Have you ever wondered what your college career would have looked like if you’d been more prepared for it? Or, do you hope that today’s youth would know more of what they’re walking into, to determine if college is or is not for them? Nitiya Walker is making sure that those hopes, dreams, and questions you whisper to yourself are answered and made into a reality.
Nitiya, an entrepreneur and trailblazer, has created hope under the chaos of COVID-19, with the first college preparation program geared toward young women of color. Seeds of Fortune is a New York City-based scholarship program with a national reach that aims to financially empower young women of color by helping them apply for college scholarships. With the threat of the recent strain of coronavirus creating havoc throughout the nation’s education system, Seeds of Fortune is a constant that young women can count on to advance in their chosen career paths.
Even within the constraints of social-distancing, this organization is making sure to provide the resources needed by high-school girls everywhere. Recently, Seeds of Fortune launched its online training portal, the Online College Prep Network, for high school seniors of color. The Online College Prep Network, which includes development scholarship/college packages, career skills, and financial literacy through an intensive online prep process, provides young women with an exclusive network to explore colleges whose admissions offices are currently closed.
Nitiya, who is the founder and current executive director of Seeds of Fortune, holds experience in the field of economic empowerment for women and minorities. Through Seeds of Fortune, she has already helped minority young women earn $6 million (and counting!) in college scholarships and grants.
In this interview with BAUCE, Nitiya chats with BAUCE about the importance of teaching college and career readiness to high-school students around the nation.
Looking back to your senior year in high school, what experiences are you providing for young girls that you wish you would’ve had yourself? How do you think having access to these experiences would have changed your college experience?
Nitiya: As a high school senior, I was provided the opportunity to work with a Girl Scout Troop leader who understood the art of getting college scholarships, this allowed me to have the opportunity to be able to apply for college scholarships. I wish I had understood the different colleges’ rankings that there were colleges that provided more money than others, as well as the options available to me as a minority applicant. It would have opened up my college and financial options.
Usually, a life-defining moment births some of our biggest and best ideas in life. What kickstarted the need for Seeds of Fortune?
Nitiya: It was the moment one of my friends from high school was unable to finish at her university and transferred to college closer to home due to affordability. If I did not have someone that took the time to teach me how to obtain scholarships for college, I would not have been able to obtain the Full Tuition Posse Leadership to Babson College.
When do you think that it is important to teach young black girls about practicing financial freedom in their lives and why?
Nitiya: Young women should be taught about finances once they are entering middle school, it is important to start to develop good money habits, by the time they start high school and are legally able to work they would have started to understand money. This includes saving for birthdays and understanding a checking as well as a savings account.
I think it’s symbolic that the word “seeds” is emphasized in the name of your scholarship program, as it paints a picture of planting something early to reap the harvest later in life. Do you think that patience plays a big part in college readiness while training one’s career and financial management skills?
Nitiya: We emphasized that there are a process and community to life and the more you invest and perfect your process the more prepared you will be. A seed is planted, however, in order for it to successfully transform into a flower, it must be watered, given sunlight, nutrients to grow into its full potential. We value and provide the ingredients for their success, but they are the ones that must own it and use it to their advantage.
Speaking of patience in the journey of success, I know COVID-19 has had a part in creating a shift within your organization. What’s the silver lining in all of this for Seeds?
Nitiya: Although Covid-19 has been a stressful time for students at the moment it has provided the opportunity for them to form a community online. Our Seed online college prep platform allows them to have a safe space where they can connect on their concerns for the future, push one another to fulfill their greatest potential, and obtain information to make them more savvy consumers in the college process.
Many middle-class students of color find it hard to find scholarships that fit them into their category. Their households may make too much to qualify for scholarships that amount to big totals, but do not have a way to fully fund their tuition. What are some tips on how to look for more inclusive scholarships with flexible requirements?
Nitiya: Students in middle-class families should focus on scholarships that are focused on leadership, community service, status as (women, minority, or career major) and merit-based scholarships. These scholarships are based on their academic achievement, commitment to their community, as well as their ability to enter spaces that are historically lacking diversity.
They should also localize their scholarship search applying to scholarships offered by the church, mosque, unions, community banks, sororities, and social clubs. Seeds has an online training portal for current high-school seniors to prepare them for what they may be facing in the fall. What is the most effective thing that a high-school senior can do now to prepare them for their collegiate journey?
Treat the college process as a financial investment, begin researching which schools have high employment rates, understand the colleges that offer 100% aid to cover college costs, find online programs to become involved with that are connected to their intended major, request information sessions with admission officers to allow you to stand out in the applicant pool.
Being away from family, certain routines, and regulations can lead to over or under doing things that you’re used to having guidance with. In most cases, this can be overspending or purchasing things you don’t need. How can a college student live on an efficient budget, while still enjoying some of the things they love?
Nitiya: Technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to managing finances in college and keeping track of expenses. I recommend the Clarity app. It allows you to track your spending on your credit and debit cards, apply for the Goldman Sachs Marcus High Yield Savings Account with a 1.3% interest rate, and eliminate subscription services that might be draining your finances. They also tell you what categories you have been spending heavily on. The more you can watch your money, the more responsible you are able to be with it.
It is also important that they begin to start emergency savings accounts, keeping at least $500 in their savings account at all times. It is important to open up both a checking and savings account because money tends to disappear easily between food, online shopping, and activities with friends.
As students enter college, some are applying for internships and jobs for the very first time. With little to no experience, this can seem intimidating. What are some ways that students can practice their career skills while making the application process seem frightening?
Nitiya: I recommend students create career support networks both virtually and in person. Some of the resources we currently suggest to students are connecting with their career center on campus, the career center has a job portal and staff to review a resume and navigate applications. Additionally entering their resume into minority career pipeline funnels like MLT, Inroads, SEO, and Jopwell that are able to help screen their applications and sharpen them to become top applicants. Last but certainly not least create a LinkedIn profile. When a student sets up a LinkedIn account – LinkedIn is able to access the strength of your profile, similar to an online job application, who can typically apply directly to jobs through your LinkedIn profile.
If you could encourage young girls to attend college with one of the most valuable benefit from the experience, what would you tell them?
Nitiya: College is an accreditation to enter into the white collar workforce, however the brand you build behind that accreditation is the reason why you should go to college. You create networks of like-minded individuals, it transforms the way you view and see the world, and provides you the opportunity to mold yourself with structure into the person you want to become. Life is not what you want to do but who you want to be.