Interview with Steve Stein, CEO of SCS Noonan Scholars
Tell us a little about your organization.
SCS Noonan Scholars is a national nonprofit working to redefine what it means to be successful in college and career for our nation’s highest-achieving underrepresented students. Through our holistic approach, Scholars receive intensive academic preparation and college guidance prior to college and scholarships, professional mentorship, and career development support throughout college. With the support of SCS Noonan Scholars behind them, our Scholars are equipped and empowered to realize their full potential and set career goals that have been traditionally considered out of reach for students with their background.
How did SCS Noonan Scholars get started?
SCS Noonan Scholars was founded in 2001 by philanthropists Dr. James and Patricia London on the belief that too many high-achieving low-income students of color from Los Angeles had the potential for leadership careers in the most selective civic, professional, and corporate settings, but key barriers were keeping them from achieving their dreams. Originally a scholarship program to help these students attend college, their organization quickly evolved to help these students get into top colleges, and then support them with the academic, social-emotional, and career development programming they needed throughout college. After nearly seventeen years of program refinement, SCS Noonan Scholars’ data-driven models have supported over 1,500 high-achieving low-income students of color get into, and thrive in, our nation’s top colleges and universities.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your work so far?
The most fulfilling part of this work is witnessing our Scholars’ personal growth and success throughout their time in our program. We meet our Scholars when they are juniors in high school, often planning to go to their state’s top college with the hope of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. We expose them to the world of first-rate colleges that are free for them to attend and have the resources to support them in so many ways. Once they enroll in college, we then introduce them to the career paths and mentors and professional networks their better-resourced peers take for granted. Our program provides the tools our students need, but it is their incredible grit, intelligence, drive, and determination that allow them to take advantage of that exposure. It is simply inspiring to see what they do with that, who they become, and what they accomplish.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Common misperceptions about our students and their needs have proven to be a challenge for our organization. Since our Scholars performed well in high school and are on track to attend college, some might argue that they don’t need support as much as more at-risk students. This is true, if the goal is just to have these students graduate. However, college graduation isn’t the right metric to measure our students’ success. These are the students who have overcome the challenges of poverty and have the potential to diversify the C-Suite within our country, but they face real barriers in regard to their college and career success. Nationally, less than 1 in 2 attend as selective a college as they could, often graduating with more debt and lower career earnings potential. The students who do enroll in a top college often enter with academic deficits compared to their better-resourced peers and, as a result, less than 1 in 4 who pursue STEM or another rigorous major actually graduate in that major. Instead they graduate with degrees that don’t interest them, career options dashed, and our country is robbed of their unique perspectives and skills. Our purpose here at SCS Noonan Scholars is to address these barriers in order to expand the metric we use to measure college success for our Scholars beyond merely college completion.
What are your dreams for this organization over the next three to five years?
Since its inception, the SCS Noonan Scholars model has proven to be incredibly successful in Boston and Los Angeles. This year will mark our first year serving students on a national-scale. Within the next five years, it is my dream for this organization to grow so it can support thousands of students across the country with the same effective model and programming we have been doing locally in LA and Boston for years. That is how we will begin to realize our founders’ dream that our nation’s most selective higher education, civic, professional, and corporate settings are reflective of the rich diversity of this country.
My favorite part of the day is_________ because_________.
My favorite part of the day is hearing a story from our staff or supporters about one of our student’s accomplishments because they are the real reason we do the work that we do.
About SCS Noonan Scholars:
SCS Noonan Scholars is a national nonprofit whose mission is for high-achieving, low-income, underrepresented students to get into and graduate from top colleges equipped to reach their full career potential. To achieve this, SCS Noonan provides Scholars with college guidance and intensive academic preparation before college and a comprehensive set of academic, personal, social-emotional, financial, and professional supports throughout college. Together, they position students to attend top colleges prepared to excel and gain the meaningful work experience, skills, and savvy to launch them professionally. Since our inception, SCS Noonan Scholars has helped to close the college and career opportunity gap for over 1,500 high-achieving, low-income students. If you are interested in getting involved with SCS Noonan Scholars, please visit scsnoonan.org for more information.