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Crafting a Legacy, One Scholar at a Time

Written by A Better Chicago Staff on Dec 7, 2017

Chicago Scholars is helping to transform the leadership landscape, bringing visibility to and providing opportunities for some of the city’s most underserved student populations. At the helm of this work is Dominique Jordan Turner, President & CEO of Chicago Scholars—and she’s a force to be reckoned with. As a true champion for the young people of Chicago, she and the team at Chicago Scholars are making an impact on lives, far beyond graduation.

“What I see on the news and the narrative about our city is not my reality, and it’s not the reality of many of the students that we serve at Chicago Scholars. They have all this talent and yet they’re invisible to leaders in this country. I’m trying to make them visible and put them on a path in a way that serves our city and our country.”

Dominique Jordan Turner recognizes the incredible potential in the students, and knows that their desire to succeed will make a difference if given the opportunity. 

“The people who can solve the problems of our city are those that are closest to the problem. I see these young people so hungry to be something different, to do something different, to add value, and to live up to their fullest potential. If everybody could see in them what I see, if they could just bring these young people over to be the problem solvers—to lead—we would be in a completely different position.”

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A Personal Journey: Becoming a Champion for Young People

Dominique’s passion for leading this work stems from her own background, and she relates to the students served by Chicago Scholars. Born in Chicago, Dominique is the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college. 

“When I look at the students that we serve and what it is that we’re doing I can’t help but see myself in each and every one of these people. Education is the thing that changed my life.”

It was that education, along with interaction with strong mentors, that brings her to this point in her career. Her experience bolsters her commitment to building a diverse pipeline of leaders in Chicago.

“This work is very personal and it’s something that I would do whether I was at Chicago Scholars or someplace else. This is in my blood and it’s my calling to be a champion for these young people.”

Innovation and Creative Thinking: Working Smarter to Achieve Goals

A Better Chicago recently made an unrestricted multi-year investment in Chicago Scholars because of its strong track record of results, and its commitment to continuous innovation and growth. Dominique cites A Better Chicago funding with helping support Chicago Scholars’ innovative thinking.

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“By providing funding, A Better Chicago gives us the room to innovate, to take risks, to grow, to stretch. And that’s very different than when you’re strapped for funding; you can’t innovate, you don’t grow, and you don’t expand your impact. Also, the funding is great, but it’s the level of confidence and freedom that A Better Chicago’s support provides that allows us to say, ‘Let’s do more. Let’s figure out how we work better, smarter, to serve more students.’ The validation, support, and partnership that we get from A Better Chicago is just invaluable.”

She also recognizes that this work can’t be done alone; collaboration with other organizations is key to making lasting change. Dominique launched the Chicago College and Career Collaborative (C4), a community of practitioners that collaborate and share best practices to increase the rate of CPS students getting to and through college.

“It takes a village to do the kind of work that we’re trying to do. Students might be a part of other organizations and we have to honor that. I just want to work smarter and more efficiently. We can learn from one another and figure out how our processes can support one another in pursuit of the goals that we have for our students. This work is not about me and it’s not about the organization; it’s about the students we serve. I think if we lead with that, collaboration is the natural outcome.”

OnSite 2017: Connecting Students, Colleges, and Communities

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Chicago Scholars’ annual recruiting fair, OnSite, brings together Chicago students who have undergone a rigorous application process and are ready to apply to college, with representatives from some of the most highly sought-after colleges in the country. 

“It’s inspiring to have almost 200 college reps fly in from all across the country. They’re making bets on first generation, under-resourced students from all across the city because they believe in them, and many are prepared to make application decisions on the spot. That’s a big deal.” 

Early Admissions

Many of these colleges offer early admissions, and students are often accepted during the event. For first-generation college applicants, that is an incredible accomplishment—not only for their own career path, but also the impact it has on their families and future generations.

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During the event, viewers could watch the impact in real time: how many applications were accepted, how much merit aid was awarded, and how many interviews had taken place. The results were extraordinary, including more than $57M merit aid awarded.

“I’m just so proud of what we’ve built—bringing this group of partners together—because it’s not just Chicago Scholars, it’s dozens of community-based organizations, it’s the colleges, it’s a room full of civic leaders and business leaders all believing in the students and the young people in the city of Chicago.” 

Creating Change: A Legacy of Leadership

Chicago Scholars resolves the fundamental barriers to success for academically driven, first generation college students from under-resourced communities, and the overall impact of its seven-year program has been phenomenal. Eighty-eight percent of Chicago Scholars earned a bachelor’s degree in six years—double the national average for high-achieving, low-income students.  

While keeping students on track to enter college and ultimately graduate is an important goal, Dominique believes the true “end” is what students are going to do after they get that degree. Chicago Scholars recently partnered with A Better Chicago to do a deeper dive into workforce readiness.

“I want to create change for our country, our community, our city. And that comes down to leadership. At Chicago Scholars, we put a lot of effort on making sure that students get into the right school and cross the finish line to graduation. But what happens after that is going to be our legacy.”

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