Recently, I was able to sit in on a College Summit Peer Leaders workshop at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County to witness students’ growing aspirations firsthand. College Summit, one of Darden’s valued Recipe for Success™ partners, hosted 13 workshops over the course of the summer at numerous campuses. I left the workshop feeling inspired and encouraged by the energy that I witnessed from the students, volunteers and staff. I also gained a renewed appreciation for the powerful and positive influence that our peers can have on our lives.
Research indicates that students whose peers go to college are four times more likely to enroll in college themselves. Since 1993, College Summit has demonstrated that mobilizing peer influencers is an effective way to create a college-going culture in high schools.
Over the last 10 years, 79 percent of workshop participants have enrolled in college and 80 percent have stayed in college. The workshop I attended provided almost 50 rising seniors from the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia tri-state area with an incredible learning experience. Over the course of four days, students participated in peer leadership sessions, completed a draft of a personal statement, learned the ins and outs of applying for financial aid, met one-on-one with a college coach to identify potential schools and even completed a mock college application.
In addition, during the workshop students lived in a dorm, ate in the student cafeteria, made new friends and explored the college campus. In short, they had the opportunity to experience college life. Most important, students left the workshop with a customized roadmap of the college application process and the confidence to bring what they learned back to their high school communities and serve as peer mentors throughout their senior year.
Through its workshops, College Summit aims to encourage more youth from low-income communities to attend college. The organization has found that when school districts make postsecondary planning an expectation for every student, students of all income levels enroll in college at the same rate as their high-income peers.
At Darden, we are committed to creating and fostering opportunities for youth of all backgrounds. That’s why we created the Recipe for Success™ program. Our goal is to empower youth to dream big by providing them with the tools and information that they need to pursue higher education and ultimately achieve their academic and professional aspirations. We work with a diverse group of partners, including College Summit, to make sure that we reach youth from every socioeconomic level across the country.
As students nationwide head back to school in the coming weeks, it’s the perfect time to reflect on how we can better enable all youth with opportunities to unlock their full potential.
By: Julio Suárez
Director of Diversity Outreach, Darden Restaurants
Interim Director, Darden Foundation