College Possible junior coach Tori Clark was a low-income, first-generation college student herself. Her parents had no idea how to apply for college or navigate the financial aid process, so she had to figure it out on her own. Her middle-range GPA, between a 2.0 and 3.0, added to the challenge, as students with GPAs lower than a 3.0 often get overlooked for merit scholarships.
However, it was these aspects of her life that helped her relate to her students at Chicago’s Lake View High School.
“I’m not an A student either,” says Tori. “I’m like, ‘I can relate! Hey, I’m middle range, let’s try to find a college we can afford!’”
Tori was a junior coach during College Possible Chicago’s 2015-16 academic year, the organization’s inaugural year. She became interested in the program after hearing about it from her professor at Illinois State University, whose daughter was an AmeriCorps member at College Possible Milwaukee.
“It was the only job I applied for,” she remembered.
She loved her students, describing them as “the coolest kids in the world,” but that’s not to say her service year was free of obstacles. She was the only College Possible coach at her school and there were only eight Corps members in Chicago, which meant that everyone was kept busy trying to build the organization.
Yet, Tori believes it was working through these challenges that made College Possible Chicago such an invaluable experience.
“I learned way more in one year than I could’ve anywhere else,” she says. “I literally got to learn how to start a program from the ground up and then build it, which not everyone can say they know how to do.”
At the end of her year of service, Tori’s students showed their appreciation by throwing her a surprise going away party. They gave her small gifts and made a video describing their year with her.
“Almost all of them were there, that was probably the best day of my life,” recalled Tori. “I’d never cried so hard.”
Tori plans to continue working in education and enter graduate school in 2017. Her students, now high school seniors, have since earned admission to multiple colleges and universities, including her alma mater.