The graduation rate in Athens-Clarke County is the lowest it has been in recent years. In 2014, only 63.2 percent of ACC high school seniors graduated compared to 69.5 in 2013 and 70.1 in 2012. The odds are stacked high against minority students, as they are considered much less likely to graduate or attend college than white students. However, there is one person working to combat this reality, and her name is Erica Williams.
Williams is a third-year marketing major at the University of Georgia. Born and raised in Decatur, Georgia, she is currently serving as president of Collegiate Candidates, a non-profit mentoring organization dedicated to helping underrepresented high school students access and transition into higher education and post-secondary options.
Collegiate Candidates, or CC, works closely with male minority students at Clarke Central High School, providing them with supplemental resources and time. They hold biweekly workshops that help students with SAT/ACT prep, college applications, tutoring and more.
“We started this program because a few years ago, they realized a lot of minority students were receiving college prep diplomas, but weren’t actually going to college,” Williams said. “With the school being in such an impoverished community, a lot of the class sizes are bigger than they are supposed to be, and the resources aren’t enough for the number of students that they have—especially for minorities.”
Williams joined CC when she was a freshman at UGA searching for ways to be involved on campus. Quickly after joining, she grew passionate about the organization, and her dedication to the cause led to her current leadership position. As president, Williams has made a significant impact on the organization.
“I feel like this organization has taken a large step forward since last year,” Kiara Lee, CC Workshop Coordinator, said. “Our process for membership of our mentees and mentors was more selective this year. We wanted to ensure we had students who were serious about their work as well as mentors who would be dedicated to helping their mentees year round.”
Not only has Williams been able to move Collegiate Candidates in a positive direction, but she has also encouraged her fellow members.
“She's been apart of the organization for years, so she knows what it is effective and what isn't and how to reach out the these young men to ensure they are making a plan and staying motivated,” Lee said. “Speaking for myself, as a workshop coordinator, she pushes me to think outside the box to keep the mentees engaged during workshops and planning new things for them to do in the time that we have with them.”
Most importantly, the lives of the high school students have been enriched through her leadership and this organization.
“Erica is giving each of our mentees opportunities that they otherwise would not have had if she did not work as hard as she did,” Kayla Hutchinson, CC Public Relations Chair, said. “These students are able to get the extra push they need because of her.”
Simply having a position of power is enough to please most people, but for Williams, the success of her mentees is what makes everything worthwhile.
“The most rewarding part is at the end of the year, when the students are telling us which schools they got accepted to and which ones they are going to,” Williams said. “When you talk to the counselors, they say a lot of the students were not on track to go to college at the beginning of the year or a lot of them had no plans to. It’s rewarding to see that we actually made an impact on the students. We work directly with them, and it’s great to see the fruits of our labor.”