Interview with Deneisha Wagner, Co-Founder of Club College Boulevard

For 19-year-old Deneisha Wagner, the road to success started on Club College Boulevard. The Virginia Commonwealth University student started the aptly named grassroots organization in 2009 to remedy what she saw as a serious lack of resources and support in her district for college-minded high school students. Find out what Deneisha and her mom are doing to pave the path for others to get their college diploma:

What was the catalyst for you and your mom to start Club College Boulevard?

Deneisha: In eleventh grade, I began to ask questions about college and my guidance counselor told me it was too early to worry about preparing for post-secondary options. When I returned to my counselor in twelfth grade, I experienced difficulties finding teachers who would write college recommendations for me even though I had a 3.8 GPA. Some of the colleges to which I applied never received my official transcripts from the guidance department, and a few did receive them, but past the date to be considered for merit-based scholarships. The guidance department also denied me from receiving waivers for college applications and college entrance exams even though I met the eligibility requirements.

I was frustrated with the lack of encouragement and resources that they offered.  My mother and I did some research and learned that students in our region were gaining admittance to college at a lower rate than other districts in the Hampton Roads. It became obvious that the high school I attended did not expect or demand very high expectations from their students simply because we came from low-income family households. It seemed like they had logged off on us.

What do you think schools could be doing better in terms of preparing high schoolers for college?

Deneisha: With technology advancements evolving and the 21st century  moving towards becoming a “paperless” society, a lot of applications for both post-secondary education and employment opportunities request that applications be submitted  electronically.

During my college admission process, I found that some universities and scholarships no longer offer an option to submit an application on paper.  Several colleges I applied to kept me updated on the status of my application solely by email.  I believe schools should have more resources for students who do not have access to working computers with internet access in their homes.

Currently, elective courses include options like learning how to take care of a baby in child development, advanced PE, study hall, or a gun safety class, but there is nothing available to for those that wish to pursue post-secondary options.

Schools could assist students, especially those students who grew up in low-income households, by implementing an elective course available for those that need resources and assistance navigating through the complex college application process.

Tell us what Club College Boulevard is doing to fill in those gaps.

Deneisha: CCB is available for any youth interested in putting a plan in place for their future. Our mission is focused exclusively on ensuring students make an immediate transition to some form of post-secondary educational and employment opportunity. Club College Boulevard is unique because it is led by youth, which makes students pro-active in their own college seeking journey.

CCB also holds workshops assisting youth with college applications and scholarship assistance. We facilitate workshops every week throughout the year for high school seniors to make sure they have everything completed to gain admission to college.  We hosts events like SAT mock testing, FAFSA lock-in parties, and even take trips to the DMV for learner’s permits and ID cards for those who need them. We also learn how to write resumes and search for summer jobs and volunteer opportunities in our community.

How do you choose the members of the youth advisory board? What does it entail once you’re accepted?

Deneisha: The Youth Advisory Board is an elected position for program participants who seek leadership experience. Each student submits an application and the advisory board members are voted in by our board of directors. Key characteristics that our board looks for are those students who actively participate and exhibit leadership skills. Our Youth Advisory board duties include initiating interaction with our community by arranging fundraisers, organizing events, inviting guest speakers for our weekly workshops, arranging college tours, and actively participating in ongoing recruitment efforts.

What is the most common thing you hear from students about the college application process?

Deneisha: Having access to a working computer with Internet access—coupled with mentors or coaches available to help—is by far the most challenging hurdle I have found for the students in our club. Most students do not have access at home, and because our school does not have a computer lab in our guidance department, students struggle to find a location to spend adequate time to complete these requirements.

Your “Road Trip to Change” tours college campuses in Virginia and North Carolina. Please share more about this journey and what you were able to accomplish!

Deneisha: Road Trip to Change got its name on our very first tour to four colleges and universities in Virginia and North Carolina.  All four institutions had different characteristics; some were public, some private, while some had a large urban campus and some were small.  This exposure was where I personally witnessed eight other students who had no intentions on going to college evolve simply from being exposed to their options.

What are your goals for the future and how has Club College Boulevard grown since you began?

Deneisha: Ultimately, my goal is to bring national awareness to the issues that underrepresented youth are facing.  There are so many obstacles preventing low-income youth from being allowed to begin the process of dreaming.

What is your advice to a teen who would like to make a change in her community?

Deneisha: Change will not come if we wait for somebody else. My advice would be to remember that we do NOT have to accept the status quo. There will be plenty of push back—from all directions—when you identify a problem and begin to challenge it in an effort to evoke change. Just remember when the front door gets slammed in your face…. you can still sneak around the back and find a window open!

Bill Gates said it best: “I am happy to be viewed as a troublemaker to the people who are happy with the status quo.”

What would you improve about the college application process? Share your thoughts in the comment section!