STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Rhiannon DeGray

“Gateway to College gave me a chance at a future. Everyone believed in me, and I eventually began to believe in myself. I went from being a kid who thought I wouldn’t make it past 25, to an adult who is excited to learn and grow for my future.” ~Rhiannon DeGray

Q&A WITH RHIANNON DEGRAY, GATEWAY TO COLLEGE GRADUATE

 

 

How did you come to ATD’s Gateway to College program?

I came to Gateway to College while living with one of my friends who was attending Gateway to College. I remember expressing the issues I experienced during high school, and my friend suggested that I apply for the program because it would be a better fit for me.

Prior to Gateway, what were your aspirations for high school and college?

I had no plans and no motivation to pursue anything. I was having housing issues and living with friends. I never imagined college as an opportunity for me because I was low income. I didn’t even think I was going to finish high school.

How is Gateway to College different than high school?

Gateway was incredibly strict. In high school, I could get away with not doing anything, but in the program, there were expectations of getting your work done, coming to school on time, and not being on your phone during class. You were expected to be an adult, which was so different from high school.

Describe what the last few months were like for you, including adjusting to online?

Switching to online classes was a struggle for me, as I’m easily distracted. I’ve had to overcome many challenges because it is hard to stay focused and is challenging to communicate with your classmates and teachers.  When I became discouraged, I relied on my Gateway success coach to become my support system. I would talk to her about my challenges every single day. Having my coach as my support system pushed me to finish the semester strong.

How has your Gateway resource specialist/coach supported you in this context?

My success coach is like my best friend. It’s been so helpful to be able to talk to her about anything. She always said, “We’re going to do this together,” and there’s never been an issue we couldn’t solve together.

What was it about your relationship with your coach and staff that allowed you to be successful?

My coach made a connection with me by sending encouraging pictures and videos to keep my spirits up. She planned to retire in June after my graduation, and she would say, “We’re almost there. We’re going to finish this together.” That type of encouragement made it easier to overcome challenges.

How does COVID-19 change your college plans this academic year?

I had a hard time finding a job, and now that I’m working, I only have 10 hours a week for school work. There are specific projects that I would love to get started on that create change in my community, but it’s hard to do that in this current environment.

How has being in the Gateway to College program changed the way you see yourself and your plans for the future?

Gateway gave me a chance at a future. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t make it past 25 years old, and Gateway gave me that chance. I never thought I’d be going to college, and if it weren’t for Gateway, I would still be housing insecure and unmotivated. With everyone believing in me, I’ve learned to become the person I am now. I finally believe in myself.

What can faculty and staff do to help their students persist and become successful college students – especially now?

Stay in communication with your advisees.I remember feeling very lonely and feeling like I was doing everything wrong when it came to online classes. There’s more pressure for the students to be on camera, and it can be overwhelming. By reassuring the students, keeping them updated, and brightening their spirits, you can make a difference. Even a simple text from my advisor would turn my day around.

Is there anything you wish we would have asked?

I want to talk more about how much of a support system Gateway provides. It’s a support system, unlike anything else. I was going through the process of becoming emancipated when I first came to Gateway to College, and they supported me through the entire process. When I was housing insecure, one of the teachers bought me a jacket for wintertime.Gateway has always been there. Gateway is and always will be my family. 

To learn more about Achieving the Dream’s Gateway to College program, visit the webpage or send a message to gatewaytocollege@achievingthedream.org.

 

 

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