Summer Centered: Bess Cohen ’19 Brings Heart to Higher Education
The sociology major and economics minor is helping support first-generation students at the Community College of Philadelphia as a fellow at CollegeTogether, an organization started by Oscar Wang ’14.
For Bess Cohen ’19, a summer internship with CollegeTogether, a nonprofit founded and run by Oscar Wang ’14 that mentors and supports first-generation students at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), was something of an unexpected opportunity.
After meeting with Wang in fall 2017 to discuss the possibilities of a career at the intersection of Cohen’s interests (which she describes as “a combination of higher-education work and creating equal opportunities”), the alum told Cohen that he would send her a list of organizations with missions aligned with her passions.
"When we got back in touch a few weeks later, instead of connecting me with other companies or people, he offered me a job with CollegeTogether,” Cohen said.
And the rest is history. With funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Cohen has joined CollegeTogether as the nonprofit’s organizational development fellow for the summer, where she assists with administrative tasks in the office as well as providing direct aid to students at CCP.
CollegeTogether was started by Wang when he was still a student at Haverford; what began as an extracurricular activity has morphed into a full-time job with a real and extraordinary impact on students’ lives. The program, formally called “Mentor For Philly,” provides a combination of vocational training and academic support to students at CCP in an effort to uplift those most vulnerable to taking on heavy loans and/or dropping out of school.
"By creating a sense of accountability and support, the students in CollegeTogether get more intentional support than other students at CCP and similar colleges are able to receive,” said Cohen.
"I am directly confronting the unequal opportunities that are presented because of the policies in place in the Philadelphia and federal school systems,” she said. “As a sociology major, I have studied socialization and the way that different groups are treated differently for very artificial reasons. I am directly experiencing this here as well.”
At her internship, Cohen is discovering the value and impact of CollegeTogether’s mission while also learning the ins and outs of nonprofit management.
"I want to learn more about the public school systems in Philadelphia and school inequality,” she said. “As someone who went to a well-ranked public high school with a lot of resources and now goes to Haverford, I haven’t had a lot of first-hand experience with these sorts of troubles. The more I learn about them, the more I can bring my knowledge back to Haverford and other institutions to help support first-generation college students. I also hope that I will learn how a start-up nonprofit runs, gets its funding, creates partnerships, and so on by sitting in on meetings and building my relationship with Oscar; I hope to figure out how to take a passion of mine and make it into a job with a long-lasting impact.”