We are proud to partner with practitioners supporting students to college graduation. In this blog series, you will hear from our partner organizations about their programs, best practices, and GradSnapp tips and tricks, along with inspiring work helping students reach college graduation.
Director, Davis New Mexico Scholarship
Tell us about the Davis New Mexico Scholarship.
The Davis New Mexico Scholarship is a full cost-of-attendance scholarship for 25 to 30 students each year who will be first in their families to earn a college degree. The program is built on partnerships at both the high school and college levels. In high school, students must be enrolled with one of our partners that is doing excellent college prep work, either as a community-based organization or as a charter school. They are admitted to our program in the fall of their senior year, applying to our partner colleges, and we work with them during their senior year and throughout college to provide a pathway to college graduation.
How did you get your start working in college success?
During high school, I served as a student representative on the local Board of Education, which is where I first learned about the achievement gap – a problem that existed at my school, that no one ever talked about. That made me really frustrated. How was it possible that myself and the kids around me in class were getting such radically different outcomes from the same high school?
In college, I interned for a few summers with a college prep program called Breakthrough Santa Fe, which provides college prep for high-achieving students from under-resourced high schools and middle schools. After graduation, I continued working in college access, as a middle school teacher with the organization Citizen Schools, with Breakthrough Santa Fe, and eventually the Davis Scholarship.
How does GradSnapp fit into your model of student support?
Our scholarship program is built from data. Every part of our program is built upon a research-based foundation, so we know how important it is to have reliable data on students when they’re in school. As a millennial, I knew there had to be a tech solution and that an Excel spreadsheet was not the place for this kind of case management.
We award about $5 million in scholarships each year, and part of how we’re able to sustain that level of giving is through having a lean staff. We needed a database that would be intuitive for everyone to use – every time they get off the phone with a student – to capture the meaningful information that we need to support our students. We have a hundred scholars, and I know them all. I know their parents. We all know each other. For a scholarship that is very familial, the fact that you can share data within GradSnapp and pass along tasks is very intuitive to the way we work as a program.
What excites you most about your work, and what are your hopes for the future?
Scholarship providers and case managers have long spoken about the importance of freshman year, and many of us are starting to recognize the importance of that first semester as a transitional time between high school and college. There are gaps between the resources offered by high schools and colleges, particularly during summer and the first semester, and there’s more we need to do bridging the gap. We’re seeing this six-month period as the next step in college access.
Every time I meet with colleagues in college completion, there are fewer and fewer who are defining college enrollment as a job well-done. Increasingly, we’re thinking instead in terms of college completion. As funders start to think that way, as consortia start to think that way, professional organizations start to think that way – that creates more opportunity available for programs that bridge the gap between access and completion.
Sam Ritter is the Director of the Davis New Mexico Scholarship. In 2012, Sam began working at Breakthrough Santa Fe at Santa Fe Prep, where he eventually served as Co-Director. In 2017, Sam became the Director of the Davis New Mexico Scholarship, the largest private scholarship program designated solely for New Mexican students in the state’s history.
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