ESSEX Wadleigh Secondary School Student Andy Diaz had no idea who he was meeting when he casually struck up a conversation with a stranger at a Foundation for Excellent Schools (FES) event last week only to learn that stranger was Paul Smith's College President Dr. John Mills.
While Diaz decided to attend a different college, he used the connection to help his friend, Patreecha Lee, achieve her college dream. Lee will be entering Paul Smith's College this fall as a freshman majoring in business.
Networking was the focus of the very special national task force meeting on Aug. 22 and 23. President Rick Dalton hosted the the meeting at his Essex residence. Thirty-five higher education advocates from across the nation attended the conference, and also celebrated the foundation's new name - College For Every Student (CFES).
Lee, Diaz and former classmate Shameka Cobbs, all from New York City, were all featured speakers at the event.
Board member Tom Mattox, a former college admittance officer and Harvard and Dartmouth and current employee of Goldman Sachs, said the change to CFES helped clarify the foundations's mission. The nationally known education organization targets under served youth to help them get into college and succeed there.
The name change is one of the most important developments of the last few years, said Dick Walker, president of the CFES board and Essex summer resident. It's going to make clearer to the world what our mission is.
Lake Placid Central School Superintendent Ernie Stretton approved of the change.
It's right on target with what the underlying mission of CFES is all about, said Stretton. It stands out more.
The new CFES name is part of the groups ongoing initiative to promote college for minority and low-income youth. The effort is combating a national crisis. According to the Committee for Economic Development, by 2025 the United States faces a deficit of 16 million college-educated workers, a statistic CFES hopes to impact.
The organization also announced a major grant of $297,000 from the Charitable Venture Foundation, based in Clifton Park. Dalton said the grant would be used to strengthen the program's national reach.
Ticonderoga Central School Superintendent John McDonald spoke about the program's benefit to area students. Ti school has been involved with CFES for 10 years. He said that over the past several years, there's been an increase of students attending secondary education institutes.
McDonald explained that post-secondary education is becoming more and more vital in the modern economy - and that it didn't necessarily mean a traditional four-year school. Many students are attending trade schools. He said the increased connections to other area schools and universities - particularly Middlebury College - helped encourage students to think about college.
We're challenged by being a rural school - it's tough for us to provide experiences and opportunities for our kids because of our isolation, said McDonald.
CFES works with students in 110 schools from New York to Hawaii that partner with 180 colleges in the U.S. Seventeen of those schools are located in the Adirondack Park.
Through mentoring programs, both inner-city and rural-based students from elementary to high school, work with college students, visit college campuses, and are guided through the complicated college application process.
Since the nonprofit organization started in 1991, CFES has worked with 380 schools and paved the way for more than 100,000 under served students to gain access to colleges. The organization is headquartered in Cornwall, Vt.
Diaz said that his involvement in the organization had made him who he was. Meeting Dalton provided him with a mentor- one who taught him to shake hands firmly, and be a man. He said the program taught him how to network, and choose his friends with care.
Before FES, I didn't see a purpose in going through school, he said. After, he decided that he wanted to pursue a college degree. This fall he is entering Marist College as a freshman.
It's not a dream - it's a standard for every child we should set, said Diaz.