Last spring, our scholars had the opportunity to network with a panel of professional women in the Pittsburgh area. Through this career development exercise, the girls not only gained perspective on different professions, but learned about women’s personal stories of accomplishing success in their fields while becoming comfortable enough to speak with accomplished professionals in a formal setting. This activity was made possible for our scholars through our partnership with FOCUS Mentoring.
Founded by Natasha Williams, FOCUS began last year as a volunteer program to provide inner city girls with career coaching, advising, college planning, college tours, financial aid literacy, life skills, and networking. What started as a regularly scheduled meeting with 25 high school girls in a city library has evolved into a crucial program providing the resources necessary for girls in high school to navigate their way through the muddy waters of the college and financial aid application processes.
Natasha, who serves as the Assistant Director of Career Services for the Graduate School Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh by day and devoted wife, mother, and mentor by night, says that she aims to provide young women with the knowledge they need to make educated decisions about their future.
“The program’s mission is to provide young ladies with the fundamental tools in which they need to succeed,” Natasha said. “The approach is to bring real life situations into each session.”
During her sessions with our scholars, Natasha covers all of the bases when it comes to college.
“In regards to college planning, I go over the importance of choosing a major that is going to be important in the future,” said Natasha, who spent time reviewing the Forbes list of up and coming careers in 2020 with our scholars.
She then had the girls review the actual programs to see what types of classes they would be expected to complete to earn a degree with their chosen major.
“As they were looking, they were saying ‘I’m not great in math right now,’ or ‘I need to get better with my communication skills and speaking in front of people for oral communication classes,'” said Natasha. “They really connected the dots.”
While career preparation and development may lie at the core of the program, FOCUS also plays a key role in educating young adults about tuition costs and the financial aid process.
“I explained how to look at the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid], and what it actually means to apply for the FAFSA,” Natasha said. “We went over what loans and grants are, and who can qualify for each. We even broke it down to subsidized loans and unsubsidized loans and talked about the difference.”
Natasha always completes an activity with our scholars after each session, and their loan lesson was no exception. Once the girls gained a thorough understanding of the financial aid process, each of them selected the school of their choice and broke down the financials to see what paying for college would mean for them.
“There was a lot of ‘Oh, I need to really apply for scholarships,’ once they saw what the balance would be,” said Natasha.
Luckily, scholarship applications are nothing new for our girls, who have even had a special training on the topic through FOCUS.
“We went on different websites to locate scholarships for the girls,” said Natasha, who also explained to them how to tell which ones were of the highest importance. “We then learned how to write a formal scholarship essay, and what is needed in the actual essays.”
Natasha, who plans to turn FOCUS into its own nonprofit one day, says her motto is “be the mentor that you wish you had,” and for our scholars, she certainly is.
Girls Hope is proud to partner with FOCUS Mentoring. If you would like to learn more about Natasha’s program, you can find her Facebook page titled Focus Mentoring Program.