Story by Parker Johnson. Photos by Jan Osborn.
With summer coming to a close and the school year beginning, the North Texas community is focusing on solutions for education. It is no secret that completing a postsecondary education not only promotes a more secure financial future, but also allows students to grow in a strong social environment. However, for many first-generation and at-risk college students, the postsecondary education world can bring a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. The unique challenges these students face can make it significantly more difficult to finish a postsecondary education program. It has become a priority for programs like ScholarShot to help identify the problems and provide solutions.
Dan Hooper, a successful business growth executive in the DFW metroplex, started ScholarShot back in 2009. “I grew up in Connecticut of all places. Moved to what we thought was the Midwest, Pittsburgh, PA, in high school and met my wife, from Dallas, in college. My family was always active in volunteering,” says Dan. “When I started ScholarShot in 2009, I volunteered as the Executive Director until our board asked me to consider coming on full-time in 2017. God put it on my heart, and I retired from a successful consulting practice and have never looked back.”
The spark for launching ScholarShot was the experience he had with his own kids and their college journey. “I watched my wife help our two kids through college. It seemed every week we would get something new from the university that we would have to respond to and deal with. At the same time, I was working in different inner city ministries throughout Dallas. I was concerned with how some of these kids, who were thriving in high school academics but did not have a healthy home support system, would handle the college experience,” Dan says. “This concern sent me to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, an organization in Austin that tracks a significant amount of data regarding students. What I discovered is 87% of Latinos and 91% of African Americans from low-income houses in Texas drop out of college.”
To help fight the mass college exodus of students of color, ScholarShot provides programs and resources that have been sorely missing from college advisement. “We are not an access orientated program we are a completion orientated program,” Dan says. Many advisement programs focus on getting as many kids into college as possible, but they do not help them succeed once they are there. Issues like financial hardships and the lack of life skills, can make it difficult to integrate themselves into fully into the college experience. “With this generation, we see high schools constantly saying students need to go to college,” said Carlos Valadez, the Director of Scholar Success at ScholarShot. “However, when a first-generation college student hears that and goes off to college, they often feel lost. For many of our students going off to college will be the first time they ever leave home. Within our program, we are very hands-on with the things that we do. We will talk directly with the student to understand the best fit for them not only academically but also socially and financially. In our program, we walk hand in hand with the student making sure they make the best decision for their goals from the first day of school to the last.”
ScholarShot has shown itself to be a pillar in the Dallas community through its work for young students. Since 2009 ScholarShot has helped over 100 students achieve a college degree in Dallas County. Currently, over 150 students are in the ScholarShot program, and 97% of those are on track to graduate. Mia Patterson, a recent graduate at Texas A&M, owes her success to the guidance she received at ScholarShot. “ScholarShot is the best thing ever; it is not like other scholarship programs,” says Mia. “The academic advisor and mentor assigned to you during the program does much more than ask you about your grades. They really care about your success and want to know how you are doing outside of the classroom. My academic advisor April has known me since I was 18, and now I am 22. Honestly, she knows me better than my academic advisor at Texas A&M.” Mia received her undergraduate in Community Health. Thanks to the guidance Mia received from ScholarShot, she plans on continuing her education in nursing school.
In times where it is hard to hold on to hope, organizations like ScholarShot show us that everyone deserves a chance to succeed. If you are interested in helping the next generation of students, ScholarShot is always looking for mentors. Mentors provide the necessary guidance for first-generation and high-risk students to ensure they achieve their goals. If you cannot become a mentor, ScholarShot offers a donation page where you can help fund scholarships and other useful programs for the students who need them.