The First-Person Project

Daniel Colina ’11

Arlington, VA

Account Manager, Great Minds

Major: Social Science, with political science and sociology concentrations

My first language was Spanish. I was born in Boston, and grew up there, but my grandparents didn’t speak much English, so we spoke Spanish around the house. As a kid I started school as an ESL student – English as a Second Language – and I was diagnosed with some learning differences. I had to overcome those and figure out what worked best for me in the classroom.

As I got older I knew that what saved me was being athletic. I was strong at basketball, at baseball; I played soccer and that built my confidence as well, and joined track and field in high school. Being engaged with people that way helped me get through school and helped build my confidence. I thought I might become a coach or a special education teacher.

What shifted me into the social sciences was the first time I read the book Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read that book toward the end of my junior year in high school, and it changed my life because I read about and then got really into the Civil Rights movement. It was a huge thing to me, the Civil Rights movement and activism. I read about Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., the many different sides of activists within the African American Civil Rights movement. I’m Latino, and I was drawn to the history of what went on, and I related to Malcom X. What I really enjoyed about him was that he overcame adversity in many ways. He didn’t learn how to read until he was incarcerated. His story was absolutely empowering and inspiring.

Reading just changed my life in general, even before Malcolm X. I read so many books to overcome my learning differences, and to keep learning, I had to work very hard. I read every single day during the summertime when I was young. I loved to just play basketball and read, play basketball and read. My mother told me to keep reading. All the guidance counselors told me that the options for me after high school were maybe community college, a full-time job, or the military. My mother refused to limit me that way. My inspiration from her and then just reading and educating myself, building my confidence through sports as well as knowledge and books, brought me to where I am today.

Keene State was actually my third college. I started out at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, where I had a basketball scholarship. But I felt that I could find more success in track and field. So I landed a full track scholarship to Allen County Community College in Kansas. I was named an All-American for javelin throw, and earned an associate’s degree there. My mother had moved to New Hampshire, so I checked out some colleges there. I was looking at schools that had the opportunity to not just pursue a degree in the social sciences, but had a lot of community service opportunities, the opportunities to be involved on campus as well. I felt Keene State College stood out. I remember looking at the different service organizations like Circle K, which I was a part of, and Multicultural Student Support and so forth. I visited the campus and I spoke with the track and field coach. I thought it was just right. I chose Keene State College for those opportunities and for professional development as well. I wanted to be engaged; I wanted the work study opportunities. I got involved with Community Service and Circle K.

I knew that I wanted to be part of the multicultural office, too, because I knew that Keene State College may not have a strong amount of racial and ethnic diversity in its student body, but its multicultural office could empower students to know what multiculturalism is, what social justice is, what diversity is, and how can we use those things to empower people and improve their lives and open their eyes to different things. Through the office, I brought speakers to campus to talk about how to promote social change in a positive manner, about urban youth, and about education. I brought J. Ivy, a spoken word artist, to the College, and he inspired me to perform in poetry slams. I was even invited to be keynote speaker at a social impact conference for college students at Stetson University in Florida.

Keene State College was a bit of a culture shock for me, but I said, Let’s see how this goes. I made so many great friendships. I loved all my teachers; they were able to contribute to my life and my perspective about how to promote social change and how to grow in this world and make the best of it in a positive manner – and they all had a different way of doing it.

Right after I graduated I took a job as coordinator of diversity recruiting in the Admissions Office at Western New England University. It was right up my alley. I traveled all around the Northeast with the goal of increasing diversity at the university. I went to predominantly inner city schools, including my old stomping grounds in Boston. That was a great experience. I focused on getting the high school students excited about college and empowering them about higher education and expanding their lives beyond the neighborhoods where they grew up

After three years there, I decided to move to the Washington, DC. My mother had moved there and I thought it was a really cool area. I got a job as a graduate admission counselor at the DC campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I learned a lot there about organizational skills and interpersonal relationships with applicants. It was nice to be able to meet the goals and exceed there, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in admissions. As a balance, I volunteered for a nonprofit called For Love of Children, where I worked as a post-secondary success coach. I met individually with students once a week – usually students from inner city charter schools – to help them with the college application process.

That led to a temporary position as College Preparatory Advisor at Friendship Collegiate Academy, an inner city charter school in Northeast DC. I worked with 98 students designated as “Achievers,” mostly first-generation, low-income students who qualified for considerable scholarship help to go to college. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Over four months, I generated some great relationships with students.

From there, I got a job with Great Minds, a nonprofit organization that develops curriculum that’s aligned with the Common Core, but takes a holistic approach so students have hands-on learning as well. I know that in Washington, DC, less than 45 percent of students that go to college will graduate with a degree in six years. So getting the fundamentals to be able to develop as a strong student is critical. I’m an account manager—I speak with school districts, conduct presentations, and introduce the curriculum to superintendents, teachers, and schools who are looking for a new curriculum, pre-K to 12, to help their students in math or English.

At the same time, I’m working in my off-hours toward reaching my own career goals. I work a lot. I am a private track and field coach, and a private tutor and college counselor. I actually helped one of my students go to Stanford. I helped her go from a charter school to Stanford University, her dream school. I helped her with the application process. I want to have my own business and I want to tie it into college counseling and athletics. I’d be a coach but also I’d prepare athletes for college and the recruitment process. I help student with study skills and time management, but I also help them prepare for the college application process even if they’re not an athlete. So I have that avenue right now. I work with around 20 people, five students for college counseling and study skills, 15 for track and field, and then I have students who will get in touch with me and say, Can you review my essay? I heard you’re a personal statement guru. So I review the essays and correct them, but I want to be able to have my own business one day. I want to be an entrepreneur and be CEO of this type of business.

In the summer, I might be coaching from 6 to 9 at night and tutoring all day on weekends. I get clients through word of mouth and through coaching websites. I love it. If you’re doing something that you’re truly passionate about, and you know this is something you would enjoy without the paycheck, that should be what anyone should pursue. I’m looking forward to pursuing it more and more and building my own business someday.

I got married in August 2015. My wife, Ebony, and I met on a blind date. I’d met her best friend at a conference for minority admissions counselors. She thought we’d hit it off and set us up. Ebony’s a Mount Holyoke grad, and has worked as a project leader in training hospital personnel to navigate medical records systems.

I would like to say one more thing: thank you, Keene State. The college gave me so much. As a college counselor, you always say, It’s not just about getting into Ivy League schools. There are students at Keene State College who could go to Ivy League schools. But choosing a college is about the experience you want to have. It’s where you want to be that makes you most happy. That’s how you excel to your full potential. You know this is a place where you’re comfortable and able to learn, and you really enjoy it. Keene State did that for me and for many students I knew.