Eric’s Story of Connecting & Guiding Alumni towards Graduation
“It’s a good feeling type of job! Helping out people… that’s just my thing.”
Eric is a first-generation, Latinx college graduate who went to a neighborhood high school in the northside of Chicago. He entered the workforce after graduating from college, and currently serves as Transitional Youth Leader (TYL). Eric has been a TYL since February 2022, and has planned out how he hopes to engage students as a mentor. While he believes in teachers’ support to do so, he also believes in the power of students hearing from other students. He believes that advice that comes from people close in age resonates more.
High School Life
Eric’s work as a Transitional Youth Leader, and his desire to help other CPS students was inspired by his own high school College and Career Coach. In his junior year of high school, Eric began to feel the pressures of discovering his post-secondary plans. “It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th year of high school that things started to get a little bit more real. At the end of my 3rd year, I began losing hope. I was like: I don’t know what I’m gonna do, how do you know where to look for help?” Through an Illinois college outreach program for high schoolers, Eric met his school’s College and Career Coach. “[My College and Career Coach] was the reason I went to college. She helped me get my life back on track. I wanted to be just like her, helping high school students go to college, or just helping students in general. I wanted to do some sort of repayment.” The College and Career Coach helped Eric sign up for trips to visit different college campuses so that he could begin planning his post-secondary education.
“[My College and Career Coach] was the reason I went to college. She helped me get my life back on track. I wanted to be just like her, helping high school students go to college, or just helping students in general. I wanted to do some sort of repayment.”
At the start, accepting help from his College and Career Coach and the program was difficult for Eric. “Personally speaking, I just didn’t really want to accept the help. I had that mindset of, ‘oh I’ll just do it myself. I’ll just figure it out.’” As he spent more time in high school, however, he found support systems to be useful in filling out college applications and staying up to date with his classes. This ultimately increased his trust in mentors like his College and Career Coach, who Eric would keep in contact with throughout college and beyond.
While Eric found academic guidance through his high school Alumni Coordinator, he was also motivated to go to college because of his support at home. “My family really wanted me to go to college. They didn’t want us to repeat the same mistakes that they made. They saw potential in me.” Equipped with this support, Eric enrolled in a private, 4-year university in Chicago, where he studied psychology. While in college, he observed how different support looked like compared to high school. “It feels like ‘you’re an adult now, you’re in the real world. You have to find help yourself.’” This experience is part of why Eric appreciates his current role as a TYL. Upon graduation, Eric — inspired by his mentors and drawing from his experiences — wanted to help Chicago Public School students navigate the college landscape.
“It feels like ‘you’re an adult now, you’re in the real world. You have to find help yourself.’”
Life as a Transitional Youth Leader (TYL)
To do so, Eric compiles information about events on campus, homework and financial aid support, and food pantry locations to send to current college students who also graduated from CPS. He recalls helping one student who forgot their lunch when coming to school, so Eric helped point them to the nearest food pantry. He also remembers helping a fellow graduate of his neighborhood high school with financial aid renewal support. Eric connected the student with relevant people in the financial aid office at their university, and as a result, the student successfully received their scholarship. “These resources that I share help students not repeat the same mistakes that I made when I was in their shoes.”
“These resources that I share help students not repeat the same mistakes that I made when I was in their shoes.”
As part of his role, Eric also maintains contact with various high school Alumni Coordinators by informing them of common struggles graduates are facing so that high schools can reflect on how to better prepare their students before graduation. In this way, Eric’s support extends far beyond one student: his efforts to help have reached current high school students. “It’s a good feeling type of job! Helping out people… that’s just my thing.”
Eric is still learning to build trust with the students he works with. He believes that doing so will strengthen the relationship between himself and his mentees, which would make communication more fluid. “We reach out to them, and sometimes they’ll respond, sometimes they won’t. So it’s hard to engage with them, but there are some who do respond and appreciate us helping them out.” In navigating how to build trust between TYLs and students, Eric notes that it is crucial for TYLs to build trust between themselves as well. As the program continues to grow, Eric also hopes to form closer bonds with other mentors to continue to collaborate on supporting their students.
“We reach out to them, and sometimes they’ll respond, sometimes they won’t. So it’s hard to engage with them, but there are some who do respond and appreciate us helping them out.”
Going into his second year as a TYL, Eric has several goals in place to improve building trust between himself and CPS graduates. Himself, alongside his team of other TYLs, is jump-starting their social media accounts. He hopes that by doing so, more CPS students can access resources that TYLs create to help them in their educational careers. Eric is especially excited about using social media platforms to offer students “day in the life” videos so that current CPS students can truly see what a future would look like at different schools. Eric also hopes to meet students more formally before they graduate from high school by connecting with high school Alumni Coordinators. He intends to host student panels and school visits to connect with students as they think about their post-graduate careers.
As Eric enters the new academic year, he has some highlights and hopes for the field:
- Eric believes in teaching students both hard and soft skills in advance of college. While he believes in teachers’ support to do so, he also believes in the power of students hearing from other students. He believes that advice that comes from people close in age resonates more.
- Eric hopes that high school teachers can help students open up and learn how to communicate. He says that “even something as small as answering a question in class opens up a lot of opportunities for you.” It may also be helpful to have a class that teaches communication skills.
- Finally, Eric stresses the importance of learning networking. Opening oneself up to people — even if they’re not in the same field as what someone is trying to pursue — opens the door to new opportunities. “That’s how I got here!”
Read other students’ story of connecting & guiding alumni towards graduation
Yvette is a first-generation, Latinx college graduate from the southwest side of Chicago. She graduated from her neighborhood high school with an International Baccalaureate Diploma. After graduating college, she worked in the education space for several years. Most recently, she serves as a Transitional Youth Leader.
Stephania is a first-generation, Latinx college student who graduated from a neighborhood high school on the northside of Chicago. Immediately after graduating high school, Stephania enrolled in college where she studies Marketing and Psychology. She has been a Transitional Youth Leader (TYL) since May 2023 and is eager to continue her work as a peer mentor.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Eric for taking the time to share his story with us.
Written By Noor Mryan is a rising third-year at The University of Chicago where she studies Economics and minors in Education and Society and Data Science. She appreciates the opportunity to elevate student voice through this Student Stories Series, and is thankful to Yvette, Eric, Stephania, and Kwame for their trust and insightfulness.