PHE Founder and CEO Veleda Simpson
When Veleda Simpson became a mother, she knew early on that she wanted to provide the best possible educational opportunities to her daughter. Although she had earned both bachelors’ and masters’ degrees, and had a career in the educational field, her path had its share of missteps and uncertainty. Like many young students, Simpson had attended college “to get a degree,” and upon graduation had no real idea of what she wanted to do next. She was determined for her child to have a better, more structured approach to her career path.
When her daughter reached middle school age, Simpson got busy researching and securing the best schooling and enrichment programs that would prepare her for college. With her extensive research in all things education, friends and peers soon began to ask for advice on schooling for their kids. They suggested she should start a business to consult others. Initially, she wasn’t sure it was a viable business idea and decided against it. However, her daughter’s positive experiences at an enrichment program at Duke University got her thinking about the talented youth who couldn’t afford such opportunities and she began to create the plan for her nonprofit organization Project Higher Ed (PHE).
It would take a couple of years, her daughter’s entry into college, and encouragement from her new husband before Project Higher Ed came into fruition. In 2017, Project Higher Ed was officially formed.
PHE recently completed its first year pilot program with students from Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet School.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Project Higher Ed’s (PHE) mission is to “provide opportunities for under-represented students to confidently pursue higher education by creating solid college plans and providing resources through college graduation.” Project Higher Ed provides workshops for high school students twice a month in a number of skill building areas. Students also have access to tutoring sessions, cultural field trips; test prep and college tours/campus visits (coming soon). Students are paired with a mentor who helps them navigate the college prep process.
Over the pilot year, students were trained in a range of important topics including financial literacy and strength finding. PHE students also enjoyed fun social activities including a viewing of the movie Black Panther.
PHE parents are also considered a vital part of the organization’s success, and are required to attend workshops once a month.
HOW STUDENTS ARE CHOSEN
Students and parents must complete an application; and for the upcoming school year, students at any CPS high school are eligible to apply. Simpson explains, “We’re visiting and recruiting at some of the back to school bashes. The application process is through mid-September. Both the students and parents are interviewed. We provide workshops and resources from parents as well and we need a full buy-in from parents. We need parents to be invested.” Once students are in the program, they are invited to return each year through graduation.
Project Higher Ed mentors are carefully reviewed. To be eligible, applicants must be a college educated professional, be willing to commit one year, and pass a criminal background check.
FIRST YEAR CHALLENGES
When asked about challenges encountered in the year of operation, Simpson’s answer was simple, “Fundraising.” “Most grants aren’t interesting in you submitting an application until you’ve been in business for 3 or 4 years. Eighty percent (80%) of the largest non-profits in the country are funded by individual donors. The more individual donors we have, the more attention corporate donors and other foundations will pay attention to us as viable option. But I am excited that with independent donors, we raised $14,000 in our first year.”
Simpson is constantly researching learning opportunities for her students, and is particularly excited about PHE’s latest venture. “I’m doing a partnership with the Jackson Park Yacht Club. Even though we don’t offer workshops during the summer, I want to be able to provide our students with enriching summer opportunities. Everything I’m doing is about resume building and skill building for our students. Summer opportunities that add some value to their experience or their character that helps them with college essays, and helps them to stand out. The Jackson Park Yacht Club has a sailing program where kids can take sailing classes 2 weeks out of the summer to learn to sail. I thought our kids were a great candidate for their New Horizons program. We’re doing a partnership and our kickoff activity is on Sunday, September 23rd. That Saturday is also the HBCU Football classic. And I absolutely feel like I must take them to that.”
Although Project Higher Ed works exclusively with high schools, Simpson wants to eventually start with kids as young as fifth grade. “We feel that if we can get that middle grade student and parent focused on college prep, and take them on visits to colleges, it will be much more impactful on them to get into high school and do what they’re supposed to do,” Simpson explains. She also hopes to eventually expand the program to her hometown Atlanta and the D.C. area.
UPCOMING EVENT- BOW TIES & SUNDRESSES- AUGUST 19
With all of the happenings at Project Higher Ed, Simpson is also looking forward to her first major summer event: the Bow Ties & Sundresses Fundraising Day Party this Sunday, August 19 at the Mars Gallery. Project Higher Ed has partnered with Love Cork Screw wine and lifestyle brand to present a bi-level affair with a DJ, Hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction. Simpson hopes to make this Project Higher Ed’s signature summer event.
With one year under its belt, Project Higher Ed is looking forward to a bright future. If you’d like to know more about PHE, or how you can contribute, visit projecthighered.org.