‘By accident,’ this mom and author started a program that helps ensure students enter college empowered and debt free – and exit with real-world career prospects.
College prep is a tedious undertaking that starts months before students drape themselves in robes and caps dyed in their high school’s colors – or, if they hail from an especially enthusiastic family, years before. Fresh Perspectives Seminars is a college and career readiness program that focuses on reducing college debt and preparing students to leave school with promising job prospects.
“One of the things that I’ve been concerned about is the inequities that happen with our students of color – particularly our Black students. They already, some of them, come from challenging backgrounds,” says Gwen Thomas, Fresh Perspectives founder.
“They may be a first-generation college student. Their parent may have worked in the auto industry and may not have an understanding or an orientation of what the college planning process is.” Still, she says, “in their heart of hearts, they want them to go to college.”
Fresh Perspectives steps in to help fill those knowledge and financial gaps through initiatives, programming and coaching that gets students ready for college. Thomas says, “We all know someone who went to college and came back with debt and no degree. But that is not how we want our people to think anymore. Things have changed. There is money available for students who are heading to college.”
They hold various seminars and online scholarship coaching sessions throughout the year. Pre-COVID, the team had hosted 70-plus live seminars in 20 cities in five countries, connecting thousands of students and parents with valuable resources. Currently, Fresh Perspectives is preparing for its annual Black Friday Scholarship Bootcamp on Nov. 27.
Held at the Wright Museum in years past, they’re preparing for a virtual event this go-round with speakers from across the country discussing shopping and competing for scholarships, money management, improving SAT/ACT scores, 21st century careers and more.
“They sometimes don’t have an understanding that we’re in a digital world,” Thomas says. She meets students that say they want to study political science, for example, and her job is to get them to consider that that may mean gathering and analyzing data surrounding voter trends and demographics.
“We are focused right now on making sure our students understand that if you go to college, we want you to make that investment in college. We want you to be able to come out of college and graduate with a degree you’ll be able to use, something that is going to be sustainable. We’re in the fourth industrial revolution.”
Before it’s time to start applying for jobs, students need apply for scholarships – and a main focus of Fresh Perspectives’ work is making sure youth understand the scholarship application process and what the people making the decisions are looking to see. Aside from the economics of college prep, the organization also takes a special interest in preparing students for the societal responsibilities that come with young adulthood.
“Especially now, amid the Black Lives Matter movement, you now have young people who didn’t have a social consciousness before, but now are socially conscious of all kinds of things,” Thomas says. “What college can do – and, of course, this is a college that is concerned with equity and inclusion and civil rights – is help mold that student into a better understanding of what it’s all about, what life is about, and what their purpose is and what their passion should be. We have young people now who are cognizant of making sure that they give back to their communities. They’re coming back and they’re building companies.”
It was Thomas’ experience with getting her own son prepared for college that introduced her to the need for the work that Fresh Perspective does. She says he won about $500,000 in direct scholarships that paid for his education at Morehouse College and Johns Hopkins University – and afforded him the opportunity to study in 30 countries.
“After I was done, I said, ‘OK, I have been successful with my son. I need to help other students.’ So, I help one student and then I start getting calls from friends of friends,” Thomas says. Her helpful hobby turned into a book and eventually into a nonprofit.
She moved from Washington, D.C. back to Detroit, where it all started, about 18 months ago determined to continue the Fresh Perspectives mission. Since they started organizing virtual events, Thomas says they’ve had participants from as far away as South Africa join. For the first time, Detroit Public Schools Community District will be a partner in the upcoming Black Friday Scholarship Bootcamp.
“We have helped students win about $15 million in direct scholarships. I’m proud that I’ve been able to do that work. Sometimes you just don’t know, and you let God lead you.”
Pamela Alexander, director of community development for Ford Motor Company, says …
Ford congratulates Gwen Thomas, the founder of Fresh Perspectives Seminars, for helping students secure nearly $15 million in direct scholarships to improve educational opportunities in urban, rural and suburban communities. We proudly celebrate Ms. Thomas’ personal commitment to enlighten, educate and empower communities, eliminate debt, and create a world of equity and equality for all.
Ford Motor Company has recognized the opportunity to enhance the education experience by investing in and creating various programs and initiatives. Ford First Gen is our new, innovative program aimed at improving graduation rates among first-generation college students.
This first-of-its-kind program pairs first-generation college students during their freshman year with juniors – also first-generations students who serve as peer mentors. The program is dedicated to helping students succeed throughout their four years in college.
Ford joins BLAC in honoring Gwen Thomas of Fresh Perspectives Seminars for being a champion of change and creating significant life-altering opportunities for disadvantaged families.
For more information on Fresh Perspectives Seminars or to join their Black Friday Scholarship Bootcamp, visit freshperspectivesseminars.org.