This school year, Prairie State College (PSC) has enveloped a select group of students with a hand-in-hand program to get them ready for the world of work.
Through the One Million Degrees (OMD) initiative, Marcus Singleton, a full-time counselor on the PSC campus, is giving the guidance and support these low-income students need to succeed at community college and beyond.
The program, designed as a support network, has become much more for the 36 students. Many are calling OMD their extended family because “they know that someone else cares about their success,” Singleton said.
Schoolwork and counseling at PSC are paired with internships and informational meetings. A group of mentor-coaches can, through conversation and example, help give the students insights into the work world that they need for success.
Students are required to attend sessions on professionalism, time management and how to build social and professional networks. Tutoring is available. Each student must set goals and keep to them to remain in the program.
Singleton’s role is to follow students’ progress, troubleshoot for them and triage when someone falls behind or faces personal difficulties that can prove to be obstacles in meeting their PSC goals.
Professionals, including Homewood attorney Tom Brabec and businessman Larry Kane, have joined a volunteer group that leads roundtable workshops on topics as varied as professional dress and managing finances.
PSC has been part of the One Million Degrees program for eight years, but having Singleton on campus has had a huge impact on the program, said Veronica Herrero, chief program officer of OMD.
“The power of having Marcus here, and the students coming in to talk on a daily basis, is making a tremendous difference,” Herrero said.
The program is an arm of the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) and participants must be an HACC resident or voucher recipient. OMD is meant to give students a step up into the world of work either through an associate’s degree from PSC or transferring from PSC for a bachelor’s degree.
The students are typically on PELL Scholarships. OMD awards a stipend at the end of a semester if the student has met the expected goals. PSC’s Foundation covers the cost of tuition and books not covered by PELL funding.
The program will work with students over their two years at PSC, although some students will be in One Million Degrees for three years.
“The program is so basic, but the changes for these students can be dramatic,” said Deb Havighorst, director of the PSC Foundation. “It’s really awesome.”
Havighorst is looking for community members willing to coach a Prairie State student. It requires one hour a month for Saturday workshops, and one contact with a student outside the program.
“To be able to make that kind of a difference in somebody’s life without a huge time or financial obligation is really a great opportunity,” she said.
For additional information on how to volunteer, contact Havighorst at [email protected].