History and Mission
At Noonan Scholars, our mission is to help these highly motivated, underserved students break the cycle of marginalization and achieve success in college, career and beyond. Working in the Boston area, Noonan Scholars is committed to bridging the college achievement gap for under-resourced students through a unique seven-step model proven to establish a foundation for lifelong success. Its own 501(c)(3) organization with its own governing board, Noonan Scholars is modeled after South Central Scholars (SCS) – a successful college access and success program that has served approximately 1,200 highly motivated low-income, first generation students of color in the Los Angeles region over the past 15 years. South Central Scholars was established in 2001 by founders and local philanthropists James and Patricia London. The SCS model evolved over time from its initial design as a scholarship program to a holistic college and career success model.
The expansion into a multi-stage, integrated program of support was based upon outcome data and the experiences of the early classes of Scholars whose college and career aspirations were only partially met through the simpler model. Despite stellar academic records at their urban high schools, the Scholars often found the transition from underperforming high schools to elite colleges extremely challenging. They were not sufficiently prepared academically, especially for science and math (STEM) and writing-intensive courses, resulting in freshman and sophomore year course failures, low GPAs, and redirection toward less demanding majors than those they yearned to pursue. Even just a few poor grades in the first two years of college is enough to disqualify a student from top graduate and professional schools and certain career pathways altogether. Furthermore, Scholars did not know how to navigate and gain exposure to the professional worlds they hoped to join. They needed significant help gaining the contacts, professional experience, and workplace soft skills essential to landing a good first job. Hence, SCS’s mission expanded beyond getting all scholars to graduate from college to paving the way for success in college and prominent, competitive careers. Noonan Scholars embodies that broad mission.
In 2014, the SCS founders decided to replicate their program in Boston, based upon the significant presence of SCS Scholars on college campuses in Massachusetts and New England and their established network of mentors in the region. Furthermore, as ground zero of American higher education and a hub of many leading 21st century industries, Boston is the ideal context for a college access and success program. In the summer of 2015, the first Noonan Scholars Summer Academy launched on a pilot basis with 30 Boston-based high school juniors and seniors, eager to hone the academic skills they would need to thrive in the challenging college courses that awaited them.
In February 2016, Noonan Scholars hired its first Executive Director, Steve Stein. Steve is a seasoned nonprofit leader known for growing the Boston Debate League, a now-thriving Boston academic enrichment organization, from the ground up. His deep familiarity with the region’s high schools, existing college success programs, and corporate partners will position Noonan to grow quickly to fill the void of targeted college and career support for our target students.
While there are many “college access and success” programs helping first generation and low-income students of color in Boston, they target students in the middle of their class academically and most at risk of not graduating. If you are a high-achieving high school student who wants to go to Harvard, Tufts or Smith, or any school out of state, there are almost no programs in Boston that will provide the supports you need to be successful. That means there are hundreds of students in the area who go to schools like Brown, Dartmouth or Middlebury who need support, but are not getting it.
And these are students who have overcome the demographic disadvantages they have inherited, who have excelled often through their own grit and resiliency, who are in the best position to have meaningful careers as senior executives in the most prominent institutions, and who are primed to be the leaders of this city and region. Yet for many, that will not happen.
Less than 1 in 2 will go to a college that is as selective as one they can get into, often graduating with more debt and with lower career earnings potential than they should. Less than 1 in 4 who want to major in STEM or other rigorous majors will be able to graduate in that major. They will instead enter college with inadequate math and writing skills, do poorly their first year in those courses, and be counseled to switch to less rigorous majors. Graduating in sociology or American Studies is fantastic if that is your passion, but not if you wanted to be a doctor and could not pass chemistry or physics your freshman year. And only 4 out of 5 of these students who are attending schools such as Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Wellesley, or Middlebury will graduate.