, adult students with jobs and families, and workers seeking to skill up for better career ladders. During a roundtable discussion with the Secretary, school administrators, professors, students, alumni, business partners, and civic leaders had the opportunity to share some examples of the difference this hub for quality education skills training, and workforce development is making for graduates, employers, and the region’s economy.

The school offers dual enrollment opportunities, so high school students can earn credits toward a degree, and has launched a new high-quality charter school – a STEM academy right on campus. Through the “C-State Accelerate” program, low-income students with remedial get the extra support they need to get an Associate’s degree in 3 years, with tuition/textbook assistance, monthly incentives, academic coaching/career guidance.  Cincinnati State offers scholarships to help reduce college costs, and increase retention. The college’s Workforce Development Center offers everything from courses toward a technical certificate or degree, to short-term technical training tied to labor market needs.

And, targeted student networks and services help to ensure that every student has the inspiration and resources needed to succeed.  For example, the Black Male Initiative (BMI) is dedicated to helping men of color earn more degrees and reach their full potential.

The visit began with a tour of a classroom where students in Information Technology were working to set up servers and desktop computer hardware and software – part of a “capstone” project designed to provide every student with hands-on, real world experience before they graduate and join the workforce.  Through this experience, students prove they have the skills needed to configure the same complex hardware and software that’s in demand in today’s corporate world.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Preparing Students for College and Cutting-Edge Careers in Kentucky

Secretary Duncan looks at technology with students at effersontown High School Magnet

What’s one of the greatest challenges for today’s teachers and students? How to prepare students to thrive in the most competitive global economy the world has ever known, where workers won’t just have multiple jobs over the course of a lifetime – they’ll have multiple careers!  And, in our fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, many of those jobs haven’t even been invented yet!

To learn how one school is meeting this challenge, Thursday morning brought us to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy – the home of the Chargers.

The school serves a diverse student body of 1,400 students, including many from low-income families.  Learning is organized around career themes, through four academies.  The Design Academy features engineering, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, and Web design; the Build Academy features robotics and electronics; the Create Academy houses the fine arts; and the Lead Academy offers JROTC and business.  All of the academies offer all the coursework needed to prepare students for college and careers, along with specialized technical training and certification and the opportunity to earn college credits along with a high school diploma.

These career academies have strong support from the surrounding cities and from the region’s employers, who see it as key to developing a competitive workforce and filling high-demand jobs.  For instance, the Design Academy houses the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, based on a model first launched in 1990 by the Ford Motor Company to encourage students to pursue education and build successful careers in business, engineering, and technology.  Last year, the Jefferson County Public Schools was named a Ford Next Generation Learning community – on of 18 communities in the U.S. to earn this designation.  The goal of the program is to help districts and communities implement plans that improve student performance and readiness for college and careers.   Funding from Ford and America’s Promise Alliance will help the district roll out its plan.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Bright Spots in Hispanic Education to Fulfill America’s Future

Today, nearly one in four students in our nation’s public schools is a Hispanic youth. Making sure Latinos have the opportunity to achieve their dreams isn’t just the right thing to do for the Latino community —it is also the right thing to do for our country.

In just the next few decades, Hispanics will represent nearly one in three American workers. It’s clear; the future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of our Hispanic communities.

From September 15 through October 15, our nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month. Each year, especially during this time, we celebrate the incredible contributions of the Hispanic community, honor its heritage, and look ahead to even more progress for Latinos across America. But this year is unique.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, established in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In honor of this historic milestone, the Initiative launched a year of action in October 2014 to highlight the tremendous progress Latinos are making in education and the challenges that remain to ensure true educational opportunity for all and ensure their educational success is a shared responsibility between all sectors.

Latinos are in fact doing better. For example:

Our nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest in history, and Latinos, the fastest growing population of students, have made the greatest gains – at 76 percent – in graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, Latino graduation rates have improved by more than four percentage points. Our nation’s high school dropout rate is at a historic low, with the Hispanic dropout rate half of what it was in 2000. And more minority students, including Hispanics, are enrolling in higher education at higher rates.

But the work does not stop there. At only 16 percent of Latinos who hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, we can and must do better. To help build the national narrative on Latino progress and to share promising practices the Initiative called for nominations for Bright Spots in Hispanic Education. These Bright Spots are evidence-based organizations, models, or initiatives that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps, from cradle to career, for Latinos.

Earlier this week, we were proud to recognize more than 230 Bright Spots in Hispanic Education that are working to increase the educational attainment of the Latino community in key areas, including: early learning; K-12 and college access, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; Latino teacher recruitment; and postsecondary completion.

We know that identifying and implementing strategies and solutions that support Hispanic students is critical to ensuring their success. We also hope that by highlighting work that already is happening across the country, we can encourage more programs, groups, and individuals to collaborate; share data-driven approaches, promising practices, and peer to-peer advice; and build effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in increased educational outcomes for Hispanic students, and all students.

You can find all of the Bright Spots in this national online catalogue, and here is a sampling of what’s there:

Early Learning

  • LAUP, based in CA, has prepared more than 105,000 children for kindergarten and beyond by funding, rating, and raising the quality of preschool programs.

STEM education

  • The ARMAS program in NM was created to increase the number of Hispanic students earning a bachelor of science degree in STEM and offers supplemental instruction and tutoring in STEM courses.

College access

  • The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) Project, based in TX, provides extensive wraparound support services and financial assistance so that the students can attend college full time.

Hispanic teacher recruitment

  • The ALBA school in WI works with local universities to create a pipeline to teacher certification, encouraging teacher assistants and parents to pursue credentials to become fully certified educators.

College completion

  • The Dream Project in VA is addressing the needs of undocumented students striving for higher education.

It is critical to continue to identify and highlight asset-based, solutions-oriented innovations that are helping to close achievement and opportunity gaps for Latinos. Throughout Hispanic Heritage Monththe Obama administration is celebrating Latino progress and highlighting the work and investment put it in by parents, community leaders, educators, and students to ensure Latinos achieve.

Visit this blog and the Initiative’s webpage for more updates throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.

View the statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on National Hispanic Heritage Month

View President Obama’s proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Month, 2015

Alejandra Ceja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Extending Welcoming Communities to New Americans

American communities have traditionally prided themselves on being welcoming places that foster a sense of security and offer helping hands for fellow community members. And it’s important to extend the characteristic warmth of our communities to the immigrants and refugees who compose roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population. Currently, there are over 4.7 million foreign-born students enrolled in pre-kindergarten to postsecondary education, representing six percent of the total U.S. student population. Another 20 million students are the children of foreign-born parents. Ensuring access to high-quality learning opportunities and safe and welcoming school communities is vital in supporting the civic, linguistic, and economic integration of immigrants, refugees, and their families. By supporting these families, our communities will help build the next generation of American leaders.

Long-term success for new Americans depends upon a cradle-to-career strategy that supports effective and innovative education programs. This is why the Department of Education is determined to improve the educational outcomes of early learning, elementary, secondary, adult education and postsecondary students from immigrant and refugee families, especially those who are not yet proficient in English.

English learners (ELs), many of whom come from immigrant and refugee families, face significant opportunity and achievement gaps compared to their non-EL peers. To close those gaps, we have and will continue to share resources that will help states, districts, and individual programs strengthen their educational offerings. By leveraging the rich cultural and linguistic assets that ELs, including immigrants and refugees, bring to the classroom, we will enable them to achieve their full academic potential and enrich the education experience of all children, youth and adults.

Successful immigrant and refugee integration takes a concerted effort on the part of the federal government, states, and local civic, nonprofit, faith-based, private sector, and philanthropic leaders. On Thursday, Sept. 17, President Obama launched the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, which invites local communities to commit, collaborate, and act on a set of principles to aid new American integration. These principles focus on building inclusive, welcoming communities that advance efforts in the core areas of civil, economic, and linguistic integration. The campaign recognizes the significance of local efforts given that each community has unique circumstances and opportunities. We ask that communities heed the call to create welcoming environments for new Americans in their own schools, neighborhoods, homes, agencies, and institutions. Encouraging broader participation in civic life, providing hubs where skills and job training can be developed, and supporting English language acquisition are clear steps that communities can take to ensure that new Americans feel accepted and supported in the places they call home. Enabling each other to succeed is the cornerstone of all successful communities.

To support these efforts, we will continue to provide critical resources and information to help schools, communities, state and local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and educators better serve this population and their families. One such resource, a Department-sponsored webinar series, focuses on key areas of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

Learn more about how you can welcome, engage, and enhance the lives of new Americans (pdf).

Libia Gil is the assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education.

Johan Uvin is the acting assistant secretary of the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Stops at Purdue

Arne Duncan and Mitch Daniels on stage during the event at Purdue

Following an inspiring visit to the University of Illinois Champaign, Duncan stopped stopped at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a conversation with students and University President (and former two-term Governor) Mitch Daniels.

At a time when college matters more than ever before to the success of individual Americans, and our nation as a whole, the nation’s attention is focused on ways to ensure that all students have the opportunity to access, pay for, and complete a quality degree that truly equips them for a great career with a strong salary, active engagement in their homes and communities, and everything else that life has to offer.  To achieve the goal of helping unprecedented numbers of students, from more diverse backgrounds, than ever, to gain knowledge, skills and a valuable degree, at a reasonable cost – we can’t rely on business as usual.  We need to innovate: at the federal, state, and local levels.  We need higher education institutions and leaders willing to do things differently.

Purdue is one of the schools showing the way.

At a time when rising tuition costs are grabbing headlines, the total cost of attending Purdue has actually fallen since President Daniels arrived on campus. Total loan debt among the student body has also fallen 18% or $40 million.  Purdue announced it would freeze tuition for two years, later extending the freeze for a third year.  Four-year graduates from the class of 2016 will be the first in at least 40 years to leave Purdue without ever having experienced a tuition hike.

The Secretary praised President Daniels and Purdue for this and other innovative efforts to help students access, afford and complete their degrees.  The two discussed the University’s focus on: building a stronger pipeline between secondary school and college with a new charter model – Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School – scheduled to open in 2017 with university-aligned curriculum and standards; redesigning coursework to accelerate degree attainment; launching a new Gallup-Purdue Index to measure the value of a college degree; and implementing proven strategies to help an increasingly diverse student population –  including more low-income and first generation college students – succeed in higher education.

Purdue was also the recipient of a 2014 “First in the World” grant from the Department.  The school is using $2.3 million in federal funding for a new “Success through Transformative Education and Active Mentoring” project: an experimental study to determine why active learning models in schools succeed, and focused on overhauling 30 courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. This effort builds on Purdue’s existing “IMPACT” model, which has already transformed 120 traditional lecture-style courses into active, student-centered learning environments, in past 4 years.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Task Force Continues its Work to Improve Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Today, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (Task Force) announced the release of two essential resources to assist practitioners in their efforts to prevent and respond effectively to sexual violence on college and university campuses across the country.

First, the Task Force released a Resource Guide, which is a compendium of materials that support students, administrators, and stakeholders in their efforts to create supportive campus communities, prevent sexual assault, and improve the response to sexual violence when it does occur on campuses. The Resource Guide includes links to previously released Task Force deliverables as well as other resources, and it serves as a one-stop shop for guidance, tools, emerging promising models and practices, training and technical assistance, and funding opportunities to help finance preventative resources and services for victims.

Also released today is Safe Place: Trauma-Sensitive Practice for Health Centers Serving Students. This is a new toolkit for health center managers, developed by the Department of Education’s National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Technical Assistance Center. It is designed to promote the expansion of campus health centers that have a deep understanding of trauma and the needs of all students, particularly survivors of sexual assault. Through tools like individualized online learning modules and materials to conduct a review of the physical environment, clinical encounters, and relevant policies and procedures, managers can learn how to actively engage with their centers to improve the delivery and care, and promote trauma-sensitive practices.

The Resource Guide can be found on the website alongside the Task Force’s initial report and deliverables released throughout the past 18 months. We at OCR, along with all of our partners, are eager to continue this critical work to ensure every student is safe in their learning environment.

Jessie Brown is Senior Counsel in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education

Family Engagement Town Hall in Indianapolis

Students on stage speaking with Secretary DuncanOn Wednesday night of the Ready for Success Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan visited Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in Indianapolis, where enrollment has jumped by 48 percent since 2011.

When it was opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks was the first and only public high school for African Americans in the city. The world has changed a lot in the nearly 90 years since then, but the country still needs to do more so that all of its students – especially students of color — have the chance to learn, achieve, and succeed.

Breaking down barriers to opportunity was at the heart of the discussion at Crispus Attucks, where the Secretary participated in a roundtable discussion with Indianapolis high school students. M. Karega Rausch, vice president of research and evaluation for the National Association for Charter Schools Authorizers, moderated a conversation about overcoming obstacles and striving for college- and career-readiness.

Then, Broderick Johnson, assistant to President Obama and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, followed by Secretary Duncan, held a conversation with students that touched on two specific goals of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative: graduating more students ready for college and careers, and encouraging young people to complete postsecondary education or training. MBK was introduced in 2014 to ensure that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success.

Students take a group photo with Secretary DuncanStudents rose to the occasion, asking their own questions about what they can do to advance justice for the generation they are part of, and beyond.

As part of the initiative, the White House launched the MBK Community Challenge, to bring communities together to implement cradle-to-career strategies that improve outcomes for all young people. As one of the first cities to accept the Challenge, Indianapolis hosted its own MBK local action summit last year.

In Indianapolis and across the country, cities are making progress toward the goals of MBK – but America isn’t there just yet. To move the needle on some of our most pressing challenges – including and especially those we face in education – we must continue to speak honestly about the obstacles to opportunity that far too many of our young people face.

Then – and only then – can we truly move forward with community-led solutions that promote equal opportunity for all students.

Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day three of the Ready for Success bus tour:

Back-to-school bus stops for college tour at University of Louisville

Bus in front of Jeffersontown High School

Secretary Duncan stopped to pick up students at Jeffersontown High School before heading to the University of Louisville for a college tour and discussion.

Secretary Arne Duncan told more than a dozen high school seniors from Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday that the challenges they face in attending college will also be their badge of strength.

Secretary Duncan and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell talked with students in a round table at the University of Louisville during a stop on the Ready for Success bus tour aimed at helping students think about navigating the college experience. Many will be the first in their families to attend college, or to do so in this country, and they spoke of a variety of challenges – particularly, that while their parents want to support their college-going goals, they don’t know firsthand how to help.

A student whose parents immigrated from Tanzania spoke of the language barrier they face: “English is not their first language. Or their second. Or their third.”

Secretary Duncan told them that their role as pioneers should give them pride, and should be a source of strength for them – and, together with Under Secretary Mitchell, laid out tools that can help them, including the new College Scorecard.

All of the high school seniors were from nearby Jefferson County Public Schools – and, while they were all interested in attending college, some had fears about getting there. Unfortunately, fear prevents far too many academically-qualified young people from reaching their full potential beyond high school. More than half of high-achieving students from low-income families – 53 percent – never apply to schools with median SAT and ACT scores similar to their own. In fact, most students apply to just one, unselective school.

Secretary Duncan on a college tourAlongside University of Louisville Executive Director of Admissions, Jenny Sawyer, and Department of Education Under Secretary Mitchell, Secretary Duncan answered questions from high school seniors about the importance of higher education.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined the conversation, and Secretary Duncan praised his 55,000 Degrees initiative, which aims to help the city transition from manufacturing to innovation by increasing the number of college graduates in the city. He urged students to follow the guidance of Muhammad Ali, combining vision and effort: “Think big, and do the road work.”

Duncan urged students to remember that graduating, not merely  going to college, is the goal, and spoke of his own experiences being homesick when he went away to college at Harvard.

But the most electric moment came when Sawyer called out one of the students in the discussion and announced that he had been admitted to the University of Louisville.

Following the conversation, the Secretary joined the students on a campus tour, where dialogue continued.

All Americans – regardless of their zip code – deserve access to high-quality education that makes the journey to the middle class possible. The Obama Administration has taken several steps toward that goal, including simplifying the FAFSA, raising the maximum Pell Grant, introducing new tools and resources, and more.