Lita Wills, the newly appointed director of the Mahoning Valley College Access Program, wants local students to start thinking sooner — as early as elementary school — about extending their education beyond high school.
That’s why the MVCAP wants to offer new programs that set expectations and boost self-esteem of elementary-school kids and get middle-school students thinking about careers and preparing for high school. The new programs require additional funding.
“We want to help kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds realize their potential and open their eyes and minds to the prospects of post-secondary education,” Wills said. “The earlier we can start the process of encouraging young people to attend college or seek vocational training, the more successful we will be.”
MVCAP hosted a community reception to unveil Wills’ vision for the schools it serves — Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, East and Chaney high schools in Youngstown and the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center.
Its advisers work with students to help overcome obstacles to attending and succeeding in college.
“Many of the students we work with will be ‘first-generation’ college students, meaning that neither of their parents attended a university,” said Wills, herself a first-generation graduate. “These students simply don’t understand the college process or what the college experience is like. The students are not aware of financial aid or the assistance available. They may not feel like they have the grades, and their parents aren’t able to help them because they don’t know, either. That’s where we come in.”
Although MVCAP has advised thousands of students since its establishment in 2001, it can be much more effective if it’s able to start its counseling process at the earlier grade levels, Wills said.
“We have aggressive, new goals to introduce programming that targets students at a younger age,” she said. “By raising awareness about college at the elementary and middle-school grades, students are more likely to embrace it as their goal.”
Wills was hired in December 2012 to replace the retired Joseph Rottenborn, who led MVCAP since its inception in 2001. Wills most recently served as director of development for the Rich Center for Autism, and before that, she worked in prevention programs within the Cleveland City Schools.
The MVCAP board of directors recently added Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and local banking executives Ryan Pastore of PNC and Kevin Helmick of Farmers National Bank. Other board members include Patricia Brozik (Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley), Michael Craig (Hill, Barth & King), Paul M. Dutton (Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell), Lynn Gibson (former member of the Warren Board of Education), Dennis Mangan (The Vindicator), J. David Sabine (Huntington National Bank), Stephanie Shaw (Eastern Ohio P-16) and John B. Taylor (Paige & Byrnes Insurance).