Making College an Option for Others
Having earned degrees from Smith and UMass, Mylasha, a member of the first Scholarship Plus class, is back where she began – in the Bronx, working with students who remind her of what she was like 10 years ago. With a brilliant smile and a presence that instantly puts people at ease, Mylasha is a college advisor at Bronx Collegiate Academy in the South Bronx, working with a class of 100 seniors.
“When they come into my office,” she says, “it’s the first time they have talked about going to college.” “A lot of them,” she says, “are the first generation” in their families to go to college, as she was. Her job is to help them navigate through the maze of CUNY, SUNY, the Common App, financial aid forms and scholarship applications. It’s a challenge about which she feels passionate.
Mylasha says that she has always been interested in education, and that Murry Bergtraum High School was a key to that. “I had an amazing experience there, and great teachers,” she said. She paid particular tribute to her college advisor, Dr. Carolyn Powell, whose counsel was “so important.” It was while at Murry Bergtraum, where she was the class valedictorian, that she decided that she wanted to “give back,” by becoming involved with education.
“It sort of came around full circle,” she said of her present role as a college advisor. “A lot of kids don’t have that support at home, which is why school is so important.” She speaks of students who have told her, “I never thought I would go to college. You are the first person who made me think I could go – and I want to go.” And she loves the times when she comes back to her desk and finds notes from students saying, “You give me hope” and “You inspire me.”
Mylasha’s path to her present job was direct. She majored in sociology at Smith, then earned a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her first job was with the College Access for All initiative of New York City’s Department of Education. That experience helped her learn that while she did not want to be a teacher, she did want to work directly with students. From there she went to the Bronx Institute, an organization whose goal is to promote and support academic excellence in the borough’s schools, where she was a college counselor.
Mylasha’s career goals will keep her in the area of counseling, but will allow her to make a difference in students’ lives earlier. She intends to study to be a guidance counselor, working hands-on with students on academics as well as social and emotional issues. This will require more graduate study, but will involve “working with children to make sure they get the right social and emotional resources to deal with issues at home, including family therapy.” Eventually, she says, she is “interested in working on educational policy, to get involved with curriculum, education policies, school policies, and teacher standards.”
Along the way, Mylasha made some practical decisions that, in retrospect, were the right ones. In her junior year at Smith, she learned about the UMass graduate public policy program, which, because the school was part of the Five College Consortium in Western Massachusetts, made her transition to grad school seamless. Scholarship Plus and a graduate assistantship allowed her to finish both college and graduate school without taking loans.
On Mylasha’s immediate horizon is a trip to her fifth reunion at Smith, which has her “super excited.” She will drive there in her first car, a white Volkswagen Jetta that she purchased this year.
Recalling that “My whole college experience was one of the most enjoyable times ever,” Mylasha has some advice for those setting out on that sometimes-intimidating journey: “Meet new people. Hang out with people you wouldn’t normally. Immerse yourself in the culture of the campus.”
Of her experience with Scholarship Plus as an undergraduate, Mylasha says, “They treated me as not just another scholarship person.” She mentions mentorship programs and social and cultural opportunities that “opened my eyes” and helped her get the most out of Smith, a place where “not many people looked like me.” She maintains contact with a number of other scholars in her class, as well as with Aixin, who was a freshman at Smith when she was a senior. “I have great appreciation for Scholarship Plus,” Mylasha says, “I can’t thank you enough.”
Photo by Michael J. Leahy