Her college education makes Brittney Miles ’13 stand out in her inner-city Chicago neighborhood, where she is often called “college girl.”
“That makes no sense,” Miles said. “There should be a lot of college girls and guys.”
Seeing an opportunity to help others, Miles seized the chance to put her sociology major to use. She started a summer program that teaches high school students about the college-application process. “I’m surrounded by tons of kids who are mostly in school,” Miles said. “That’s a process that they’re already a part of, so why not give them the steps to further that?”
The seven-week, college-access program involves two classes each week that focus on different skills, from interviewing to essay writing to applying for scholarships. Last summer was the program’s first, and her unexpected success prompted Miles to fine tune the curriculum for its second summer.
As many as 12 students took advantage of the classes last year, including two who are now first-year students at Salem College and Columbia College. Both of the students now enrolled in college “had great GPAs, lots of experiences, and they were trying to go to community college because they didn’t know what their options were,” Miles said. “It was really awesome to let them know you don’t have to settle for that.” Both students plan to come back and help out in the program this summer.
Growing up in a housing project inspired an ambition in Miles to help others. Acknowledging the support she received from her mother and the community during her application process to reach Kenyon, Miles decided to focus on something she was good at—getting into college. “I can tell you how to get into school,” she said, having herself applied to six schools. “I’m surrounded by poverty. I’m surrounded by violence. Yet I’m in a very lucky position to be at Kenyon, and there are people around me who are not given that opportunity.”
In order to realize her vision of increasing college access to students in her neighborhood, Miles needed money. It was important to her that the program be free—for “ethical reasons” and because she knew many potential students would not otherwise be able to attend. Liz Keeney, a former Kenyon dean of academic advising, was a helpful supporter and connected Miles with friends willing to donate money and gift cards. “I think all of us in this community understand the importance of access to higher education,” Keeney said. “She’s proof you can do this. It was great to be able to help out.”
This year, Miles turned to the crowd-funding website www.gofundme.com. After meeting her original goal of $1,100, she increased her target to $1,500. She has raised $1,675. “It doesn’t take much to run this program,” Miles said. “I’m sure all the money that’s been raised won’t be spent this summer. That’s going to go a long way.” Most of the money raised this year will go toward legal fees for applying to be a low-profit limited liability company, which would enable her program to function as a small business for hire by schools, community centers, or families. Miles hopes to expand her program to three or four locations.
As the program’s founder and volunteer worker, Miles attributes her ability to “figure things out” to her Kenyon education, saying, "I think I'm equipped to do it all." She described sociology and non-profit work as “heart-felt” fields and is grateful to her advisor, Anna Sun, assistant professor of sociology and Asian studies, for teaching her about the social dynamics that allow her to better understand her neighborhood.
“Kenyon taught me how to learn, how to do the research,” she said. “And the Kenyon community was the first to come out and support me.”
The best part of graduating from Kenyon is that Miles can now tell her students, “I did it. You can, too.” Miles hopes to make her as-yet-unnamed program a full-time career but, for now, will focus on polishing its curriculum in her home neighborhood. “For me, right now, it’s time to perfect something in a small bowl before I start catering for hundreds of people.”
By Madeleine Thompson ’15