Case Studies

Foundation for a College Education Logo

Graybird supports Foundation for a College Education to build a robust volunteer college advisory.

The Challenge

Foundation for a College Education (FCE) is an East Palo Alto community-based organization supporting students of color to gain admission to and graduate from 4-year colleges. Volunteers play a vital role in supporting students throughout their high school years. Beginning April of their junior year, FCE students are matched with volunteer senior advisors who help them navigate the college search and application process. In 2015 several of its long-time volunteers retired from their service. While it was disappointing to see dedicated advisors leave the team, the timing created an opportunity. In evaluating its college advising program, FCE felt that juniors and seniors were receiving inconsistent guidance and support. FCE asked Graybird to take a closer look.

Restructuring Senior Advisory

Graybird works extensively with organizations fueled by volunteers. With this background and its college advising expertise, Graybird spent time with FCE to identify areas for growth in its senior advisory program:

Build a Stronger Class Bond

Senior Advisory, a bi-weekly meeting focused on the college admission process, offers students the opportunity to strengthen their relationships and create a vital support network of peers. The summer before senior year is a critical time for the college process. Graybird proposed that FCE use an existing June event, the East Coast College Tour, as a significant bonding opportunity. Students navigated public transportation in busy cities, attended interviews that they had arranged themselves at selected colleges, and wrote thank you notes that they sent each night. FCE seniors significantly deepened their bond as a class through the East Coast College Tour.

Tighten Advising Structure

The successful advisor-student relationship depends on consistent communications and accountability. Following Graybird’s recommendation, FCE committed part-time staff to supervise and support volunteer senior advisors, who establish guidelines for each stage in the college advising process, and check in regularly with advisors. The feedback from advisors at check-in meetings have created a more clearly defined college advising process and informed meaningful updates to the program.

Increase Advisor Retention

Each year, 8 to 10 volunteers support students through the college application process presenting significant opportunity for the advising team to create their own environment of professional development. Graybird proposed development of summer workshops as a way for advisors to share best practices and grow in their own college knowledge. In 2017, FCE volunteer advisors will be invited to sessions on developing college lists, the financial aid process, and supporting students’ essay writing. Senior advisors will be learning from each other, reinforcing best practices and identifying areas for growth.

Reach for Home — Fund a Need Video

Natalie Occhipinti

Natalie Occhipinti

Marketing Coordinator

Natalie was born and raised in the Bay Area, attending Trinity School and Castilleja. She left California for college, attending the University of Colorado Boulder where she earned BA in Ecology and Environmental Biology and a minor in Religious Studies.

Natalie chose to study both science and religion in her college career. While gaining a deep understanding of the world’s ecosystems through research projects and lecture, Natalie simultaneously expanded her knowledge of worldly affairs and historical communities by writing and engaging in discussion with her peers and professors. Along with her studies, Natalie enjoyed exploring Colorado. Now she’s back in the Bay Area, working with Graybird as our Marketing Coordinator. She brings a unique, analytical perspective to our office.

As Marketing Coordinator, Natalie conducts client research, compiles research results and manages interview schedules. She schedules, prepares and attends client meetings, presentations and events, while also reviewing and providing input on all Graybird projects.

Outside of work, Natalie enjoys traveling, painting, and spending time with her friends and family.

I can’t function without

Coffee Coffee Coffee

The travel adventure on my bucket list is

Exploring Southeast Asia

A nerdy thing I love to do

Discuss scientific theories

Favorite Podcast/Movie/Book/Play/Artist

My favorite movie is Funny Face, and my favorite musical group is Fleetwood Mac

My favorite spot in the Bay Area is

Skyline Boulevard

You would never guess

I was born on leap day!

Favorite part of my job

Working with a group of remarkable women