by Sallie Gouverneur
About 7 years ago, during an HAA breakout session about alumni engagement, Bob Bowie mentioned Early College Awareness, and Peter Mazareas asked, “What’s that?” In Bob’s words, here’s how ECA happened: “Over thirty years ago Bob Clagett of the admissions office and I became obsessed with the middle-school kids from less advantaged backgrounds and their barriers to college. We put together a program in Baltimore and filmed it. The HAA let us put it on and the HAA adopted it.”
According to Peter, at the time he asked about it, there were 8 programs that Bob had set up and structured. Now there are over 36 across the country and internationally, from Greater Boston to Seattle as well as Central and South Florida to Phoenix and beyond, thanks to Peter and Larry Kahn ’83, Co-chairs of ECA
So here’s some useful background data: the ratio of students to guidance counselors in high schools in America is 478/1. The average time a guidance counselor spends with a high school student? 22 minutes. AND according to the US Department of Education, as of 2016, 1 in 5 high schools have no guidance counselor at all. Low-income and first-generation students clearly need help!
Peter says it’s really gratifying to see the growth in the program, but added that perhaps his most personally gratifying experience was the first high school presentation he ever made, at his own urban Massachusetts high school. To speak to 475 freshmen, he put together a panel of 5 young, diverse first-generation speakers (including a football player who Peter had interviewed for Harvard, who had been living in his car in high school and too embarrassed to tell anyone. 4 years later he was unanimously elected on the first ballot to be Captain of the Harvard Football Team) to talk about the benefits of assuming you can go to college and planning for it. The students “were so focused they didn’t even look at their phones!”
This is NOT about getting kids to go to Harvard, and it’s not even principally about getting families to plan for paying for it (even though he co-authored the book Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams, and helped write and pass the legislation for 529 programs across the country). In fact this story is not about Peter Mazareas, except to celebrate the sensation he had at that first presentation of knowing he made a difference. Getting kids’ attention by talking about the cost of not going to college, about relative income gaps and unemployment rates over a lifetime and that College is possible for them, he said, was “most rewarding, most gratifying—I know I touched lives.”
ECA events can help any kids where there’s no guidance at school or home, hence they are particularly important for reaching immigrants and students in underserved communities, out with the College is Possible message. Since financing is independent of the planning, paying may be less of an issue for low-income kids who should be eligible for scholarship funds; it’s more imperative to emphasize the planning process: that they can go to college if they set their sights on the goal.
The ECA program is a model of flexibility—the effort can be undertaken by individual classmates, entire classes, local Harvard clubs and SIGs in no fewer than 4 different forms. Bob Bowie and Peter hope HR73 classmates will be interested in participating with ECA. So Peter is eager to emphasize that the program can make it convenient for classmates to adopt: there are all sorts of resources available, including Power Points and an ECA Tool kit, and the different ECA models range from developing a classroom speakers program, to assemblies, to half-day community programs. Whatever the approach, Peter’s philosophy is 1 student at a time. And “NOT a Harvard outreach,” he said. “I don’t even mention Harvard except for acknowledging the Harvard-connected sponsorship of the event.”
Click here for lots of useful information about ECA.
Bob Bowie gets the next-to-last word: “Peter has been the great leader of ECA. He is the best spokesperson for us and it now. Peter has made it his project, focused it, shaped it and has made it relevant and international. He deserves all the credit for what it has become.”
And in an After-you, Alphonse sort of dance, Peter claims that he and Larry Kahn “just executed Bob’s vision.”