For my 50th birthday, I'm raising 50K to support struggling, but striving students like this one...
“I can no longer afford to live and I am nervous that I will not be able to pay my rent next month. I have applied for food stamps because I can no longer afford groceries, but unfortunately I have not heard back from them yet. I have resorted to food banks in order to eliminate my grocery bill, and sometimes my best friend cooks extra meals to help me out. I am in a bind and it is hard to imagine that I will ever get a break again. My last semester of college has started and I have never been so stressed, scared, or deprived in my life. In the meantime I have full time interviews and graduation to be thinking about and studying for, but I work like a dog with no break in between. I am truly exhausted and I want to give up. I will assure you that I will not give up, but support like this would make the largest difference in my world. Despite everything, I know that this too shall pass and I cannot wait for the day that I can be of support to another young woman like myself. It will be magical.”
Rethinking College Scholarships
The Last Mile Education Fund is a cause near and dear to my heart. For nearly two decades of working towards equity in STEM at Girl Scouts, NCWIT and CSforALL, I’ve had a front row seat to the lives and experiences of thousands of young women pursuing education and careers in tech. I’ve watched them transition from high school to college to internships and into careers. I’ve also watched them struggle, stumble and fail - and have often personally intervened to help them overcome unexpected obstacles.
Throughout this process, I’ve realized there is a significant gap in the college scholarship system that needs to be addressed - the fact that most scholarships are focused on helping students get started in college, rather than making sure they finish.
The Last Mile Education Fund takes an investment approach to helping struggling, but striving, low-income, underrepresented tech students get across the finish line to a degree and into a career, because often the last mile is the longest distance of all. Instead of focusing on GPA, test scores and prior awards, Last Mile is looking for persistence and selecting students from an abundance viewpoint of who has potential to suceed.
60% of undergrads require more than 4 years to graduate and 36% take more than 6 years - that’s for all majors, not just engineering. For low income students, this often means running out the financial aid clock before completing their degrees.
Students from poorly-resourced schools disproportionately enter college deficient in math preparation, and must sacrifice precious time and credits to math remediation—often placing them out of the sequence for foundational engineering courses and extending the time required to finish their required courses.
Low-income students don’t get the luxury of exploration, indecision or even struggle. Low-income students must be exceptional in every respect, arriving at college with a major pre-determined and a detailed plan in place, if they hope to finish within the allotted time.
Opportunities often come at too high a price. Many of the indicators of potential used to evaluate student potential are out of reach for low-income students. Attending conferences, competing in hack-a-thons, and doing side projects looks great on a resume, but these pursuits require up-front investment of both money and time. (Great blog on this - The Inequality of Busy). How many low-income students can cover a plane ticket for two months waiting for reimbursement or take time away a job to attend a hack-a-thon or work on personal projects?
With the shortage of talent and lack of diversity in tech, shouldn’t we invest in the underrepresented students already in the pipeline? The ROI is nearly immediate and the rewards immeasurable.
COVID-19 has further complicated these issues, plunging many low-income students into financial crisis. Far too many students are dealing with housing and food insecurity, being stranded away from home without support, and lack of connectivity to complete their coursework. Now that summer is here, students are left without critical internships and summer job opportunities.
To respond to this crisis, Last Mile launched a COVID-19 emergency fund in partnership with AnitaB.org and other funders, and has disbursed emergency grants to 271 students in crisis over the last two months. It has been both heartbreaking and instructive. (See Forbes piece I co-authored with Brenda Wilkerson of AnitaB.org detailing what we learned).
I could go on, and if you’d like to know more I can share countless stories of hard-working, dedicated students who needed just a bit of help to realize their potential. This is what we are all working towards, right - a larger, more diverse and equitable talent pool? So let’s invest in the last mile for these young women we’ve worked so hard to get into the pipeline, so they can become the innovators and creators of the future.
About the Last Mile Education Fund
The Last Mile Education Fund sees struggling, but striving students as an investment opportunity. Most scholarship programs seek to identify ‘top’ talent and reward them with support as long as they stay on top. The Last Mile Education Fund, in contrast, takes a unique approach, identifying young people with aspirations in technology and engineering fields, providing support for challenges they face beyond their control, and incubating them to be the next generation of innovators. The Last Mile Education Fund offers Bridge, Last Mile and COVID-19 Emergency funds.
The Last Mile Education Fund is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Digital Harbor Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Baltimore, MD.
Invest in Potential
Most scholarships seek to identify “top” talent and reward them with support...as long as they stay on top. Last MIle takes an investment approach, providing young pursuing degrees in technology and engineering fields support for challenges they face beyond their control, and incubating them to be the next generation of innovators.
Support not Shame
Seeking an education should not be a shameful experience, and frankly students should be focused on their studies, not running a crowd-funding campaign and stressing about whether they can afford to persist to graduation. Last Mile believes in students’ potential and offers support without the humiliation of public asks and hard-luck stories.
Persistence over Perfection
Technical degrees are challenging, and all students struggle at times, especially those from under-resourced high schools, first generation students, and those that lack family support. Rather than rewarding perfect grades and stellar resumes, Last Mile rewards demonstrated persistence by selecting students who are striving for success and ardent in the pursuit of their education.
How much of my contribution goes to students? Last Mile Fund operates very lean with an indirect cost rate of only 10% which is used for processing applications, issuing payments to students, and administrative support. 90% of contributes go directly to students.
How does this address racial inequality? Last Mile Education Fund invests in low-income undergraduate women pursuing tech and engineering degrees. Last Mile believes that education is the key to addressing economic inequality and look forward to the day when the diversity of those creating technology is reflective of our society. To date Last Mile has predominately reach out to and invested in Black, LatinX and Native American women, but all students are eligible for funding.
Why only women? Women are underrepresented in tech and engineering fields, and broadly in leadership across every sector of industry. With the limited funds available, Last Mile is prioritizing support for underrepresented populations in technolgy, beginning with gender.
Can I mail my donation and still have it count towards this goal? Yes, mail a check to LMEF Birthday Fundraiser, 1045 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 (send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know and we'll add your gift to the goal).
Why does my receipt say Digital Harbor Foundation? The Last Mile Education Fund is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Digital Harbor Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Baltimore, MD. All contributions are tax deductible.