Access to Extracurricular Activities

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Access to Extracurricular Activities

Pioneer is proud to be in partnership with excellent organizations that also have youth access to educational opportunities as a key component of their driving missions. Representatives of three such organizations joined this panel discussion:

Leslie Sullivan, senior director of higher education at QuestBridge
Francisco Tezén, President and CEO of A Better Chance
Gregory Manne, senior manager of selection and global outreach at Rise

Lucia Murillo, Pioneer associate director of outreach, led the panel discussion which began with an introduction to the work of each organization, followed by questions regarding access to extracurricular activities, and concluded with audience Q & A.


Rise is an initiative of Schmidt Futures in the Rhodes Trust, based at Oxford, the manager of the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious and historic global scholarship awards.

The Rise philosophy is that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.

The goal of the program is to bring opportunity to talent and to support these talented individuals as they work to solve the world’s greatest problems. What sets this organization apart is that Rise:

  • Is a global initiative with a growing community of over 150,000 youth between the ages of 15 and 17 from 170 different countries.
  • Provides lifetime support to all Rise Global Winners in the form of need-based scholarships and potential seed funding, supporting talent beyond their undergraduate and graduate years and well into their adult lives.
  • Identifies talent through non-traditional means. No grades or standardized test scores are used. Candidates are selected through a project-based learning initiative, The Rise Challenge.

A Better Chance has been a driving force in the effort to increase access and education equity for youth of color for nearly 60 years. The oldest national program of its kind, A Better Chance:

  • Empowers academically talented students of color to change their life trajectory by attending the nation’s highest performing college preparatory schools.
  • Begins with identifying promising students in the fourth through ninth grade with the help of partnering community-based organizations, schools, and by word of mouth.
  • Places students within their member school network by selecting a cohort that they work with over 14 months to prepare for application to more than 200, partnering private and public schools and 27 markets around the US.
  • Leverages about $80 million of financial aid to make access to member school partners possible for new scholars.
  • Provides ongoing support to their scholar community of nearly 2000 annually that includes summer enrichment activities, workshops, webinars, and leadership programming, as they explore post-secondary educational opportunities and careers.
  • Is deeply personal work for CEO, Francisco Tezén, a child of an immigrant father from Peru and a mother from a rural black community in the southern United States, neither of whom had the benefit of high-quality educational experiences, but profoundly believed in the power of education to change his trajectory.

QuestBridge is a national nonprofit in the US focused on helping high achieving students who come from low income backgrounds access top colleges and additional opportunities. To achieve this goal, QuestBridge:

Partners with 48 of the top colleges and universities in the country to help place students in those schools,

Prepares high school juniors for the college application process through the College Prep Scholars Program, which partners with Pioneer.

Hosts national college admissions conferences, or summer school awards, where they help students understand what the college admissions process entails.

Identifies high achieving low income students for the flagship program, the National College match, which is to support students applying to college.

Has a robust alumni network of over 10,000 students enrolled in their college partners.


The first question was directed to Gregory Manne, from Rise:

How do you think youth should approach their extracurriculars in a way that will help them develop their talents and passions?

Mr. Manne asked students to consider intentionality and purpose by thinking about the following:

  • What do you enjoy doing and what energizes you?
  • What are you good at and what are your skills and talents?
  • What issues in the world interest you and what problems in the world do you want to solve?

Mr. Manne shared that as a former admissions officer, “it’s really easy to tell when someone is enthusiastic and passionate and potentially talented in an area and when somebody’s just doing something because they think it checks the box and looks good on their resume.”

The next question was directed to Francisco Tezén of A Better Chance:

What impact have you seen in your students from the support they get in planning and getting access to the type of extracurricular activities that can really helped them follow their passions?

In response, Mr. Tezén spoke of supporting college and career exploration to help students begin to marry passion with purpose. To illustrate this focus, he shared two examples:

  • Former Pioneer scholar Kennedy would never have considered her dream to earn a PhD in computer science had she not participated in Pioneer, which she learned about through A Better Chance. Kennedy is now working towards her undergraduate degree at Columbia.
  • Another student, Keziah, participated in an 8-month program to engage middle schol and high school students in career opportunities in STEM; this helped Keziah clarify her career path, combining her interest in computer science and coding with law; meeting role models who were lawyers working within the technology and manufacturing sectors in the program helped Keziah become clear on her career aspirations.

The last question was directed to Leslie Sullivan of QuestBridge:

As students are thinking ahead toward their college applications, what are ways they can think about the extracurriculars they are currently working on?

Ms. Sullivan emphasized the importance of recognizing that for many students, access goes beyond being able to get the extracurricular opportunities. Students with less access often need to think carefully about how they’re having to spend their time and learn how to prioritize competing responsibilities.

She added that students from low-income backgrounds do not always realize how competitive they can be to colleges, because they’re seeing what everybody else is doing and feeling that because their opportunities have been limited, they’re limited still.

Regarding how to approach this on college applications, Ms. Sullivan said:

  • Keep a broad mind to what you have to offer.
  • Give admissions counselors the larger context.
  • Show how you’ve prioritized your time to pursue your passions and interests on your college applications BUT
  • Make sure to talk about how you’re spending all of your time.

For example, if a student couldn’t do a traditional summer program like many of their peers may have done, that’s okay. Talk about how you had to work but show how you still explored that interest and that passion through another route.

Finally, Ms. Sullivan urged students to:

Think about everything that you do. And prioritize those to your passions and interests, but talk about the things that you have to do as well, which may relate to your home and other responsibilities.

Q & A:

Q: Are there opportunities for international applicants in these programs?
A: Rise is open to students in all the countries in the world.
A: A Better Chance is currently focused domestically.
A: And QuestBridge is also focused domestically, but US citizens who are living abroad and non-U.S. citizens attending high school in the U.S. are also eligible.

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