The 1 in 5 podcast explores the multifaceted lives of the one in five (22%) of college students who are parents. Launched in 2021 by Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) initiative and its podcast production partner, LWC Studios,1 in 5 is a narrative documentary podcast that gives student parents a platform to share their lived expertise about what it’s like to care for a child and pursue a postsecondary credential.
Each episode challenges listeners, institution leaders, and policymakers to consider what higher education, our economy, and society as a whole, could look like if we prioritized the success of the 4 million parents who are students.
Listen to the 1 in 5 trailer and find new episodes here and at 1in5.simplecast.com. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Pandora, Amazon Music, and other podcast platforms. Read the transcript of the trailer here.
Season 2 Episodes:
Building on the stories of resilience, determination, and wisdom profiled in the first season, season 2 of 1 in 5 continues to feature student parents sharing their lived expertise, while widening the lens to lift up lessons from leaders working to transform their communities with student parents’ success in mind.
Episode 1: Daria Willis
Dr. Daria Willis brings her extensive education and her own experience as a student parent to her role as president of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. Daria had her daughter, Lyric, during her first year in college. She shares how keenly she felt the social stigma of being a single parent. It took a perceptive administrator to notice that she needed help with childcare, and thanks to the continued support of those around her, Daria graduated and went on to pursue both a master’s degree and a doctorate.
Episode 2: Ignacio Angel
Ignacio Angel has decided to define for himself what success looks like as a college student and father of four. The for-profit trade school he went to, which was later investigated for preying on vulnerable students, never delivered on promises of a job, and landed him in debt. With Lilly’s help, he found a support system designed for fathers who want to pursue higher education called the Alameda County Fathers Corps.
Episode 3: Soren
Soren’s interest in higher education has always been rooted in an interest in the environment, even from childhood. As an adult, after struggling with their own mental health, Soren became interested in psychology, and pursued jobs in the medical field, but was soon discouraged by the for-profit medical system.
Episode 4: Drayton Jackson
Drayton Jackson experienced homelessness for almost 20 years. Today, Drayton utilizes his lived experience to advocate for others in a similar position—but it wasn’t always easy adjusting to having a seat at the table. Drayton, now the father of eight, is setting boundaries and goals for himself to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Along with running two foundations and being a community leader, Drayton continues to work towards his educational goals of earning a college degree.
Episode 5: Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin
Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin was taught to always take care of those around her, but didn’t always see education as a way of doing so. After dropping out of school and later finding herself incarcerated and pregnant, Yolanda became determined to change the course of her life. Once she was released, Yolanda focused on establishing a relationship with her son, all while juggling two jobs and school. As she continues to reach new professional and educational heights, Yolanda draws on her experiences to uplift others and create opportunities for formerly incarcerated women.
Episode 6: Dominique Baker
Dominique Baker faced housing insecurity and even made the best of living in a shelter while studying, but she never wavered in her dedication to improving her family’s future. And when she sought support from family and the help of professionals, she was able to get through one of the darkest periods of her life and develop the tools to stay focused on her educational goals. Today, Dominique is a graduate of West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology and serves as an Ascend Parent Advisor.
Today, Nicole Lynn Lewis is an accomplished author, CEO of Generation Hope, and mother of five. But she didn’t always feel a sense of stability and pride. When she arrived on campus with her three-month old daughter, she instantly felt out of place and didn’t know who to turn to for help. Her feelings of isolation, financial stress, and a lack of community later inspired Nicole to create her nonprofit, Generation Hope, that supports the mental health journeys of student-parents.
In high school, Nicole Alkire Grady became a mother and worked hard to graduate – leaning on the support of her family and especially her mother. Nicole was determined to go to college, and she tried several options to find a place with the right support for her growing family. She eventually found help for her substance abuse and reconnected with her Lakota values. Today, Nicole is pursuing a legal career.
As a child of immigrants, Lourdes saw the efforts her hard-working parents made to give her a memorable childhood, and how they always stressed the importance of education. In high school, Lourdes became pregnant and the birth of her daughter inspired her aspirations for higher education. With encouragement from peers, she enrolled in a nursing program at her local community college.
Growing up, Isis Patterson and her family were constantly operating in survival mode. School offered her the safety and security she lacked at home, so she took a liking to it. When she found out she was pregnant at 15, she kept herself immersed in her schoolwork, graduated with honors, and received a full-ride scholarship to college. Driven by her own experiences with housing insecurity, she studied public policy as an undergraduate student and pursued housing equity work, leading her to want to better understand the root causes of housing instability.
On this special, bonus episode of 1 in 5, Dr. Deana Around Him (Child Trends) and Julian Thompson (UNCF Institute for Capacity Building) join David Croom (Ascend Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative) to discuss student parent experiences at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Ascend’s new Black and Native Family Futures Fund, and what other colleges can learn from HBCUs’ and TCUs’ institutional cultures.
Season 1 Episodes:
1 in 5 launched in February 2021 to learn from student parents themselves what it’s like to care for a child and pursue a postsecondary credential. This 15-episode narrative documentary collection not only underscores the barriers they face balancing their studies with childcare, but also celebrates their resilience to improve their well-being and highlights the organizations that are advancing their success. Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, guests also share the challenges they faced working, studying, parenting, and staying healthy from home.
Episode 1: Waukecha Wilkerson
Waukecha grew up dreaming of climbing the corporate ladder and creating a big beautiful career for herself. But when she entered the job market, and became a mom, she realized her path to success would not be so straightforward. Reporter Giovana Romano Sanchez captures the story of Waukecha’s journey into higher education, and how she found the village she would need to succeed from then on.
Episode 2: Jesus Benitez
Jesus Benitez always put his family first. As a single dad, he worked long hours to ensure all of his son’s needs were met. One day, it became clear he couldn’t do it alone. But learning to ask for help, and tapping into the resources around him, turned out to be a harder lesson for Jesus, than he anticipated. Reporter Rhana Natour tells us what happened when he decides to go back to school, for his son.
Episode 3: Michaela Martin
Just as she was enrolling in college, Michaela became a mom. This dual experience opened her eyes to the realities of parenting while in school, and led her to become an advocate. Journalist Sarah McClure reports on Michaela’s journey and the legislative project she’s working on that could transform the experience of student parents like her.
Episode 4: Savannah Steiger
When she had her second child, Remy, Savannah Steiger’s life was forever changed. The complications from his birth, and the support system she discovered in the aftermath, helped her find the direction she longed for. Reporter Rhana Natour chronicles Savannah’s journey overcoming trauma, entering the world of higher education, and clarifying her purpose.
Episode 5: Drayton Jackson
When Drayton Jackson decided to go back to college as an adult with grown children, he was afraid his peers would not be able to relate to him. To his surprise, they elected him Student Body President. Reporter Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong chronicles how he drew on his life experiences to identify and remedy on-campus gaps in services impacting student parents, and those experiencing homelessness like he himself once had.
Episode 6: Angelina Kerry
Angelina Kerry was a single mother to two elementary-aged kids when she decided to go back to college. She was working full-time, was recently divorced, and wondered how she was going to juggle it all. Reporter Hannah Kingsley-Ma explores how a supportive coach and a community of other moms helped buoy her to graduation and beyond — to become a mentor to other student parents.
Episode 7: Lori and Anthony Barr
Lori Barr and her NFL-playing son, Anthony, started Raise the Barr, their scholarship fund for student parents, in 2016. It was inspired by their own family’s journey of challenge and perseverance. When she found out she was pregnant at age 19, Lori dropped out of college. Motivated by the desire to provide a better life for Anthony, she eventually went back to school and earned a master’s degree in special education. Reporter Katie Thornton details how mother and son use their life experience as a springboard to help others.
Episode 8: Ariel Ventura-Lazo
Ariel Ventura-Lazo is a first-generation American and the first in his family to attend college. A father of two, he’s faced many challenges along the way. Reporter Michael Castañeda brings us along on Ariel’s journey from nearly dropping out of high school to becoming a passionate advocate for postsecondary education, student parents, and first-generation Americans — sharing his experiences on national platforms.
Episode 9: Sydney Martens
Sydney Martens grew up playing basketball and participating in mock trial at school. When injuries, and then an unplanned pregnancy, sidelined her dreams of playing pro ball, she turned to her other passion: criminal justice. She’s currently a pre-law student and legal advocate focused on social justice and racial equity. Reporter Ambriehl Crutchfield shows us how a holistic approach to student parent support, along with the irreplaceable strength of friendship, have helped Sydney find her path and her calling.
Episode 10: Lorena Barton
Lorena Barton became a single parent unexpectedly, when her son was just months old. Facing a crossroads, she decided to go back to school in pursuit of a new career in nursing. Reporter Natalie Rivera illuminates Lorena’s journey — how with the support of on-campus resources and childcare, along with a community of student parent peers, she’s now moving toward her degree with confidence in a brighter future for herself and her child.
Episode 11: Rashika Lee
Rashika Lee’s educational path was not linear, but in the end, it brought her to exactly where she needed to be. After several tries at postsecondary attainment while raising her son, she finally found a school that fit her needs — with educational, emotional and community support built into its programming. Reporter Elizabeth Gabriel and host Pamela Kirkland take us along on Rashika’s journey.
Episode 12: Lynette Coney
Lynnette Coney had always dreamed of working in healthcare, but her educational journey was full of starts and stops. With multiple family caretaking responsibilities on her plate, support with childcare, parenting, and financial planning was critical. Reporter Lisa Bartfai details Lynnette’s setbacks and successes on her way to becoming a nurse.
Episode 13: Lesley Del Rio
Lesley Del Rio said opening up on the podcast about raising her young son, working full time, and attending online school, has been cathartic. “There have been times where I have doubted my choices to be so transparent in sharing my life,” she said. “This was a great reminder that our stories have power and influence.”
When Lesley Del Rio became pregnant at age 18, she faced shame and stigma — even from those who were supposed to be helping, like doctors and social service providers. Since that time, she’s made erasing that shame and stigma part of her life and work. Reporter Laura Isensee shines a light on Lesley’s resilience and strength as she leans on her family and a great coach to balance parenting, school and work even through the lows of the pandemic.
Episode 14: Yoslin Amaya Hernandez
Yoslin Amaya Hernandez has faced a lot of obstacles on her way to becoming a college graduate. She came to the U.S. from El Salvador as a third-grader, had to care for younger siblings at an early age, and became a parent herself for the first time when she was still in high school. Finding the right supports has been key — from her partner, to a mentor, to finding a great program with wraparound services for student parents. Reporter Ava Ahmadbeigi shows us Yoslin’s evolution from disillusionment to dreams fulfilled.
Episode 15: Shaquana Graham
Shaquana Graham’s family always held education in high regard, but she dropped out of high school when she found out she was pregnant at the age of 16. After that, raising her three children and keeping a roof over their heads became her first priority. While fighting through the darkest moments of her life — and with the help of her family and a program that helps lift families out of poverty — Shaquana committed to going back to school and raising her self-esteem. Reporter Sonia Paul chronicles Shaquana’s journey back to the classroom.
Bonus Episode: Meet the Stakeholders
On this special episode of 1 in 5, Marjorie Sims, Managing Director at Ascend at the Aspen Institute, sits down with two key collaborators in the work of supporting student parents: Chancellor of the City University of New York Félix Matos Rodríguez, and CUNY Mentor Coordinator and Ascend Parent Advisor Jesus Benitez. During this conversation, they reflect on the first season of 1 in 5, offer insights into what institutions of higher education can learn from these stories, and share their own lessons and inspiration from their work alongside students and their families.