Celebrating college success

Three students who have seen success in college spoke to soon-to-be college students during a panel discussion at the Detroit GradNation Summit.

Story by Dave Phillips


Asadullah Muhammad, Director of Student Success and Community Engagement for United Way for Southeastern Michigan (far right) kicks off the Defying the Odds: How Students Succeed panel at the Detroit GradNation Summit

For some students, college is an obvious next step after graduation. But for others, the plan for after high school isn’t so clear. Many students in Greater Detroit don’t know anyone who is educated beyond high school, and from that vantage point, going away to a college can seem as realistic as traveling to Mars.

The odds often remain stacked against students at certain schools, even though United Way for Southeastern Michigan is working to change that reality. Fortunately, there are pathways to post-secondary success. Three local students who were able to beat the odds recently shared the steps they’ve taken and the lessons they’ve learned in developing into successful college students, helping to widen that path to college for those following in their wake.

Agoberto Guerra, a senior at Wayne State University; Torrianna Bradley, a Michigan State University freshman; and Jenny Ghose, a freshman at the University of Michigan, took part in the Defying the Odds: How Students Succeed panel at the Detroit GradNation Summit in May.

Hard work is the key to success

United Way hosted the summit, which took place at Wayne State University and featured a day of discussion around education issues and possible solutions in our community.

Students preparing to enter college should be ready to work hard, the panelists said.

“You literally have to work all the time,” said Torrianna, a Cody High School graduate majoring in social work and minoring in African-American studies at MSU.

Cody is part of United Way’s Turnaround High School initiative, which has helped raise aggregate graduation rates from 60 percent to 80 percent for schools that were once described as dropout factories.

“It’s never too early to start planning ahead and start studying for something,” Torrianna said. “Even if you don’t have the best study habits, there’s always someone on campus to help you.”

Despite only studying the night before tests, Jenny was a straight-A student at Hamtramck High School, a GM Network of Excellence school within United Way’s High School Turnaround initiative. That all changed at U of M.

“If you have an exam, you have to study three weeks ahead,” she said. “With readings, it’s helpful to do them the night they are assigned so you can stay on top of them.”

Agoberto agreed, saying,“It’s a lot harder than high school. High school tests were basic. In college, problems are more real-world.”

From left, Defying the Odds: How Students Succeed panelists Agoberto Guerra, Torrianna Bradley and Jenny Ghose prepare to speak

Bumps in the road

Upon entering college, Torrianna knew she wanted to be a counselor, but she didn’t know what path to take. She changed her major during her first semester.

“You have to know what you want and experiment to know what you don’t want,” she said.

Jenny said college has shown her new ways of life and the importance of taking care of yourself. Planning meals and being sure to eat healthy food were some of the things she had not been accustomed to.

“I got super sick first semester, and I didn’t have anybody to take care of me,” she said.

Torrianna said her world was open to entirely new and seemingly endless options, but balancing those with additional responsibilities can be tricky.

“Time management is definitely an important key,” she said. “I have so many options other than homework, but I know I have to do the homework first.”

High school students settle into their seats immediately prior to the Defying the Odds: How Students Succeed panel.

Offering advice

Torrianna recommended taking advantage of tutoring in order to stay on top of studies.

“Reaching out and acknowledging you need help sometimes is important,” she said.

She also urged students to take advantage of office hours with professors.

“Professors get a lot of opportunities,” she said. “You never know what they could do for you.”

Jenny often stayed in her dorm room as school started, but she later began to realize the importance of socializing.

“You may not like the people you seem to be around, but there are definitely gems out there, and it’s up to you to find them,” she said.

Agoberto offered financial advice, recommending community college and living at home as a possible path to savings.

“That helped out a lot,” he said of attending Henry Ford Community College prior to transferring to Wayne State.

“That took care of a lot of my prerequisites. That saved a lot of money. Money’s a big thing once you get to university, especially if you’re staying at college. Moving away increases your tuition $10,000 or even more.”

High school students listen intently during the Defying the Odds: How Students Succeed panel at the Detroit GradNation Summit.

Responsibility and happiness

“You’re really responsible for how happy you are,” Jenny said.

“It comes from figuring out what does make you happy and making time for it.”

Agoberto said responsibility in class is key, as one hour could make or break your grade.

Advice is important, but self-advice is equally important, Torrianna said.

“As you prepare to make these next steps in life, I would tell you to listen to everyone’s advice but also listen to your inner self,” she said. “At the end, you were given the life you were supposed to live by yourself.”

Editor’s note: To read more about GradNation and view videos of the day’s events, click here.