Better Make Room partners with former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. Both Reach Higher and Better Make Room are housed within Civic Nation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
Better Make Room Student Advisory Board
A year ago, First Lady Michelle Obama’s dream for students across America manifested into an education movement: Better Make Room—this campaign to change the national conversation on education, connect with students like you and celebrate college. Better Make Room gives students across the nation a space to speak out and helps support the college-navigating experience. And as seriously awesome as that is, it’s not enough. We needed students like you to help Mrs. Obama build this movement from the ground up.
Members of Mrs. Obama’s inaugural Student Advisory Board are committed to making the President Obama’s North Star goal a reality—that our nation will ONCE AGAIN lead the world in college completion. These students are the groundbreakers and the trailblazers, the creators and the innovators, the organizers and the revolutionaries, who sit ready to catalyze a mass movement of their friends from college application to college graduation.
The Student Advisory Board’s mission is (1) to create a college-going, college-persisting and college-graduating culture at their schools, and (2) to connect fellow students to any information and resources they might need to succeed. They wake up every day with a mission, working towards a vision that sees every student at their school enrolling in and completing their education past high school—whether that’s a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university. And THAT is a pretty amazing thing.
Want to get involved? We are no longer recruiting for the Advisory Board, but we are recruiting for student community team members! To join the fight for education, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with BMR teams in your area.
The Student Advisory Board’s mission is (1) to create a college-going, college-persisting and college-graduating culture at their schools, and (2) to connect fellow students to any information and resources they might need to succeed. They wake up every day with a mission, working towards a vision that sees every student at their school enrolling in and completing their education past high school—whether that’s a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.
And THAT is a pretty amazing thing.
Ghawayne Calvin – Omaha, NE
Ghawayne Calvin is a senior at Omaha Northwest High…
Ghawayne Calvin is a senior at Omaha Northwest High Magnet School in Omaha, Nebraska. He was born and raised in Jamaica but immigrated to the United States with his family in 2013. Ghawayne is a LEDA Scholar, a College Possible student, a member of student government, an Ambassador for the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission, a Relay for Life Team Captain, and a founding member of the Omaha Student Voices Advisory Council. His passion for health led him to create the Youth Expressions of Health Club at his high school. Ghawayne believes that attending college will be the first step to accomplishing his goal of becoming a surgeon and changing the lives of his family.
Kitana Holland – Minneapolis, MN
Kitana Holland is a first generation college sophomore…
Kitana Holland is a first generation college sophomore at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While at Augsburg College, she has served as a member of College Possible, TRIO, as a LEAD Fellow, an Auggie Tour Guide, an URGO Research Assistant, and as a Senator in the Augsburg Student Government. Through these experiences, she has been able to use her creativity, relationship building, and process thinking to create impact in her community. Kitana is driven by her motto, “If the opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” and aspires to help first generation, low-income, and underrepresented high school and college students push through barriers to attain a college degree.
Lorena Leza – San Antonio, TX
Lorena Leza is a high school senior at the Young Women’s…
Lorena Leza is a high school senior at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio, Texas. She is the co-founder and president of the Young Women’s Coalition, a school organization dedicated to promoting social awareness and girls’ global education, and served as vice-president of the Gamma Sigma Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas program as well as vice-president of the Theater Arts Guild. She was also an intern for the Women’s Global Connection’s Girls Global Summit, an annual event inviting high school girls to learn about female empowerment and the responsibilities of being a global citizen. As a low-income Hispanic female ready to become a first generation college student, she had to develop a mindset, with the help from her family and mentors, to push past the hurdles, pursue her goals in computer science and political science, and shatter glass ceilings to inspire those coming after her.
Ana Perez-Villagomez – NE
Ana Pérez-Villagómez is a senior at South High Magnet in Omaha…
Ana Pérez-Villagómez is a senior at South High Magnet in Omaha, Nebraska. She is the president of the student body and a member of the executive board for the National Honor Society and also served on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission. Additionally, Ana is an honors team representative for her school at Academic Decathlon competitions and serves as the public relations point person for the Green Team, which increases awareness about her school’s carbon footprint. She is the eldest of six children in her family and will be the first to graduate from high school and attend college. She intends to study chemistry and mathematics, while becoming a tutor for students, at her future institution.
Christopher Suggs -Kinston, NC
Chris Suggs is a young leader and changemaker from Kinston High…
Chris Suggs is a young leader and changemaker from Kinston High School in Kinston, North Carolina. Chris is the founder of Kinston Teens, Inc. and Co-Founder of Black Youth Network. He is very passionate about young people having “a seat at the table,” Chris is a member of the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission and a Youth Advisory Board for Facebook. Chris has been recognized on platforms such as NBC’s The Real and the Nickelodeon’s HALO Awards.
Fatima Wahidi – St. Louis, MO
Fatima Wahidi is a senior at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience…
Fatima Wahidi is a senior at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience Magnet High School in St. Louis, Missouri. When her local high school was at risk for becoming unaccredited, Fatima decided to apply to Collegiate School of Medicine, where she will soon be part of its inaugural graduating class. Her biggest passions in life are social justice and neuroscience. Fatima is a LEDA Scholar and a dedicated volunteer in her St. Louis community.
Kevin Ji - Palo Alto, CA
Kevin Ji is a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA…
Kevin Ji is a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA. He founded the peer-to-peer Financial Literacy for Youth (FLY), an organization that teaches teens practical skills to sail through economic turbulence. As a board member of Palo Alto Youth Council, he raised awareness for teen mental health issues and was recognized by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for his leadership. A history buff, he also founded Historians in Action through which he has established Palo Alto’s first history tournament and developed interactive history curriculum with teachers.
Laura Muñoz – Miami, FL
Laura Muñoz is from Miami, Florida, and is a freshman…
Laura Muñoz is from Miami, Florida, and is a freshman at Brown University. She is the freshman liaison for First-Gens@Brown and the freshman representative for the Latin American Student Organization at Brown. In high school, she was member of the National Honor Society and the French Honor Society and founded and directed her school’s National Honor Society Mentoring Initiative, which supports eighth graders in their transition to high school. She is a Cuban woman, a Miami girl, a believer in the endless power of dreams, a relentless list-maker, a daughter of immigrants, a mentor, a feminist, a budding Historian, and a Brunonian. She is a believer in the profound influence of education and a lover of knowledge.
Swetha Prabakaran - Ashburn, VA
Swetha Prabakaran is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for…
Swetha Prabakaran is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Alexandria, VA interested in Computer Science. She is extremely passionate about introducing Computer Science to younger students and is the Founder and CEO of Everybody Code Now!, a national nonprofit. For her work, she was honored as a 2015 White House Champion of Change. Swetha is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and performed her arangetram (solo debut) in 2015.
Santiago Tobar Potes - Miami, FL
Santiago Tobar Potes was born in Cali, Colombia, and came to the US…
Santiago Tobar Potes was born in Cali, Colombia, and came to the US seeking asylum after the FARC — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — killed both his grandparents. As a low-income, first generation college, LGBT student, he sometimes felt isolated. Nonetheless, in spite of those challenges, he studies at Columbia University as a Jack Kent Cooke, Questbridge, and Alexander Hamilton Scholar on a full scholarship. His goal is to make higher education readily available and feasible to all.
Mina Yakubu – Wilmington, NC
Mina Yakubu is a senior at New Hanover High School, located…
Mina Yakubu is a senior at New Hanover High School, located in Wilmington, North Carolina. She immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana, West Africa. She is an ambitious young woman who has found strength in her African heritage, a passion she hopes to further in college. She believes that the opportunity to attend college or learn a trade should be made available and affordable for everyone. Mina is a LEDA Scholar and President of the International Club.
Jenny Ha - Oklahoma City, OK
Jenny Ha is a junior at Western Heights High School in …
Jenny Ha is a junior at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She is her school’s Key Club Vice-President, Junior Class Vice President, and Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America Vice President. She represents Ward 3 in Oklahoma City’s Youth Council and is a member of the National Honor Society. Jenny has also worked with The Oklahoman on their Teen Journalism program and served on the Federal Reserve’s Student Board of Directors for Oklahoma City. As a daughter of hard working Vietnamese immigrants, she had to take every opportunity available for her in the U.S. to succeed. She has challenged herself diligently in academics and immersed herself in extracurricular activities because she believes that education is the great equalizer which enables all young people to reach their full potential and change the future for the better.
Trey Leveque – Gilbert, AZ
Trey Leveque is a senior at Williams Field High School…
Trey Leveque is a senior at Williams Field High School in Gilbert, Arizona. He is very involved at his high school campus, serving as a leader in his school’s Student Council, Academic Decathlon, the American Sign Language club, Best Buddies, Boy Scouts of America, the Key Club, and Link Crew. He is also a member of the National English Honor Society and the Order of the Arrow, which is the Boy Scouts’ National Honor Society. From helping to lead fundraisers raising thousands of dollars to support organizations such as UNICEF through Key Club to helping others become leaders everyday through his school’s Student Council, he is truly passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others and making a difference in the world.
Bethania Perez – Pico Rivera, CA
Bethania Perez is a senior at El Rancho High School…
Bethania Perez is a senior at El Rancho High School, which is located in her hometown of Pico Rivera, California. She is the president of her school’s California Scholarship Federation organization, which promotes scholarship and service and raises funds for scholarships and field trips. She is also a Link Crew member, a peer advisor, the captain of her school’s girls’ varsity soccer team, and a member of her school’s Athletic Council. Bethania is a first-generation Latina student from a low-income household who aspires to become a biomedical engineer and strives to make a positive impact for females in the field of STEM. She is passionate about everything ranging from academics to athletics. She is a compassionate and goal-oriented dreamer who lives a very active and adventurous life filled with extracurriculars and rigorous courses.
Alezandro Ruvalcaba -Thornton, CO
Alezandro Ruvalcaba is a senior at York International in Thornton, Colorado…
Alezandro Ruvalcaba is a senior at York International in Thornton, Colorado. He is the founder of Mexican & Chicanx Activists, a youth-led advocacy club centered around Brown social issues and activism. His passion for social justice pushes him to work towards ending the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income students. After college, he intends on going to law school to study human rights and aspires to create a non-profit for homeless queer youth.
Taylor Vidmar – Assumption, IL
Taylor Vidmar is a writer and student at Richland Community College from…
Taylor Vidmar is a writer and student at Richland Community College from Assumption, Illinois. She has written for Huffington Post Teen and MTV Founders. Growing up in a small town, she always had big dreams for the future. She hopes to help end the stigma against community college students and prove that it’s possible to achieve your goals no matter where you come from. In the future, she wants to be a political journalist.
Reach Higher Advisory Board
Today, achieving the American Dream depends on opening the doors to higher education for more Americans. Not only do three-quarters of the jobs in the 21st century require education and training beyond a high school diploma, but, over the course of a lifetime, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $1 million more than a worker who only has a high school diploma. Nonetheless, the U.S. has fallen behind in the race to educate our children. A generation ago, we led the world in college attainment rates; today, we are 12th.
Reach Higher, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to inspire every student across the country to pursue and complete a postsecondary degree, seeks to help underserved students navigate the college-going process by: (1) raising awareness about helpful tools and resources; (2) meeting students where they are and tailoring technical assistance to meet their unique needs; and (3) building the capacity of the school counseling profession.
In order to continue supporting Mrs. Obama’s efforts, Reach Higher announced the creation of Reach Higher’s Advisory Board on May 5, 2017. This announcement took place in tandem with her flagship College Signing Day celebration in New York City. Chaired by Mrs. Obama, the Board will bring together educational luminaries and leaders to share best practices and ideas for improving college access and completion rates for underserved children, and serve as a way for those leaders to recruit more of their peers to join the cause.
Marten Roorda – CEO, ACT
Marten Roorda joined ACT as its CEO in 2015…
Marten Roorda joined ACT as its CEO in 2015. During his tenure at ACT, Mr. Roorda announced the establishment of the ACT Center for Equity in Learning. The Center advances ACT’s nonprofit mission to help people achieve success in education and the workplace through partnerships, research and initiatives aimed at closing gaps in equity and achievement for underserved learners. He previously served as CEO of Cito, an international, not-for-profit assessment organization based in the Netherlands. During his 13 years at Cito, he led the 600-employee organization to international recognition for its work in learning analytics and adaptive testing. He is the longest-serving member of the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) Board of Directors. During his tenure, he was a founder of ATP Europe and ATP Asia.
Britton Banowsky – CEO, College Football Playoff Foundation
Prior to being named the CEO of the College Football Playoff Foundation…
Prior to being named the CEO of the College Football Playoff Foundation (the Foundation), Mr. Banowsky served for 13 years as commissioner of Irving-based Conference USA. Partnering with the College Football Playoff Committee, Conference USA instituted the inaugural College Football Playoff championship in January. As the executive director of the Foundation, the College Football Playoff’s charitable arm, he will continue building Extra Yard, the Foundation’s program for teacher development. Founded in 2013, the CFP Foundation has provided over 11 million in direct financial support for teachers, impacting over 3 million students, and generating over 600 million in teacher focused impressions. All proceeds from the College Football Playoff’s licensing and merchandising are donated to teachers for classroom supplies through its capstone project Extra Yard.
Caroline Altman Smith – Deputy Director of Education Programs, Kresge Foundation
Caroline Altman Smith is deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program…
Caroline Altman Smith is deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program. In this role, Ms. Smith supports the team’s domestic grantmaking, which funds higher education institutions and national nonprofit organizations that work to help more underserved students enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Before joining Kresge in 2008, Caroline served for five years as a program officer at the Lumina Foundation in Indianapolis where she worked to create opportunities for low-income, minority and first-generation students to enter college and complete their undergraduate degrees. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Caroline holds a master’s degree in philanthropic studies and a certificate in nonprofit management from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. She is an instructor for The Grantmaking School at Grand Valley State University, previously chaired the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy National Board of Advisors, and currently serves on the boards of the Council of Michigan Foundations and Grantmakers for Education.
John B. King, Jr. – President and CEO, The Education Trust
John B. King, Jr., is the President and CEO of The Education Trust…
John B. King, Jr., is the President and CEO of The Education Trust, a leading national nonprofit organization working to close long-standing opportunity and achievement gaps that separate too many low-income students and students of color from their peers in preschool through college. Under President Barack Obama, King served as the tenth U.S. Secretary of Education. As Secretary, King worked to advance excellence and equity for every student; support educators and elevate the teaching profession; and improve college access, affordability, and completion. Prior to serving as Secretary, King carried out the duties of the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, overseeing policies and programs related to P-12 education, English learners, special education, innovation, and the agency’s operations. King joined the Department following his tenure as the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State Education Commissioner. King began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher and middle school principal.
Jacki Cisneros – President and Co-Founder, Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera
Jacki Cisneros is the President and Co-founder of Generation 1st Degree- Pico Rivera…
Jacki Cisneros is the President and Co-founder of Generation 1st Degree- Pico Rivera. As a long-time resident of Pico Rivera, Jacki and her husband Gilbert founded the nonprofit organization in 2013 to help local children and their families in the El Rancho Unified School District pursue and achieve their dreams of obtaining a college degree. Under Jacki’s leadership, several top notch university-focused preparation programs have been brought to El Rancho High School, giving over 500 students every year the opportunity to access key college-bound guidance programs. This includes tips on application letters, personal essay training, SAT/ACT preparation, student and parent University tours, mentorship opportunities, scholarship advice, college application assistance, career experiences and more.
Jacki’s work doesn’t end at the high-school level; in fact, it begins with El Rancho’s youngest students. Every fall, Jacki hosts the Generation 1st Degree- Pico Rivera Kindergarten Book Giveaway, with the goal to promote early literacy skills in young children. Since 2011, the annual event has provided more than 5,000 books to kindergartners throughout Pico Rivera in order to help instill in them a love of reading. And ultimately uplift and inspire the children to dream big.
Jacki is also the Vice President of The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation, which was formed in 2010. The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation is dedicated to increasing the education level of Hispanic Americans, as well as nurturing a community, which supports and values the importance of Hispanic education.
Prior to her foundation work, Jacki enjoyed a successful 18-year career in broadcast journalism, covering news and entertainment in Los Angeles. She is a two-time Emmy® award winner and worked as an assignment editor at several Los Angeles news stations, including KNBC, Fox-owned KCOP, the local CBS affiliate KCBS, and the nationally-syndicated entertainment show EXTRA.
Jacki grew up in both Pico Rivera and Yorba Linda, California. She graduated from the University of Southern California, with a B.A. from the Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism and currently serves on the advisory board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).
LaVerne Srinivasan – Vice President for National Program and Program Director for Education , The Carnegie Corporation
LaVerne Evans Srinivasan is the vice president of the Carnegie Corporation’s…
LaVerne Evans Srinivasan is the vice president of the Carnegie Corporation’s National program and the program director for Education. In this role, she oversees grantmaking and other activities aimed at engaging parents and communities, improving teaching and leadership for learning, advancing innovative learning environment designs, providing K-12 pathways to college and career success, and fostering integrated approaches to innovation and learning in the field of education. She has extensive experience in the areas of urban district change, non-profit education reform, and educational technology, including serving as the deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education from 2003 to 2006, the President of New Leaders for New Schools, the President of Time to Know, and the co-founder of FieroNow, educational technology company.
Shilpi Niyogi – Senior Vice President for North American Corporate Affairs & Global Media, Pearson
Shilpi Niyogi is the Senior Vice President for North American Corporate Affairs…
Shilpi Niyogi is the Senior Vice President for North American Corporate Affairs & Global Media at Pearson. Ms. Niyogi is a proven leader with two decades of expertise in education successfully managing teams and issues with a focus on advancing equity and access. She is currently responsible for all facets of Pearson’s external relations and public affairs in North America as well as its global media strategy. She joined Pearson’s Assessment and Information group in 2008 where she was responsible for driving the company’s next generation assessment strategy with clients including the U.S. Department of Education, the College Board, and ACT. During her tenure, she also spearheaded Pearson’s development of the American Diploma Project Algebra assessments, in partnership with Achieve and a 15-state consortium, which helped pave the way for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Prior to joining Pearson, she built an extensive career at Educational Testing Service (ETS) where she held various senior positions. She holds a B.A. with honors in Comparative Literature from Brown University.
Jamie Merisotis – CEO, Lumina Foundation
Prior to joining the Lumina Foundation as president and CEO in 2008…
Prior to joining the Lumina Foundation as president and CEO in 2008, Mr. Merisotis was founding president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, an education research and policy center. He also served as the executive director of the National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education, a bipartisan commission appointed by the U.S. president and congressional leaders to address college affordability. He also helped create the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps), serving as an adviser to senior management on issues related to the quality and effectiveness of national service initiatives. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the leadership council of The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project on national service.
A frequent source and commentator on issues related to higher education, his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Journal, Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, Politico and other publications.
Gilbert R. Cisneros – President and Co-Founder, The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation
Gilbert Cisneros is the president and co-founder of The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation…
Gilbert Cisneros is the president and co-founder of The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation, an organization committed to improving the level of Hispanic education in the country. Gilbert’s dedication toward philanthropy began when he purchased a winning California Mega Millions lottery ticket in 2010.
Gilbert and his wife, Jacki, have since devoted their lives to philanthropy, initially leading them to make donations to their alma maters, The George Washington University and University of Southern California, to endow scholarships for Hispanic students. This was followed by endowing a scholarship with the Navy Supply Corps Foundation. They soon partnered with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the city of Pico Rivera, California to create Generation First Degree Pico Rivera, with the goal of putting a college degree in every Hispanic household in the city. Their philanthropic journey eventually led the couple to form The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation in 2011, funding it with an initial $20 million.
Previously, Gilbert worked at Frito-Lay® as Shipping & Distribution manager, and Manufacturing manager. He also served as a Supply Officer in the U.S. Navy, completing both a Mediterranean and a Western Pacific Deployment. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), the National Defense Medal, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. He received a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from The George Washington University. He also holds an MBA from Regis University and M.A. in Urban Education Policy, from Brown University.
Gilbert currently serves as the Secretary of the Latino Donor Collaborative, he is a member of the Southern California Advisory Council for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He is also a member of Advisory Council for the Dean of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at The George Washington University. In 2015 he was appointed to the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for The Kennedy Center, and most recently, he became a member of the Brown University Diversity Council.
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