New executive director named for Kaplan Educational Foundation
New executive director named for Kaplan Educational Foundation
The process of transferring from a community college to a 4-year institution can be challenging to navigate for students. Nolvia Delgado got that help through the Kaplan Leadership Program, which helps overlooked and underserved students successfully make the transition, continue their education and thrive in their careers.
Delgado went through the program in 2008 as a Kaplan Leadership Scholar and went on to work as a state legislative assistant later for Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, as a community outreach coordinator, among other positions, before returning to Kaplan as a fundraising and charitable partnerships manager. She also has worked as community engagement specialist for the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
Now, her next role will be to head the Kaplan Educational Foundation (KEF), which provides for students through an array of financial and academic support. Delgado will be taking over for the foundation’s executive director, Nancy Lee Sànchez, who will be moving on to the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society this spring.
New York Nonprofit Media recently sat down with Delgado to learn more about her journey as a Kaplan Scholar, the importance of supportive programs for underserved students and what she hopes to achieve as the next leader of KEF.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your story begin? Where are you from? Where’d you go to school?
I came to the United States with my mom and my brother from the Dominican Republic when I was 5 and we moved to Ridgewood, Queens. I went to school in Queens for elementary school and middle school and then I went to high school in Brooklyn. I think for me education has always been something that has been very important. My mom didn't graduate from high school so for her, education was always the key. It was a way to have access to different opportunities. One of the things that she always stressed was once you have an education, you can accomplish anything that you want. She didn't speak English when we came here, but she always made sure that we had our homework done. She would sit with us and make sure that we were working on our homework. Even when I was at Smith College, she called me and she'd say, “Did you do your homework?” She just made sure that I was doing the best that I could. I think something else that I didn't realize until years later when I had a conversation with Nancy [Lee Sánchez], the current executive director of the foundation, is the skills that I was learning as a child and as a young adult growing up in a household where Spanish was the primary language was that I was learning how to advocate for myself and for my mom. I went with my mom to all of her doctor's appointments and I translated for her. What I didn't realize is I’ve been learning how to advocate my entire life and sometimes as first generation students we just don't understand the value of the experiences that we have and the skills that we're learning by helping our families and by helping our communities.
Why is there a stigma behind going to community college, and what can be done about it?
My high school classmates either went to community college or they went to CUNY. There weren't a lot of people in my high school that were going to SUNY. There were a handful of students who went to St. John's [University], and that's the furthest away that people went. But definitely, there was a stigma with going to community college and I remember someone once telling me, “You're going to community college. I thought you were smart.” And that's a very vivid memory. In terms of the stigma, I think of my own journey in community college and all the opportunities that I had from Kaplan Leadership Scholars to studying at Vassar, to going to Washington, D.C. I was one of 22 Latinas selected to participate in the Latinas Learning to Lead. Program and that was all through Borough of Manhattan Community College. BMCC just provided me with all these opportunities. Part of what's missing is exposure. People just don't know enough about the opportunities that you have at a community college and the learning and that it is higher education. It is an institution of learning. I was taking a political theory class once, and I remember there were people who were working full-time jobs. It was one of the most thought-provoking classes and part of the reason was because of the diversity of thought that was in the room. I think that is something that people also don't understand. You have people from all walks of life, coming together, learning together, and how powerful that can be. And then I think of some of my friends who were very involved in student government and spent all their time at BMCC or at their community college campus. It's really an opportunity for you to make whatever you want out of the experience. So, I think it really comes down to exposure and people really understanding all the benefits of community college.
Why do you think scholarships and programs like those from the KEF are important, especially for marginalized youth?
These programs are so important because they're comprehensive. And it's not only a scholarship, it's also providing the support services and it's filling a gap. I think for me, one of the aspects of the Kaplan Leadership Program (KLP) that I benefited from the most was the leadership development, learning to advocate for myself, learning to network on a different level. Also claiming my seat at the table. I think it's those skills that make these programs so important because it's not just something that you're using in college, it's something that you will carry with you throughout your professional career as well. They're also important because there just aren't the same opportunities for BIPOC folks or LGBTQ folks. So I think programs like this serve as a pipeline to diverse talent.
Tell me more about your journey after becoming a Kaplan Scholar.
While I was going to BMCC, I was working. I was working for a New York State assemblyman and in that office, that was the first time that I was exposed to people who were going to Ivy League schools and working with them. That was one of the turning points in my life because I was exposed to these people who had these amazing careers and they went away to school. And for me, before then, going away to school with something that I saw on TV, it wasn't something that was attainable. When I learned about KLP. I thought this might be my opportunity to go away and I just didn't know if I was gonna get it. It was just such a highly selective program. It was intimidating. There were 3 rounds of interviews, each round was with two volunteers. There were essays that needed to be written. There were references that I needed. So it was a very extensive application process, very rigorous. When I started, I learned more about the different colleges and the different opportunities that existed. For me, Smith College just really stood out. At the time I thought I would go into public office and thought I needed to go to school in Washington. One of the things that the program did was just really work with me to identify schools that were a good fit. I thought I knew what I wanted based on my current goals, but what KLP did was work with me to identify a list of schools that would help me not only as a student but also as a professional. Thinking back, I don't think any other school would have been able to help me as a woman, as a person, grow as much as Smith did partly because of the classes that I took and the people that I was around. It was just such a good fit and KLP did that for me. It helped me understand that you need a certain type of school. You need a diverse list. That's one of the things that we do and we do very well. We really help students identify a good match because if you don't have a good match, it just makes it so much harder. This journey of transferring is already difficult enough.
What are your goals after you become the new leader of KEF?
I'm excited to be the new leader of KEF given that I've gone through the program. My first job out of college was at the foundation. I'm excited to use the skills I've learned working across the public, private, and other nonprofits to increase opportunities for scholars and just continuing to support them in achieving their big dream. I also spent many years working at Cypress Hills Development Corp., and to me, it's just such a special place. I think of all the other nonprofits that are working with youth. So I think one of my goals is to start partnering with nonprofits as part of our recruitment process. Right now, most of our recruitment happens at community colleges. So one of my goals is to start working with nonprofits so they can be part of our recruitment cycles and we can expose students who are working that may fall between the gaps to the program. So just exposing as many people as possible to the work that KEF is doing.