What is Project Link? Can you tell me how it works again?

by Natalie James

 About Project Link

Three years ago, the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, under the leadership of Executive Director Tom Stanton, began exploring ways to increase the rate of post-secondary success for Waco-area high school and college students. Over the course of many months, a group of about 40 individuals from local school districts and colleges (including school counselors, administrators, superintendents, and college presidents) assembled to discuss the challenges and barriers their students faced with college readiness, high school transition to college, and college success.

The result? After much collaboration and continued conversations, the group proposed to increase the number of counselors available to students at both the high school and college level so that students could receive consistent support for post-secondary success from ninth grade all the way through college or technical certification. This additional counseling would provide the “link” between success in high school and success in post-secondary studies.

In January 2015, The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation Board approved the grant proposal for Project Link in the amount of $1,020,000. Prosper Waco serves as Project Link’s “backbone organization.” They work with the multiple organizations involved in the grant to provide oversight of the project’s implementation, including collecting data, tracking outcomes, and reporting to the Rapoport Foundation.

Project Link officially launched this past fall to help students from La Vega High School, University High School, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College. The project link team consists of one Project Link Coordinator, three Project Link High School Liaisons, and one Project Link Outreach Specialist. The Project Link Coordinator serves as the team’s lead and manages grant operations on a day-to-day basis. Three Project Link Liaisons, one at La Vega High School and two at University High School, work with students in the ninth through twelfth grade to prepare for college and workforce opportunities. The Project Link Coordinator and Outreach Specialist work together with the high school Liaisons to ensure a smooth transition to college and to provide continued support for Project Link students at the college level. Our team includes me as the Project Link Coordinator at McLennan Community College; Brandon Chappell, Project Link Outreach Specialist at Texas State Technical College; LaTishia Watson, Project Link Liaison at La Vega High School; and Marlayna Botello and Brittany Davis, Project Link Liaisons at University High School.

So what exactly do we do?

Project LinkThe goal of Project Link is to help students and their families chart a more assured and successful post-secondary journey. To accomplish this, Project Link participants develop personal relationships with professionals who provide intense one-on-one college, career, and financial advising and mentoring.

Really…who wouldn’t like having someone they can go to when they are unsure of what their next step is or when they need reassurance that they are on the right track? At both the high school and college level, Project Link provides academic and college support as well as personal and life coaching.

At the high schools, the Project Link team works to create a college-going culture by developing an environment that recognizes the value of higher education, by building awareness of post-secondary resources, and by nurturing student’s individual college and career aspirations. The participating high schools each have a dedicated space where the student can come to learn, explore, and begin to outline their own college and career path with the appropriate support and guidance to do so. Through one-on-one meetings and group sessions, the high school Liaisons help students with planning for optimum college and career readiness. They help students determine their career and college goals, think about enrichment and extracurricular engagement, figure out how to afford college and manage their money, navigate the application and registration process, prepare for SAT/ACT/TSI tests, and transition from their high school to the college of their choice. We encourage and support students as they explore and find a college that best meets their academic and career goals, and their personal needs – their true college match.

Project Link students participate in college and career nights, college application fairs, financial aid and scholarship application workshops, college tours, career days, and more. The students work on building their own educational resume by developing strong academic competencies and by participating in leadership and community service opportunities. College representatives from MCC, TSTC, and Baylor provide site visits for one-on-one advising for students who are considering attending one of these local post-secondary institutions.

Project Link is not designed to recruit specifically for MCC or TSTC, but statistically we know that many of our students for various reasons end up matriculating to one of those, so we provide additional support at those two schools.

At the college level, the Project Link Outreach Specialists provide one-on-one advising, life coaching, and other services. Students have the opportunity to participate in workshops that cover topics such as academic skills and support, careers, degrees, employability, life skills, personal wellness, computer and technology skills, and financial literacy and resources. Participants have additional opportunities to build their educational resume through community service, leadership, and internship opportunities. The goal of all of this is to help students develop the needed academic competencies, life skills, and strategies to attain their personal goals like earning their college degree, landing the job of their dreams, and achieving lifelong success.

Overall, Project Link helps to increase awareness, access and success for college readiness and retention. While building long lasting growth-oriented relationships with our students, the program allows each student to not only dream, but to make those dreams come true. At the end of the day, our program is not designed to do things for them, but instead to provide them with guidance and understanding about what steps they can make next in reaching their own dream, their own success. We can provide each of these students with all the knowledge, insight and information we have about pursuing a college or workforce degree that will land them the job of their dreams, but in the end, ultimately, we will not be the ones who will make these students successful. THEY WILL. Their persistence and hard work will be what takes them to their desired level of success. We are just serving as a beacon of light, showing them that with an advanced EDUCATION, comes great WORKFORCE and career opportunities that will lead them to be more productive members of our society and COMMUNITY. I would say that is a win, a victory, a SUCCESS for us all.

Natalie James 4Natalie James is the Coordinator for Project Link. A native of the Waco area, she has proudly worked in Higher Education for the past 10 years at McLennan Community College. She earned her AA degree from MCC, a BSAS degree from Tarleton State University through the MCC University Center, and M.Ed. from Angelo State University. She is also a proud wife and mother to two amazing daughters. If you have questions about Project Link, feel free to contact Natalie at [email protected] or at 254-299-8517.


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