Nonprofit Highlight: One Million Degrees

Below is Barrington Area Volunteer Connection’s eighteenth installment of their profile program, highlighting nonprofits using BAVC for their volunteering needs. Keep reading for the profile of One Million Degrees at William Rainey Harper College.


Interview with Dr. Jessica Papa | Director, One Million Degrees – William Rainey Harper College; Kate Scheuch | Senior Volunteer and Alumni Program Coordinator One Million Degrees


How did you become involved with OMD?
Kate Scheuch: I started at OMD as an intern when I was still in college. Working on our volunteer management team, I got to hear the stories of hundreds of students and professionals from across the greater Chicagoland area while learning about the higher education landscape and the ins and outs of community college. Community colleges are key in ensuring access to higher education and the opportunities that come with it for all students, and seeing the role they play in Chicago and beyond was such an amazing opportunity. I was thrilled to return to work at OMD once I graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.
Jessica Papa: I was working as an adjunct instructor at Harper College and heard about a new program specifically intended to serve low-income students. I started to volunteer my time and I fell in love with the program. Working with these amazing students speaks to my soul. I started out at a community college, and years later received my doctorate. I want OMD students to know that it is about keeping their eyes open as they are on the journey to their long-term goals and that their destination may be more circuitous than expected, and oftentimes that can be because of who we meet along the way.
What do you feel is the most important benefit OMD provides to the northwest suburban community or the best thing about OMD?
KS: OMD believes that when given a solid system of support, every student has the ability to reach their full personal and professional potential. With this grounding belief, OMD provides a variety of holistic supports—financial assistance, mentoring, academic interventions and professional development—to community college students across 10 Chicago-area community colleges each year. Our largest program is hosted at Harper College in Palatine, serving 200 students each year (and we are continuing to grow)!
JP: OMD builds community and is often considered “family” by many of our students. OMD provides supports to help students develop life-long skills, such as professional and personal development through relationship building. OMD creates a sense of belonging that is reciprocal, especially amidst the uncertainty of the last year and a half.
OMD Coaches/volunteers say they learn just as much from their students as their students learn from them.
How does OMD utilize volunteers?
KS: One Million Degrees has an ongoing need for volunteers. Whether it’s helping scholars develop their networking skills at our annual Speed Networking, sharing interviewing tips at an Interview Prep Workshop, or committing to a longer-term relationship—perhaps as a coach— we welcome all levels of participation.
JP: I would like to highlight our coaching opportunity, a volunteer role for which we are currently recruiting! OMD volunteer mentors (“OMD Coaches”) are each matched with a student in the OMD program (an “OMD Scholar”) at Harper College. Coaches meet with their scholar match virtually or in person once a month during the academic year (October-May).
Coaches help scholars set goals, build their network, navigate college and career exploration, and work through challenges in school, work, and life.
Are there any new programs or new initiatives you will be implementing for 2021?
KS: Our program at Harper College is increasing the number of students we serve (from 180 to 200) with the goal of serving even more students as the year progresses!
The COVID pandemic meant that we had to move our traditionally in-person programming entirely to the virtual space, and while we hope to be able to roll out some more in-person programming options as early as spring 2022, we also plan to continue to innovate our virtual programming for both students and coaches, which just builds the base of students and volunteers with whom we can work.
JP: A new initiative that is planned to start at Harper this year, is opportunities for coaches to get together voluntarily prior to each monthly session. Students’ needs change can change moment-to-moment and we want to give space to the coaches to meet with other coaches to bounce ideas, and hear from other volunteers about resources, tips, etc. Opportunity to gather as a community is important not just for our OMD Scholars, but for our coaches too!”
Can you share a favorite volunteer moment or volunteer story?
KS: Here is a great story from a coaching/scholar pair (and Edward Blanco is an OMD graduate.)
JP: Of course, there is always the story of a graduate from our first cohort at Harper who came back to serve as a Coach at Harper.
Why did they come back? Because OMD instilled into them a sense of civic engagement and the need to give back to their communities. Seeing a former scholar from 2014 who was successful and had attained their educational and professional goals, return to Harper to serve as an OMD Coach demonstrates that the values and responsibilities instilled foster the ability to put into practice what perhaps has been most impactful to them—connection and community.”


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