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Education Philanthropy

Building Community for College Success

college success community

For more than 30 years, TPI has been designing and managing college access and success and scholarship programs for funders who want to have an impact on the lives of young people through higher education. While each program has unique elements based on funders’ own goals, we have found that one key to students’ success in college is their ability to access support in the form of peer communities and networking.

Take a quick peek inside a recent gathering of one group of scholars TPI supports. We think it illustrates how – and why – thoughtful, strategic college success programs like those designed and managed by TPI deliver graduation rates higher than the general national average, and change not only individual lives, but the trajectory of entire families and communities.

The Red Pine Scholars Program is a college success initiative supported by an anonymous family foundation in Massachusetts. Through four-year scholarships, mentoring, and other support, Red Pine helps high-achieving, low- to middle-income students from Massachusetts turn their college aspirations into a reality. Designed and administered by TPI, Red Pine has supported 335 Scholars since its founding in 2012. This year alone, 115 Red Pine Scholars are enrolled in colleges across the United States, pursuing degrees in majors from psychology, nursing, biology, and engineering, to history, the arts, finance, business, and more.

The Red Pine Scholars Program engages students in a rich community of peers, offers one-on-one mentoring by advisors, and draws the Scholars together into a network of students with shared experiences at events with outside guest speakers and professionals. Earlier this year, for example, 40 Scholars gathered for the annual Red Pine Winter Event. The panel discussion about careers was moderated by Red Pine alumna Jada Alexander, part of the first cohort of Red Pine Scholars in 2012 who graduated from New York University, has worked in the education and nonprofit sector, and recently earned an MBA from the Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy & Management. The panel drew healthcare, sales, and financial services professionals to share their personal stories and career insights.

For funders who have family histories of college graduates, consider how in any casual conversation between generations, or even among peers, you have coached and encouraged the college students in your life. How to make the right impression, how to network, or whether an action will be seen as inexperienced are probably all topics you have offered advice on to young people. This winter’s Red Pine Scholars event was a chance for students to ask those same questions of professionals who had backgrounds like their own in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. In return they received invaluable advice like:

  • Make the most of every professional opportunity. Students of every background need reminders that every part-time job, internship, or volunteer effort is an opportunity to build strong relationships with coworkers and supervisors and prove soft skills such as time management, diligent work, willingness to learn, that establish the groundwork for solid references or hiring opportunities.
  • Be curious and open-minded. Learning as much as possible about fields of interest and being open-minded about myriad career options allows students to pursue passions and still pivot toward pathways that speak to their unique experiences and skills.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and utilize your network! One professional shared with the group that he’d graduated without a job, only a spreadsheet of 200 applications he had submitted. He wanted to break into sports and ended up in a summer gig working in baseball – which included catching mice and doing laundry for the team! Keeping up a steady pace of coffees and informational interviews, he met a contact at Delaware North – the company that owns Boston’s TD Garden, home of the Bruins and the Celtics, who hired him as a staff accountant. The Red Pine Scholars loved that story, and took in the lesson on humility, patience, and persistence.
  • Challenges will come your way, but know that you are stronger than anything life throws at you. All the panelists shared personal stories of working through their own challenges – medical issues, pursuing college and career as an immigrant to the U.S., struggling to find the right major, feeling isolated as a person of color at a predominantly white university, and more. They then shared the ways they managed stress, found community and support, and made sure they had the resources around them to overcome challenges.

The program’s funders appreciate hearing these stories and recognize the strength of these young people and the networks they are building. TPI is honored to work with them, and with many other clients, to design and manage college success programs that go above and beyond financial aid. We invite other funders who wish to have this kind of impact to contact us, and to hear more stories about the changes made possible in these students’ lives and in the lives of those around them. If you would like to chat with us about what is possible, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash