Cordelia Tullous: Stepping Up to Help Young Women Access Opportunity

Story by Krystal Hargrove. Photos by Jan Osborn.

Professional mentorship can provide the necessary emotional and tangible support needed for students to navigate and access post-secondary environments. However, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, only 10% of high school students receive mentoring through their schools nationwide. The gap between mentoring’s known value and its availability to students across the country is exactly what inspired Cordelia Tullous to join Step Up.

Photo courtesy of Cordelia Tullous.

Photo courtesy of Cordelia Tullous.

In years prior, Cordelia, a Dallas native, enjoyed a thriving corporate career clerking for an employment law firm and working as a Human Capital Consulting Manager with Accenture. From there, she found her calling in education and spent several years with KIPP New Orleans Schools and Leading Educators. Cordelia “saw the gap in education [which] has done a lot to prepare students” but was able to acknowledge the gap “where students have the intellect and desire and drive and they still aren’t able to access the opportunities.” So when the chance came to lead as the founding Executive Director for Step Up’s Dallas location, she was eager to be a part of the solution.

Founded in 1998, Step Up utilizes a hybrid mentorship model that provides high school girls with access to mentors across diverse fields and backgrounds. This early and diverse career exposure provides girls with a multitude of access as they begin to shape ideas about their futures and work towards graduating on time. In Dallas, four high schools are currently participating in Step Up’s free after-school curriculum. Teens enjoy mentor-led sessions focused on topics like time management, networking, and communication while hearing the personal narratives of other professional women. Step Up also hosts corporate field trips exploring the campuses and various functions of organizations throughout the city. 

Just because you start down one career path, does not mean that’s the end of your journey. There can be many twists and exciting times during the course of your career.
— Cordelia Tullous

As teens approach their senior year, the curriculum shifts to focus on the college application process and finding summer internships. As a result of their work, Step Up has made an incredible impact. Between 98% – 100% of girls in the program graduate on time while 90% enroll in post-secondary education programs. As the Dallas branch continues to expand, they are also monitoring the ongoing education of their two graduating classes. “It’s important for the team to understand the results of their work as the girls enter the workforce,” Cordelia says. “Our organization started with a focus on traditional college and university for years. And we have recognized over the years that we want to ensure that every teen in our program has the skills and the knowledge, and resources to accept any opportunity or any path they choose.”


Like many nonprofit organizations, COVID-19 forced Step Up to carefully consider their current programming. Thankfully, Cordelia and her team were already looking to expand their programming through digital channels in order to reach more young women. In the short term, the team, alongside community and school partners, has worked to ensure access to internet and laptop computers for Dallas ISD students while acknowledging the very real anxiety that students have while enduring stay-at-home orders. 

As their virtual work continues to develop and evolve, Step Up will host its first digital summit, Step Up Together, on September 10, 2020. The event will be an extension of their in-person programming and honor special guests Debbie Allen, Chrissy Metz, and Marissa Solis. 

To learn more about Step Up and get involved, you can visit their website at