'Change the Picture'

Terri Forman MSOD ’12 helps first-generation students complete college

By Sayantika Mandal, USF News Posted Mon, 10/15/2018 - 11:58

Education is a right not a privilege, according to Terri Forman MSOD '12, chief fundraiser for San Francisco education nonprofit First Graduate.

Forman dreams of bringing college within grasp of every first-generation student in San Francisco, a city where 83 percent of public school students' parents have no college degree. 

On their own, just 11 percent of first-generation students in the country obtain a college degree, according to data from First Graduate, which provides first-generation middle school students with tutoring and academic support through high school and into college. With First Graduate's help, 72 percent earn a college degree within 4–6 years. 

“Imagine what this city would be like if even one-third of its 56,000 school-age students could expect to become college graduates?" says Forman, who was the first woman in her immediate family to earn a college degree. "It would change the picture for local employers and would elevate entire communities."

Servant leadership

Forman joined First Graduate in 2012 while completing her master's degree in organization development. At USF she learned how to be a successful manager and was introduced to the concept of “servant leadership” — which emphasizes collaboration, trust, and empathy among those she works with and supervises.

Forman has raised more than $15 million for the nonprofit and helped to double participation to 469 students.

First Graduate provides free personalized coaching to each student every year. That includes family home visits, one-to-one and group student meetings, parent and student conferences, and interacting with teachers, administrators, and counselors to stay on top of students’ academic performance.

Olivia Owens, a first-generation student who will graduate from San Francisco State University (SFSU) this December, started as a student with First Graduate when she was in 10th grade. She credits the nonprofit with encouraging her to pursue college even though her high school grades weren't the best. 

“During First Graduate's annual event Transition to College, I interacted with the college team and got a realistic view of what college would be like. That event gave me the strength to push through and get to the point I am at today,” Owens says.  

Owens first enrolled at the Peralta Colleges and then transferred to SFSU where she’s majoring in Africana studies with a minor in counseling.

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