Because of them, I can.

How positive peer pressure within cohorts and mentorship can influence student outcomes

Photo of Cassandra Rolin
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One of the greatest things in life is to feel valued. Growing up, I knew I had worth and value because my mother told me. Not a day went by that she did not tell me I was intelligent or beautiful. But she got pregnant with me when she was fifteen. And had three children following me all by the ripe age of twenty-three.

Growing up in a single-parent teen household with four young mouths to feed and little means, I saw life differently than others. I was privileged to have a mother who cared most about my well-being although it was tough. We struggled financially my entire life, and at times our electricity would get cut off and/or there would be little food in the fridge. School was my escape. There, I could go and forget if just for a little while, the stress of home life and taking care of siblings.

I made good grades all through my schooling and in 8th grade, my 6th grade English teacher recommended me for a program called Take Stock in Children. I passed the preliminary process and was granted an interview. I was accepted into the four year program and was given a mentor to meet with once a week starting from high school until my graduation, and I would also be granted a tuition scholarship for any college in Florida. Receiving that at such a young age made college a reachable reality for me. And only furthered my passion for education, as I saw those with degrees able to feed their families, have suitable houses, food in their fridge, and insurance to make annual visits to the dentist. A college education would mean a better life for my family and myself. 

So at the end of my 8th grade year, I auditioned for the county's Magnet Performing and Visual Arts School, West Port High for vocal music and the musical theater program because I loved to sing and perform. This school was also growing its Early College program, in conjunction with the College of Central Florida, and allowed those enrolled in the college courses to earn dual credit for high school and college. I was accepted into the program and gained an intelligent cohort of friends who not only shared my passion for music and performing, but excelled in the rigorous academics of the Early College program. I attribute much of my successes in school to the people I was and am surrounded by as the positive peer pressure that pushed me to take the ACT, SAT, and apply to colleges. "It's what all my friends are doing, so I should be too.", I thought. 

Having that cohort, along with my TSIC mentor to talk about life with, I felt more capable of myself as a future college student. My mom never pushed college, and when I told my grandmother that I wanted to go to Berea College, her Alma mater, she jumped for joy. We scheduled an interview, and she drove me up to the tiny liberal arts college in Kentucky. There I was able to sing for my admissions counselor and a few vocal professors in the music department. I was granted acceptance two weeks later and began my college journey the following Fall. 

Leaving my phenomenal cohort of friends and family behind, I had to forge new relationships in the college world. Those vocal professors I sang for my senior year visiting the school became some of my closest confidants throughout my college years. I also found mentorship within a few professors of my majors of Communication and Child & Family Studies. Being so connected to people who continued to believe in me and uplift me pushed me to further my education and obtain my bachelor's degree. It was through them that I was able to succeed. That did not mean college was easy for me. Their positive reinforcement and uplifting spirits held mine high, even when I decided to take a leave of absence my junior year. I received emails from professors and my counselor checking up on me while I was away and making sure I was on track to come back the following semester. 

Many students encounter barriers to and through college, and they come in all forms, from financial, emotional, and/or familial, just to name a few. In my circumstance, it was the people who believed in me and valued my worth in life that pushed me to move on and complete my education. To my college savvy high school friends who helped me understand the pre-college processes, my powerful and strong mother for seeing my worth unconditionally, my many mentors who would check-in on me through all stages of my education and well-being, and my granny who was determined that her first grandchild would make it to and through college; to you all, I am grateful. 

Now, out of school I am serving as an Americorps member with College Possible to coach and mentor students with similar backgrounds as mine to become successful college graduates and realize their true potential and value within our society. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dan Ryder

It is so fortunate that so many folks are willing to be vulnerable and share their struggles and successes during this collaboration.  It will mean a tremendous amount when we move into the next phase to have your story to help guide the work, Cassandra.  I'm hoping you are planning to be a part of that experience as well. 

Also, rad profile pic.

Photo of Cassandra Rolin

Thanks, Dan!

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