It’s great to be back home

After attending Wellesley College (located 12 miles west of Boston, MA) for my first year, it’s great to be back home. My name is Xueying Chen. I am a daughter of two Chinese immigrant parents and a Cohort IV Rainier Scholar.

Like other Rainier Scholars, I received an invitation to learn more about the program in fifth grade. My first reaction was skepticism. “Dad, that’s junk mail. Just throw it away,” I said. The program sounded too good, like a scam.

When a friend confirmed that Rainier Scholars was real, I was scared that my parents had thrown the invitation away. Even in fifth grade, I had a gut feeling that I needed this program. To this day, I’m more grateful than ever that my parents held on to the letter.  I don’t know where I would be if they hadn’t and I don’t want to know.

During the 14 months after fifth grade, I entered the Academic Enrichment Phase of the program. I complained of giving up summers and Saturday cartoons during the school year in exchange for four extra classes and three to five hours of homework daily. But along the way, I gained so much more. I joined a community of students, parents, teachers and leaders who wanted to close the achievement gap. I made friends who understood that an education would give us opportunities that our parents never had.

It was the community that stayed with me as I took the Accelerated Program or AP track at Garfield High School in Seattle. While Garfield is a public inner city school, there aren’t many students of color in the AP track. It proves to me even more why a program like Rainier Scholars needs to exist.

I spoke about the lack of racial diversity with other Scholars at Garfield. Being the only person of a different race from everyone else in the room is a rare experience, but some of my friends had to experience this every day. It’s discouraging and unsettling.

For me, it wasn’t exactly race but a combination of my immigrant background and socioeconomic class. There is extra pressure to succeed, to represent our families and our communities.

Some of that pressure comes my parents because they don’t want me to worry about money. But the rest of that pressure stems from the idea that I am a role model and representative for other bright and hardworking low-income students of color. If I misbehave or fail, I’m afraid it would decrease the opportunities future Scholars and students of color would have.

That pressure continues past high school, especially at the best colleges in the nation.

Wellesley 1

Me on campus at Wellesley College.

Being a Rainier Scholar has allowed me to turn that pressure into inspiration. Being a student of color and of a lower socioeconomic class gives me a different perspective, strength and a resourcefulness to succeed. I’ve made it to Wellesley College, despite my immigrant background, despite the fact that my parents never attended college and I plan to achieve so much more.

Before I end this post, I want to know if any of our readers have felt similar pressures to succeed. If so, succeed in what? How do you deal with that pressure?

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Senior Celebration and the Months After

Since it’s now the summer, the Leadership Development (LD) experiences a lull in the schedule before getting ramped up for August, which is a very busy month because of the retreats that the LD students attend. (Be sure to check out my next post in August which will be about the LD retreats!) My schedule switched from seeing students on a daily basis and admin work to just having admin meetings about the transition into next year. But before that, my schedule was actually filled with going to high school graduations as well as our annual Rainier Scholars’ Senior Class Celebration.

When our LD students graduate from high school, they transition from Leadership Development to the College Support phase. The senior celebration is an opportunity to acknowledge and commend the hard work that our scholars have done up until this point and to revel in their college acceptances. In addition to scholars, their families, friends and RS staff dined and celebrated at the Space Needle. Guests had a choice between a chicken dish and pasta (the chicken was actually pretty tasty) and while we ate, we listened to various speakers as well as our very own Susie Wu (LD Director) in the role of emcee for the evening. It was also a special year because we had representatives from both Bank of America and the Mona Foundation attend. My favorite part was when parents of our students had an opportunity to come to the microphone and share their thoughts, hopes, thanks and words of encouragement for everyone there. It was a wonderful evening, filled with the joy of celebration and the warmth of families coming together!

Thanks for reading and check out my next post about LD retreats!

Senior Class Celebration

So proud of my student, Ellis (Cohort V), who will be attending Claremont McKenna this fall!

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The Life of a Leadership Development Academic Counselor

I am Dominique Daba and similar to my colleagues Seayoung and Korrie, I’m an academic counselor (AC), but I’m one of two counselors for the Leadership Development phase (LD), otherwise known as the “high school phase” at Rainier Scholars. I have a caseload of about 60 students and I work at a number of private and public schools in the Seattle area where I meet my 10th -12th grade students. As an AC, I work with my students to ensure that they are on track academically, that things are going well socially and that they are getting help in the areas where they need it.

I strive to provide as many resources and opportunities possible for my students which can range from directing them to summer programs (e.g., Rochester Scholars, Youth in Focus, YMCA Bold), helping them with the application process for these summer programs, finding tutors for classes they’re struggling in, or pushing for them to speak up in class and get their homework in on time. Sometimes, I might simply be someone they can confide in and it’s during these moments when I realize that I’m not just giving academic advice, I’m helping my students navigate other aspects of their life in the same way an older sister would. And from August before school begins through a good portion of their senior year, I am one of many resources at Rainier Scholars for the college application process. The LD phase focuses on academics and college applications but in addition to that, we aim to instill in our scholars the values and knowledge of what it means to be a leader, hence the name of the phase.

leadership gifts dinner 2012  103 (1)

Here’s me with some of my colleagues as well as a couple of my students! From left to right: Michael Wiley Jr. (AC), me, Sarah Smith (Executive Director), Leila (Cohort V) and Aaron  (Cohort V).

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Everyone Plays a Part

Atlanta Georgia was the location for our second Bank of America Neighborhood Builders leadership program for Emerging Leaders. The energy in the room was phenomenal, it felt like a family reunion as all 60 emerging leaders greeted each other the first night. Even though we had just seen each other in February it felt like an eternity.

Workshop Topics Included:

  • Keys to Transformational Leadership
  • Money & Mission: Managing in a Changed and Changing Economic Reality
  • Transforming Your Organization’s Orientation and Approach to Development
  • Field Exercise: City of Refuge Atlanta
A group photo of all 60 emerging leaders from around the country
A group photo of all 60 emerging leaders from around the country

Two presentation in particular stood out for me. The first was given by Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez former CEO of Goodwill Enterprises in San Francisco. She spoke about her “Checklist for Transformational Leaders” on it she listed 5 key concepts:

  1. Power: Recognize those who have it and those who don’t
  2. Passion: What are you passionate about
  3. Impact: How do you measure success
  4. Sustainability: Alignment to the mission
  5. Collaboration: Working towards a common outcome

One sentiment that stuck with me is the idea that “you only achieve change if you are willing to change yourself.”

The second workshop that stood out to me was around development. President and CEO of Lisa M. Dietlin & Associates reminded us the power of individual giving (75% of charitable giving nationwide comes from individuals). She also told us a story about a Janitor at a foundation who won the annual staff development award for his donor cultivation efforts that led to a $50,000 gift! This was refreshing reminder that all staff no matter their title can make contributions to the development efforts.

This workshop gave me numerous tools to better understand the behind the scenes of nonprofit management. I will be sharing my key takeaways with all staff members and specific session notes with team leaders. Our next session will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina where we will be joined by our Executive Directors.

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Cohort V Matriculation Report

The National Candidate Reply Date, the date on which high school seniors must decide where to go to college, has come and gone, and our Cohort V students had some difficult choices to make. How does a student choose among Columbia, Dartmouth, Stanford and Yale? What about the University of Washington and Washington State University — after all, you’re either a Husky or a Cougar for life.

We are incredibly proud of our Scholars from the Class of 2013! Please see the matriculation list below to learn where Cohort V will enroll this fall. (Several colleges will have multiple students enrolling.)

Carnegie Mellon UniversityMP900382954
Claremont McKenna College
Colgate University
Dartmouth College
Davidson College
East Carolina University
Eastern Washington University
Harvard College
Johns Hopkins University
Kalamazoo College
Kenyon College
Macalester College
New York University
Occidental College
Pitzer College
St. John’s University – Queens Campus
St. Olaf College
The Evergreen State College
The George Washington University
Tufts University
Union College
United States Military Academy
University of Southern California
University of Washington
Washington State University
Western Washington University
Yale University


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Finding Hope in the Unseen

“What then must we do?  We must give with love to whoever God has placed in our path…”  from The Year of Living Dangerously

When Rainier Scholars received a prestigious Neighborhood Builders Grant from Bank of America this fall, I jumped at the chance to fill in for Sarah Smith at a 4-day leadership development conference in Detroit for executive directors.  But nothing prepared me for the moment when I realized that I was representing one of 60 most highly successful nonprofits in the nation, and that this conference was in fact a rare and wonderful community of executive directors and CEO’s.

B of A workbook

Worksheets and books distributed at the conference.

Organized by Jeff Nugent and his team at The Center for Leadership Innovation, the conference challenged us to ask the right questions as directors, to create stories that compel people to act and give, to assess the financial health of our organization, and to reflect on what our staffs and boards needed from us.  I met some inspiring individuals over the four days, from Vicki who founded an organization to help homeless teens through the college application process, because she could no longer ignore the need she saw in her community; to Mark who was a former loan officer approving million dollar construction loans, and now offers thousand dollar grants to first-time low-income business owners who cry because someone finally decided to believe in their dreams—he describes his current job as having more meaning and impact than he has ever had in his life.

What we all had in common, in spite of the different scopes of our nonprofit work, were a strong leader who believed in the mission, a hardworking staff who understood how their work aligned to the mission, and a work culture of basic grit and passion.  But there was a sense of burn out too, hovering like a fog over the buzz of energy in the room.  We checked emails constantly during our breaks and after hours.  One director reported that a young teen in her program had gone missing, and no one could find her.  (She reappeared a few hours later, safe and sound.)  It was healthy reminder of how the work never ends.

At Rainier Scholars, we often talk about how we know we are achieving our mission when we are closer to making the need for our organization obsolete.  I recognize this is an asymptotic statement, always getting closer, but never reaching, zero.  Coming out of this conference, I believe more that, yes, this is tiring work and the needs of the communities we serve are constant.  But this should not stop us from doing the best work with those whose lives we touch, and in essence deepen our humanity by enriching the people whose paths we cross.

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Building College Lists

With more than 2,000 4-year colleges in the United States, how does a student begin to narrow down her choices? It might sound like a daunting task, but it’s a matter of communication.

When I meet with students in the winter or spring of their junior year, I ask them a series of questions to understand what they want in a college experience. Some of those questions are as follows:

  • Do you see yourself in a small, medium or large college environment?
  • Do you want to be in the heart of a city, a suburb or a rural location?
  • Is there an area of the country that you are attracted to?
  • Are there any cities in the US that are of interest (and have you visited or do you have family there)?
  • Are you open to single-sex education?
  • What subjects would you like to study in college?
  • What are some important factors in your college decision (i.e. Greek life, well-known football team, specific programs of study)?
Sallie, Cohort IIIWilliams College

Sallie, Cohort III
Williams College

I also give students examples during our conversation. For instance, they might not understand how many students constitutes a large college or university, so I give them a point of reference like the University of Washington. Or they might not understand what a college major or minor is, so I give them expamples like engineering, architecture or sociology and describe what each field entails.

Once I gather this information, I begin my research, primarily using a Web-based college counseling tool called Naviance in addition to my personal experience. I build a list of roughly seven colleges and give a short description about why each one is on the student’s list. I send the list to the students, asking them to research the schools further by using Web sites, guidebooks and personal relationships, and then I ask them to reply to me three weeks later with a list of pros and cons about each college. From there, we begin a dialogue about colleges that would be the best fit, ensuring that the student develops a balanced list–a few reach, match and likely colleges. Viola! A college list is born.

Next: Cohort V college matriculation report

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The universe conspires to make it happen

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This famous quote crossed my mind this morning as I had breakfast with over 200 people. The room was filled with nonprofit and business leaders brought together by Bank of America as they honored the work of nonprofits in our community and recognized their selection for the 2012 Neighborhood Builder Award. This honor goes to high-performing nonprofits that have made a significant impact in our community and Rainier Scholars was recognized as the Neighborhood Builder Award winner this year.

What makes this grant award unique is the leadership training component that is built into the process for both the executive leadership of the organization and an identified emerging leader within the nonprofit. But what has even deeper meaning for Rainier Scholars is the alignment with our mission in creating new generations of diverse leaders.

As Executive Director Sarah Smith articulated for the audience “Embedded in our work is an inherent belief that a college degree provides critical training for and access to full participation in the workforce and as leaders and citizens in our community. A college degree greatly increases an individual’s chance at economic self-sufficiency not to mention the inter-generational impact of being the first in your family to earn a college degree…”

And sitting at the table today were board members, volunteers and staff as well as our founder Bob Hurlbut.  It’s often hard to believe that the decisions made by a small group of people just twelve years ago, have conspired to create moments like this… the recognition of a life changing program, a community investment in future leaders and an impact that will be felt far beyond the scholars with whom we work.



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High School Internships

What do our high school students need to know in order to be a successful intern? At our mandatory internship meeting earlier this month, more than 30 prospective interns showed up to find out the answer to that question. One student volunteered, “Interns need to show up on time,” and another said, “They need to dress professionally.” The meeting had just begun and already they had a few good ideas about what it takes to be a successful intern! I informed them that interns must also be effective communicators, be open to performing a variety of tasks and complete paperwork on time. In short, in order to be a successful intern, students must show a high level of responsibility.

Intern at Screaming Flea Productions

Kevin, Cohort V
Intern at Screaming Flea Productions

For most of our students, this is the first time they’ve been asked to create a resume, so we discussed how to develop a polished resume that showcases what they’ve accomplished so far in high school. Several of them have accomplished so much that it was difficult to fit their resume on one page!

A few students wondered what the difference is between an internship and a job, so I shared the following with them:


  • Short-term opportunity
  • Learn critical skills like accountability, networking & work-place culture.
  • Learning experience; not about making money.
  • Interns often have a mentor, not a boss.


  • Hired to do specific tasks.
  • More about earning money than learning.
  • Have a boss.

I’m looking forward to proofreading resumes, conducting interviews and matching our outstanding candidates with internship sites this spring.

Next up: Building a college list for juniors.

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Giving the Vision Feet in Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona was the destination for our first of three leadership training as Emerging Leaders hosted by The Center for Leadership Innovation. Sixty professionals from around the country met to network, learn, share and inspire one another. Jeff our program leader reiterated how proud we should all be to be in this room, hundreds of nonprofits around the country apply for this prestigious grant each year.

Korrie at  the Emerging Leader Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

Korrie at the Emerging Leader Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

There were six main workshops that covered the following topics:

  • Critical Leadership Questions and Challenges in High Performing Nonprofits
  • Challenges in Education Nonprofits
  • Change the Story Change the World; Storytelling in Nonprofits
  • Leadership Practices Inventory Results Review
  • Leading in a Competitive Environment
  • Case study of a previous Neighborhood Builder Awardee; Native American Connections

One session that stood out for me was the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) Results Review. All Emerging Leaders (EL) were asked to choose ten colleagues to rate how frequently you engage in 30 specific behaviors on a 10-point scale. The LPI instrument is an essential tool to help you gain perspective into how you see yourself as a leader, how others view you and what actions you can take to improve your use of The Five Practices, which research has demonstrated, year after year, make for effective leaders.

The five practices of exemplary leadership are (1) Model the way (2) Inspire a shared vision (3) Challenge the Process (4) Enable others to Act and (5) Encourage the heart. I’m very thankful to everyone who served as an observer and gave honest feedback about my leadership behaviors. In this workshop we went over our results and identified areas of strength and improvement, according to my survey results some areas of strength were enabling others to act and modeling the way. My results also identified one area of improvement for me which is encouraging the heart. I found this exercise extremely helpful to gain feedback from my peers and would encourage everyone to try it.

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