Tuition Tuesday: Are Your Essays Like Movies?

October 14, 2014
14 Oct 2014

R. Gabrielle McCormick

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few movies that are adaptations of books. As I would watch and compare them to the book, I felt somewhat slighted in certain instances. Although the cinematic effects behind the movie were brilliant, sometimes it did seem like a stretch (read fake).

When leaving the theater, I would find myself wondering how close the movie actually was to the book. Was I compelled to go back and re-read the author’s work? No. However, it got me thinking about honesty and integrity.

As you’re writing your college admissions essays and working on scholarships, NEVER compromise your integrity. Keep the “movie” you depict for the scholarship committee as close to the actual script/book as possible. I would hate to see a scholarship slip through your hands because you’ve strayed too far from the actual event.

There is nothing wrong with describing and painting the picture of your story. I teach my students to do this all the time. Trust me, I know you want to look good for committees. However, there IS something wrong with not telling the truth.

Here are a few things you can do with your essay to ensure you’re covered:

  • Do a gut check. When in doubt, leave it out. If you think its borderline, revamp it or delete it from your essay.
  • Read your essay to someone else that may have been present at the event. If they think it sounds accurate, chances are you’re good.
  • If a story could potentially seem far-fetched or inaccurate, make sure you have supporting documentation ready. It does not help your case if you are called to support your claims and have to “gather” your evidence.

Get to work on these scholarships:

    1. College JumpStart Scholarships: The College JumpStart Scholarship is an annual, merit-based competition — financial need is not considered — that is open to 10th-12th graders, college students and non-traditional students. The main requirement is that you are committed to going to school and can express your goals for getting a higher education.
      Awards: $1,500
      Deadline: October 17th
    2. Joe Foss Institute $5,000 Video Contest: Create a video, no more than three minutes in length, that inspires viewers on What ‘Being American’ means to you.
      Award: $5,000, $2,500, and $1,000
      Deadline: October 19th
    3. CARiD Scholarship Program: ACARiD is giving away $1,000 to offset your educational expenses for college! All you have to do is create a photo inspired by any aspect of the automotive industry, such as your first car, custom modifications you’ve made, or the coolest vehicle you’ve ever seen.
      Award: $1,000
      Deadline: October 31st
    4. Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship: The program’s primary goal is to assist military service members and their families by awarding up to twenty $2,000 scholarships to help pay for tuition and books each semester.
      Award: $20,000 (150 Awards Given)
      Deadline: October 31st

Anyone else excited to see how The Hunger Games compares to the book next month?! There will definitely be a post about this movie! ☺ Happy Tuition Tuesday!

Talent Thursday: FAFSA and You – Debunking Mysteries of Financial Aid

October 8, 2014
08 Oct 2014

Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
Connect with me via. LinkedIn

Every school year, my mother filed the FAFSA for me. Sometimes, she gave me a stack of papers in a manila envelope, and told me to give to my college’s financial aid office. I never looked inside that manila envelope. I just handed it to the Financial Aid Advisor, who would look at each paper with a hmm, and say “Thanks. You should hear back about your financial aid the first week of school”.

In my junior year, my mother got busy with my younger sister commencing college and all the attention went to her. All of the sudden, my mother went from “Look at all the aid you received from filing a FAFSA” to “Have you filed your FAFSA? … Have you filed your FAFSA? … When will you file your FAFSA?”

Clearly, I was in over my head. The only thing I knew is that I had to file something called FAFSA ASAP (and every year).

Mystery #1: What is FAFSA?

I went to and read a bunch of definitions and explanations that confused me. So, I called my mom and talked to my Financial Aid Advisor. I told them about the different terms I found on the FAFSA site, and they translated English into… well, English I could understand.

The cut-and-dry definition of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is that it is a free application that must be completed and filed annually by current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students to determine their eligibility to receive financial aid from the United States federal government. The types of financial aid that students typically receive include:

    1. Grants (aka free money since it doesn’t have to be repaid)
    2. Loans (aka money you borrow and typically pay back with interest)
    3. Work-study (aka paying for college through an on-campus or off-campus job)

The layman’s definition of FAFSA is that it is a form you fill out every year to qualify for ANY TYPE OF FINANCIAL AID. That’s right… ANY.

Mystery #2: Why file a FAFSA?

Financial Aid Advisors will tell you that college students should file a FAFSA. But why? I mean isn’t it their job to tell each student to file a FAFSA?

Apparently, FAFSA is much more than I initially thought. FAFSA asked information about income, assets, and dependency to determine my Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The calculated EFC is the amount the government believes my family, aka my mom and dad, can contribute toward my college education (whether they do so or not). Depending on the EFC, I could be eligible for need-based loans, grants, unsubsidized loans, etc.

More interestingly, I should file a FAFSA regardless of my potential EFC. This is because in order to qualify for and actually receive many loans, grants, scholarships, I must have submitted a FAFSA that year. Without filing a FAFSA, I could make myself ineligible to receive aid. Who’d a thought?!?!

Some more myths about filing a FAFSA:
- FAFSA does not determine aid based on ethnicity, race, religion, age, etc.
- My parent’s high income did not disqualify me for aid
- I did not need a certain high GPA to qualify for aid

Mystery #3: How to file a FAFSA?

Now that I had a better understanding of the FAFSA and why I should file it, I had to learn how to actually file it.

Surprisingly, that’s the easiest part.

    1. I retrieved my Personal Identification Number (PIN) from as I had forgotten it from last year. The same site can be used to create a new PIN.
    2. I went to to fill out and submit the FAFSA. Click here to see what documents I had to gather to fill the FAFSA. The site also provides easy-to-follow steps on filing the FAFSA.
    3. I continued to check my FAFSA status on the website. My mom told me they might ask for verification (additional proofs/completed forms).

After filing the FAFSA, I was shocked my mom hadn’t asked me earlier to do it. It was so simple. Also, I had many resources available, from my college’s Financial Aid Office to the FAFSA helpline (see below).

Contact Information for FAFSA
Phone: 1-800-433-3243 toll-free or 319-337-5665

Once my FAFSA was processed (typically takes a couple of weeks), my Student Aid Report (SAR) was sent to my college and myself. My college used the SAR to determine my financial aid package, and informed me about the type of financial aid and amount I would be receiving. I visited the college’s Financial Aid site to view and accept my aid.


Tuition Tuesday: How to Use Your Birthday to Earn Scholarships

October 7, 2014
07 Oct 2014

R. Gabrielle McCormick

I want to make sure we build upon a key strategy I shared with you last week. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, check it out here.

As my birthday approaches, I’ve enjoyed hearing stories surrounding my birth and past birthdays. Not only that, I generally tend to spend time reflecting on what has occurred or happened over the previous year. Combining this information gives me the ability to not only make my scholarship essays more personal, but also to give them more depth.

I want you to think about some things that have happened around your birth or past birthdays. These things could help take your scholarship essays to the next level or provide you with some inspiration to get started. To do so, answer these questions:

  • Were there complications during the pregnancy?
  • Did something happen in the delivery room?
  • What happened immediately after you were born?
  • How were your first few days and weeks of life?
  • Has anything monumental happened on your birthday? What? How did it impact you?
  • Have you had any birthday parties that were memorable? Why?

These are just a few questions you can ask. Dig deep. These answers are helping you to create your “High-Low-High” and “Low-High-Low-High” transitions.

Now I want to challenge you. When your birthday comes around, think about how you’ve grown and changed as a person. Reflect on your accomplishments, goals, and setbacks. What does the next age look like for you? Use your answers from the questions and your reflection to tackle this week’s scholarship selections:

    1. Say NO To Bullying Student Contest: You may have lived it, you may have feared it, you may have witnessed it, we’ve all been a part of bullying at one time or another and we want to know what lengths you would go to help protect others from the devastating effects of bullying.
      Awards: $800, $500, and $300
      Deadline: October 21st
    2. Horatio Alger National Scholarships: These scholarships are for high school seniors who have plans to enter college no later than the Fall following graduation. To qualify for these scholarships, applicants must have faced and overcome great obstacles in their lives and demonstrate the following: a strong commitment to pursuing and completing a bachelor’s degree at an accredited US college/institution; critical financial need; involvement in co-curricular and community activities; and integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity.
      Award: Varies (Numerous Awards Given)
      Deadline: October 25th
    3. Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship: Apply for this scholarship by creating a survival plan for a Zombie Apocalypse!
      Award: $2,000 (Multiple Awards)
      Deadline: October 31st
    4. Veterans United Foundation Scholarship: The program’s primary goal is to assist military service members and their families by awarding up to twenty $2,000 scholarships to help pay for tuition and books each semester.
      Award: $2,000 (20 Awards Given)
      Deadline: October 31st

Happy Birthday fellow Libras!!! Happy Tuition Tuesday ☺

Talent Thursday: Eight Common Job Search Mistakes

October 2, 2014
02 Oct 2014

Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
Connect with me via. LinkedIn

Searching for a new job is downright nerve-wracking, especially if you are a new college graduate. You always hear those horror stories of how it took so-and-so 14 months to land a job or how most-likely-to-succeed forfeited a job offer because he wanted something “better” only to eventually accept a minimum wage job to pay the piling bills. Well oftentimes, it’s not what you are not doing that’s hurting your job prospective, but rather, what you are doing. Take a look at the most common job search mistakes:

    1. Not having a results-focused resume. More often than not, resumes tend to list duties and responsibilities. That’s great, but a little pointless. Through this type of a resume, Recruiters and Hiring Managers know what you are supposed to be doing, but perhaps, not what you actually do or know or have accomplished. Remember, your resume should portray your achievements and process improvements, not serve as a job description.
    2. Relying on the internet. The internet, despite being the omniscient being we all turn to in times of need, has not made it easier to search for jobs. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. For entry-level positions, companies typically receive 100s of applications for a single job posting. What are your chances of moving to the interview stage? Unless you are willing to network and make connections, your chances are slim to none.
    3. Not networking. Networking is the most repeated word in the art of job searching, and also the most important. Meet with people, learn about them, tell them about you and your goals, and continuously build the relationship. Start off networking with your family, friends, career services advisors, church members, professors etc. You never know who knows who, so reach out to everyone. You are more likely to stand out and land a job by networking effectively than by clicking the Submit button on every online application you fill out.
    4. Not creating a personal brand. What exactly are you looking for? If you answer this question with “a job”… smh. No Duh! Really do your research and think about what type of job you are looking for. What industry? What specialty? What location? What company? If you don’t know what you want, how do you expect your network to know? Also, note that job seekers who don’t have a personal brand typically don’t have a distinguishable resume. And without a resume that stands out, you aren’t going to get that far ahead in the recruitment process. And let’s not forget the power of a well-kept LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media sites to assist in your personal branding. Put yourself out there through a well thought-out marketing strategy.
    5. Lack of interview preparation. Prior to an interview, you should go over the company’s website and define its mission, vision, and values. You should read and re-read the job description. You should know who you are interviewing with. As Benjamin Franklin says, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Do your research so that you are confident during the interview and can display your best to the hiring committee.
    6. Waiting for a “dream” job. You can’t know what your dream job is until you are there. It’s quite unfortunate I know. As this is the case, don’t be so closed-minded in your job search. If you get an offer for a job that’s #8 on your list, don’t be afraid to accept it. I say this because a) you never know where this job may take you, b) experience is more beneficial than no experience c) the job is #8- it’s on your list!
    7. Indifference. In today’s day and age, we are taught to do what we do best, regardless of the haters (and I paraphrase). What we aren’t taught is the fine line that exists in that philosophy. Yes, do what you do, but only as long as it shows integrity. Don’t post drunken and/or inappropriate pictures of yourself on your personal Facebook. Don’t post negative comments (with curse words) on public accounts, other people’s statuses, articles, chocolate chip cookies recipes etc. Don’t talk bad about people. Don’t show up to interviews reeking of cigarette smoke. There is nothing wrong with caring. It’s actually preferable to the indifference attitude you think companies are looking for. FYI: In actuality, companies are looking for passionate and compassionate individuals who will make their company look good.
    8. Disrespecting someone’s time. Okay, so you are in panic because you don’t have a job. You are doing everything is your power to make something happen…to make anything happen, but nothing is happening. What do you do? You send the same awkward, frustrated email to five different people within each and every company you applied to. You try to network over coffee, but only end up complaining about the difficulty of landing a job. You fill up a professional’s voicemail inbox with your calls about your application status. Just stop. Respect other people’s time. Whether they are helping you or not, it is not exactly their problem that you are frustrated with your job search. Especially try to avoid reaching out to your prospective company for constant updates- if they want to interview you, they will contact you. Give them some space to do their job. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but don’t be late to interviews and don’t answer your phone during interviews/meets & greets/networking events.

If you have committed any of the above-mentioned mistakes, it’s okay. It happens. As you move forward, refrain from making these all-too-common mistakes. Create a strategically results-focused resume, personal marketing brand, and job search plan. Indulge yourself in networking and develop your listening skills. Prepare for your network meet-ups and interviews in advance. Don’t be afraid to take risk and try new job avenues. Be respectful and have integrity. And of course, just do what you do best.

Tuition Tuesday: A Secret Used In Winning Scholarship Essays

September 30, 2014
30 Sep 2014

R. Gabrielle McCormick

I’ve read A LOT of scholarship essays. The winners all have something in common: They tell a story.

However, it’s not just any kind of story. The stories that these students tell is captivating. From their initial sentence, they’re setting their audience up for a ride and experience.

Take a second to visualize the rides at any theme park. Most start with a little “action” in the beginning to build anticipation and momentum. To add, the rides with the longest lines are always easily seen from around the park. Why? Because they have really high points. Without these steep inclines, slopes, and drops, they would be mere carnival rides. They stand out because of their high and low points.

Apply this philosophy to your scholarship essays by using these two formulas:


If you start your readers at a high place or moment in your life, you’ve got to also bring them to a low moment. Show that you are human. By doing this, you’re creating a subconscious relationship with the individual reading your essay. However, do not leave the reader low. ALWAYS END YOUR SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY AT A HIGH PLACE. By doing this, you give them permission to really believe in you and your abilities.

The same applies to formula two. If you start them at a low and dismal place, bring them high, then low, and high again. It’s the exact same philosophy.

Try out these formulas on this week’s scholarships:

    1. Buildium’s Build U. Scholarship: Buildium’s Build U. Scholarship awards one scholarship each semester to the Product Design, Interaction Design, UX Design, Engineering, or Computer Science student who best explains how having a shared set of beliefs is important for building a great company.
      Award: $2,500 (4 Awards Given)
      Deadline: October 31st
    2. National Collegiate Cancer Foundation Legacy Scholarship: This scholarship is young adults who have lost a parent or guardian to cancer.
      Award: $1,000 (Multiple Awards)
      Deadline: October 15th
    3. The HotelsCheap General Scholarship for Higher Learning: Answer a few questions for your chance at this scholarship worth $1,500.
      Award: $1,500
      Deadline: October 15th
    4. Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship: The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go by offering awards to U.S. undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints.
      Award: $4,000-8,000 (Hundreds of Awards Given)
      Deadline: October 7th

Keep up the hard work! Happy Tuition Tuesday ☺

Talent Thursday: When “Networking” is “Not Working”

September 25, 2014
25 Sep 2014

Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
Connect with me via. LinkedIn

Yes, yes… we have all heard that it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. I mean you have 500+ connections on LinkedIn, a very active and clean Facebook page, you served as president of your student council, and have attended networking events galore. Why, why, why then aren’t there job opportunities lined up for you?

Because… it’s not who you know, but also, who knows you.

Think about it. With your 500+ connections on LinkedIn, how many professionals know your career goals? From networking events, how many know your professional interests? From your college career, how many advisors and mentors know what industry you are interested in?

Redefining Networking

Networking is not a number. It is not a check mark. It is not a thing for the social butterflies. It is definitely not a hipster phase.

Networking, first and foremost, is your ability to cultivate a relationship with another person. Secondly, it’s your ability to get your goals and objective across to your network. Third, it’s your ability to move forward with your goals and objectives, while also strengthening your network and relationships.

Nowhere in that definition does it say that it’s your ability to click the “Add” button and expect magical requests of job offers. Unfortunately for you, random people who you think serve as undercover Matchmaking Career Dons do not exist.

The Beginnings of Networking

First, figure out exactly what your needs are. I know this is tough, but you really need to narrow your career search scope. Try to fit your needs in 1-3 sentences. For example, I am looking for an Analyst role in the marketing industry because of these industry trends. I would love to help a company progress through this and this change.

Next, take a look at your connections. Don’t just focus on professionals in marketing, but also, take a look at your church group, mom’s friends, and your neighbors.

Once you have identified 5-10 people, approach them and simply state your needs. You may have to tailor the conversation depending on who this person is:

    1. Marketing professional: I am looking for an analyst role in the marketing industry. Does your company offer any entry-level or internship opportunities? The industry is evolving to this and I have ___ skills to help your organization meet its goals.
    2. Mom’s bestie: I am graduating soon, and am looking to start my career at a marketing firm. Do you know anyone in the industry or any companies looking to hire entry-level business/marketing/communication majors?

During this phase, you are aiming to connect with your network and build trust. Politely and plainly, help your network understand your career goals so that they can figure out how to help you. Make sure you come across confident (but humble) and knowledgeable (but willing to learn). Once you are done speaking, listen. Just be quiet and listen. Don’t interrupt. Just listen. You will be surprised by what you learn about yourself and your career search techniques just by listening to your network.

The Beginnings of Not-Working
Here are some more common reasons why your networking ends up not working:

    1. Your request to network is too complicated. For example, “Hi. I am looking to get a degree in Marketing, but wanted to connect with Managers to learn about the industry and job outlook once I finish.” Really? First of all, there’s Google Search for that. Secondly, why do you feel someone will take the time to talk to you when you haven’t even started your Marketing degree, and more importantly, don’t you think the Marketing professional will only have good things to say about Marketing?
    2. Your request to network is too time-consuming. Networking doesn’t have to be done over coffee or lunch. If your network doesn’t know your motive behind these so-called time-consuming networking dates, it is difficult to agree to it. Utilize yours and your networks’ time thoughtfully and wisely. Make sure they know why you want to meet up, instead of asking to meet up surprisingly, out of the blue.
    3. You make too many assumptions. Yes, your whole neighborhood may know you are at university. They may even know you are graduating. They do not, however, know you are job searching. They do not know your industry interest, career interest, or even you knowledge, skills, and abilities. Do NOT assume they do.
    4. Reputation. You sit next to Mr. Franklin at church every Sunday. Aside from church, however, Mr. Franklin does not know you. If you ask him for a networking request, please realize that you are putting his professional and social reputation on the line. Please note that oftentimes, individuals may be iffy about connecting you. That’s because their reputation is on the line. If they don’t connect you with someone, don’t take it personally. Assess your network prior to a request.

Good luck. Remember, networking is all about building trust. If it’s not there, your networking is not working.

Tuition Tuesday: How To Get A Recommendation Letter

September 23, 2014
23 Sep 2014

R. Gabrielle McCormick

Although each week we talk about scholarships, we rarely talk about math. A mathematical formula I want you to focus on is this:

Giver – Taker = Is your result Positive or Negative?

This formula has literally resulted in thousands of scholarship dollars for me. When you are a giver of yourself, people remember your kind actions, demeanor, personality, helpfulness, and any other positive quality you can think of.

Right now, you’re in the process of building up your G.A. or Givers Account. Just as you cannot withdraw money from a normal bank without first having made some type of deposit, the same is true here.

Recommendation letters require you to make some kind of investment and deposit into your account. For those that aren’t sure how to get started, here is something that you can focus on today to help:

Be a great student!

This means participating in class, turning in assignments on time, asking questions, getting advice from your instructor, helping your teacher carry something, i.e. being polite, and many other small tasks that others overlook. It is not hard to be a student, but it takes effort to be a great student. Being a great student is a reflection of your character. If you continue to be a great, your recommendation letters will earn you thousands as well.
Your five scholarship picks of the week:

    1. The Unigo 5 Simple Words $10,000 Scholarship: There is an application that must be submitted plus five (5) words that illustrate what life will be like after college and a 200 word essay on why those words were chosen.
      Award: $10,000 (4 Awards Given)
      Deadline: September 30th
    2. American Business Scholarship: This scholarship is for high school seniors, undergraduate, and graduate students. Write an essay stating how a small business in your community has influenced your life, career, or educational aspirations.
      Award: $1,000
      Deadline: September 30th
    3. “Hit the Books” Scholarship: Students between the ages 18-25 can apply for this scholarship. All you have to do is write an essay about the importance of your education.
      Award: $500
      Deadline: September 30th
    4. AfterCollege Succurro Scholarship: Open to all undergraduate and graduate students, complete a short profile for your chance at this $1,000 scholarship.
      Award: $1,000
      Deadline: September 30th
    5. Financial Success for Single Mothers Scholarship: Write 450-700 words for the prompt, “How Can Single Mothers Use Roth IRAs to Enhance Their Financial Position?”
      Award: $750
      Deadline: October 1st

Let’s keep our accounts positive this week! Happy Tuition Tuesday ☺

Rallying Around Our Children’s Earliest Years

September 19, 2014
19 Sep 2014

We need to act early to ensure our youngest children are positioned for lifelong success. James Heckman’s research finds a 7-to-1 return on early childhood investment in reduced expenses associated with remediation, unemployment and incarceration. Yet in 2013, fewer than half (49%) of Dallas County students entered Kindergarten ready to succeed, setting a ceiling on subsequent achievement that plays out irrespective of socioeconomics.

The time for action couldn’t be better. With federal, state and city attention zeroed in on children’s earliest years, diverse community members are mobilizing together to address challenges in quality, access, awareness and alignment. A recent convening on September 17 drew more than 70 actors to begin aligning in key areas of 0-5 education. Thank you to United Way Metropolitan Dallas, Zero To Five Funders Collaborative, Dallas Early Education Alliance and The School Zone for their leadership in bringing together this group. More updates to come!

Two recent accomplishments are worth highlighting:

  • A community awareness campaign to support early pre-K registration: Motivated by the opportunity to close the 37,000 3- and 4-year-old enrollment gap in Dallas County, more than 45 partners—ranging from healthcare providers to nonprofits to faith-based communities —mobilized across neighborhoods to distribute more 45,000 flyers encouraging families to register eligible 4-year-old children for pre-K. Supporting Dallas ISD’s own efforts leveraging utility bills, mass media and other channels, the community’s collective efforts led to a more than two-fold increase in early registration and a ~1,000 student increase in 4-year-old pre-K enrollment by the start of school. Grand Prairie ISD also innovated to increase awareness and early registration through “human billboard” campaigns, movie theater spots and activation of a ministerial alliance. A big thanks goes to Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas and the Dallas Regional Chamber for championing these recent campaign efforts. We look forward to expanding these efforts in 2015 to further close the pre-K gap and place more children on a path to academic and life success.
  • Multiple partner districts align behind a common multidimensional Kindergarten readiness assessment: This Fall, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Irving and Richardson ISDs will be screening a sample of more than 13,000 Kindergarteners on the multidimensional, nationally-normed Brigance readiness assessment. For the first time, common data will help provide a consistent data point on our children’s school readiness and the relation to early education, as well as support a case for directing more funding towards quality early education.

To support the work ahead, we’re delighted to announce that Jaime Hanks Meyers, formerly the Managing Director of Children At Risk North Texas, has joined the Commit! team as Director of Early Education Initiatives! You can welcome her aboard at

Talent Thursday: Customer Service

September 18, 2014
18 Sep 2014

Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
Connect with me via. LinkedIn

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term “customer service”?

    1. Dialing a 1-800 number and being connected to someone in India, Philippines, or the Middle East
    2. Being transferred from one person to another or being on-hold because all lines are currently busy.
    3. The Technicalities- aka the fine print and disclaimers, the expired insurance, the disqualifications, and the sorry-you-must-drive-to-the-same-place-500-miles-due-east-through-the-creepy-forrest-and-swim-across-the-lake-with-sharks statement to actually get your inquiry listened to.
    4. The automated press-ones-twos-threes or any number to not talk to a human being.

Contrarily, Mahatma Gandhi sums it up really well: A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work, he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business, he is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

As a high school or college student, you must be wondering what “customers” Mahatma Gandhi and I am referring to. Well, I am talking about your customer service skills with your peers, professors, extracurricular activity chair, the guy at the cash register when you buy your meal. Basically, anyone and everyone you come across. High school and college is the best time to develop and improve your customer service skills. Let me tell you why.

Having great customer service skills is without a doubt, the single, most competitively advantageous skill to have in the real world. Yes, Without-A-Doubt!

Let me explicate further. Ahem… How do you make the best first impression at an interview? How do you build your professional network? How do you meet your managers’ and clients’ needs? How do you get promoted? How do you implement change? Even… How to do ask your soul mate out for coffee? How do you negotiate with your 5 year old?

If you believe any of those aspects are possible without great customer service skills, you need a reality check my friend.

In high school and college, you have an opportunity to interact, informally and formally, with peers and professors, through extracurricular activities and public speaking events, through career fairs and mock interviews, Facebook & LinkedIn, etc. Each situation is a chance for you to develop your professional network and increase your resources. Of course, you must be worthy of those relationships. You must be excellent at customer service.
Customer Service, in itself, encompasses multiple skills. To interact favorably with a “customer”, you must be demonstrate proficiency in the following:

    1. Patience→ Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to share their story. Trust me when I say this- listening to someone’s story will be more beneficial than scraping to get your story heard. Listen, and listen attentively. In the real world, it’s through patience that you will most likely recognize business needs gaps and cost-effective solutions. Hint: Great managers are very patient because of the types and amount of people they manage (aka listen attentively to) from their team to their bosses to other departments to their clients, etc.
    2. Empathy→ Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. When you are talking to a person who is frustrated, it is especially essential to be empathic. Helping someone in their time of need leaves a positive and greater mark than being a part of someone’s life when everything is handy-dandy. This is how people remember you in the real world- how helpful and empathic you are. Hint: This is how you get promoted. Remember, you must know how to follow in order to lead.
    3. Verbal and Nonverbal Communication→ This should be self-explanatory, but communication skills are vital to great customer service. Avoid mumbling, negativity, curse words, bad grammar, etc. Watch your posture- Does it portray that you are a welcoming person? Or does it illustrate how annoyed/bored/angry you are? Hint: Your nonverbal cues determine your impression during interviews, evaluations, project delegations, etc. Cross your arms and sigh wisely.
    4. Knowledge→ First of all, how passionate and enthusiastic are you about a subject, a product, and even desserts? When dealing with customers, know your stuff. No one wants to be serviced by someone who has no idea what they are doing! If you don’t know something, communicate that you don’t know and that as next steps you will find out more and follow-up in a timely manner. Hint: They don’t ask for Bachelor degree grads and technical skills in job descriptions if they don’t want you to know anything.
    5. Interpersonal→ This goes hand-in-hand with customer service as both as I-am-a-people-person skills. Interpersonal skills, to say the least, means building relationships, working well in teams, being able to read people, keeping your cool, and staying focused. Be interactive. Hint: This is how you single-handedly expand your professional network.
    6. Continuous Learning→ This is a no-duh. Continuous learning is imperative to success. With each person you meet and talk to, you will learn new things and see new perspectives. Customer service is synonymous to continuous learning. There is and will always be a better way to do something, and you will only figure that out by talking to people, by interacting, by demonstrating great customer service skills. Hint: This is how you will save your future place of employment tons of money, invent new technologies, and improve processes.

Still don’t believe customer service skills are vital to your career search and progression? Tell me about a career in which you believe you won’t be utilizing customer service skills.

That’s what I thought.

Early Literacy Network Adds Partners, Launches Teacher Reading Academy

September 17, 2014
17 Sep 2014

Nationally, fewer than one in five children reading on grade level in 3rd grade go on to college.1 Moreover, every student who fails to complete high school costs our community ~$260K in lost taxes, earnings, and productivity.2 Given this research, last spring the Commit! Partnership began working with 14 Dallas Independent School District (DISD) elementary schools that feed into the South Oak Cliff (SOC) and Molina high schools in South and West Dallas to support student early literacy proficiency.

In 2013, 951 3rd graders (or 75%) across SOC/Molina did not achieve a college-ready reading state test score.3 With DISD and several others, the Partnership has focused on supporting these 14 elementary schools in five areas essential to early literacy:

In 2013-2014, 8 of 14 schools closed the 3rd grade reading gap both with the District and the State.4 Yet, sparked by data showing the need to provide greater support prior to 3rd grade, principals and teachers saw an opportunity to improve further through professional development.

Launched in September, the “SOC Reading Academy” supports nearly 30 K-3rd grade teachers who have voluntarily committed to the initiative. The SOC Reading Academy is grounded on the tenets of Great Habits, Great Readers, a district resource by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, and is facilitated by Clarissa Plair, who has over 30 years of reading and leadership experience.

The sessions consist of engaging weekly sessions that involve book/video discussion, data analysis, and lesson planning. Ms. Valentin, 2nd grade teacher at Russell Elementary, has found the first two sessions very helpful: “The Habits of the Classroom and the Classroom Setup sessions helped me visualize my classroom transitions and how to maximize the classroom space.”

Usamah Rodgers, Executive Director of the SOC feeder pattern, is excited about the potential impact of the Reading Academy: “The first two sessions got off to a great start, and I am pleased we exceeded our initial goal of launching with 20 teachers. Teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunity to develop their craft. I’m excited about how they’ll grow this year through this opportunity and the impact this will have on student achievement.”

The following organizations are part of the Commit! Partnership supporting SOC/Molina elementary schools in 2013-2014 and/or 2014-15:

Dallas Independent School District
Boston Consulting Group
Teach For America
Catch Up and Read
Teen Trendsetters
Leadership ISD
Jiv Daya Foundation
Reading Partners
Momentous Institute
University of North Texas at Dallas

To learn more about this work or to get involved, please contact Andy Canales at

1The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters: A KIDS COUNT Special Report.” 2010.
2Riley and Peterson, 2008
32012-2013 and 2013-2014 publicly released Pearson 3rd grade Reading data
42012-2013 and 2013-2014 publicly released Pearson 3rd grade Reading data