Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative announces new efforts to harness momentum to improve higher education for students with children
Washington, DC – Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) announced that 11 new Parent Advisors have joined its Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative (PSP) to help shape Ascend’s expanded agenda to improve higher education policy and practice for student parents. Parent Advisors, who are current or former student parents, will be leading voices in the growing movement to address the needs of the one in five college students in the U.S. raising children.
From New York City to North Dakota and beyond, the new cohort of 2023 Parent Advisors reflect the varied experiences and dreams of students raising children. They are pursuing certificates or degrees from community colleges, four-year universities, and workforce training programs.
“There are nearly 4 million student parents across the United States, but the one thing they have in common is a desire to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said David Croom, Associate Director of Postsecondary Success for Parents at Ascend. “As more policymakers and institution leaders realize that supporting the success of student parents benefits everyone, we need solutions that are informed directly by those who are directly affected by policy decisions. These 11 incredible students and alumni will not only inform our work at Ascend, they will drive forward the change in their schools, communities, and beyond.”
Since 2018, Ascend’s Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative has built a foundation for a national student parent movement. Over the next three years, Ascend aims to establish an imperative to increase attainment rates for parents in postsecondary systems, through use of solutions that are parent-informed, have potential to scale, and will lead to high-quality learning and family well-being.
With the support and partnership of ECMC Foundation, Imaginable Futures, Lumina Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and other funders, Ascend will expand and deepen its work to achieve change for student parents through effective movement building, engaging parent expertise, shaping institutional practice, and pursuing systems and policy change. Parent Advisors will be key to shaping two signature Ascend projects:
- Season 2 of the “1 in 5” podcast brings back Ascend’s highly rated podcast to further explore the compelling, multidimensional stories of student parents as they navigate school, work, parenting, and life, while bringing in voices of others in positions to create change, including institutional leaders, practitioners, and policy leaders. Listen to season one and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Pandora, Amazon Music, and other podcast platforms.
- Expanded work to advance change within institutions, including the Parent-Powered Solutions Fund, a student parent-led fund dedicated to advancing the work of organizations and initiatives that support student parents’ postsecondary success.
“Ascend not only elevates the voices of student parents, but gives them real power in designing the policies and institutional practices that would best support their success,” said Vinice Davis, Venture Partner at Imaginable Futures. “Student parents are at the heart of equity in higher education and we’re proud to invest in change that acknowledges the expertise of those who are most impacted.”
“We know that single mothers, who represent about one in ten college students, are more likely than any other group of women to have started but not finished a postsecondary degree,” said Amber Angel, Program Officer at ECMC Foundation, and Ascend Parent Advisor alumna. “Navigating higher education as a single mother, I saw first-hand which supports made the difference. I am excited to see how the new Parent Advisors continue to reshape higher education for single mother success.”
Meet the 11 new Parent Advisors joining Ascend’s Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative:
- Nicole Alkire Grady, Sitting Bull College (Fort Yates, ND) is a mother of five pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with the hope of one day attending law school. Nicole’s future aspirations include using her education to provide legal aid within Standing Rock Reservation and to low-income families; advocating for changes in the Tribal Justice Code and the return of stolen Indian land; and fighting against environmental crimes across Indian Country.
- Ignacio Angel Jr., Santa Monica Community College (Los Angeles, CA) is a proud father of four currently pursuing an associate degree in sociology. Ignacio eventually aims to earn a master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles and dedicate his life to helping others by becoming a substance abuse counselor.
- Dominique Baker, West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology (Grand Rapids, MI) is a mother of two boys who completed WMCAT’s Adult Career Training Program for Medical Billing. She is now a Business Office Coordinator for Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and her future aspirations include giving back to the community, advocating for other parents, and being an inspiration to her kids.
- Mikah Jorgensen, Triton College (Chicago, IL) is the proud mom of one daughter and is currently a few semesters away from graduating with her associate degree in psychology. She aims to pursue a career in social work and found a nonprofit that provides mental health services to individuals who would not otherwise have access to them.
- Karlee Knuth, University of Texas at Tyler (Tyler, TX) is the mother of two boys, earned an associate’s degree in business administration and management from Kilgore Junior College and is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial studies at the University of Texas at Tyler.
- Brittnee Marsaw, Family and Workforce Centers of America’s Skillup Program (Black Jack, MO) is a mother of a 4-year-old and graduated with her Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in December 2021. She is inspired to use her own experiences to guide other student parents and regularly speaks to youth about the importance of a postsecondary education.
- Christian Ortiz, City University of New York – Hunter College (New York, NY) is a father of a 9-year-old daughter and is one semester away from earning his bachelor’s degree in writing and literature from Hunter College. Christian’s future career aspirations center around supporting others, especially when it comes to mental health, and continuing professional development in that area.
- Isis Patterson, Harvard Graduate School of Design (Boston, MA) is a mother of two with a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Endicott College and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard Graduate School of Design. A former Congressional staffer, she is passionate about achieving affordable housing and community development through a community based planning approach that considers access and equity.
- Jessica Pelton, University of Michigan (Ypsilanti, MI) is a mother of an 8-year-old and earned a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Michigan. Currently a program assistant at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women+ (CEW+), Jessica is an advocate with experience creating resources and working on policies for student parents at the institutional level and looks forward to her next chapter advocating at the national level.
- Maria Isabel Ramos Martinez, University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley (Edinburg, TX) is the mother of a four-year old boy, graduating with her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California – Irvine and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Texas. Maria’s motivation for working in academia and the community include racial justice, cultural sensitivity, and accessibility to needed resources.
- Kimberly Salazar, University of California, Berkeley (Albany, CA) is the mother of a 5-year-old and is currently working towards a bachelor’s in sociology. Kimberly’s future goals include publishing an academic journal article before graduating with her bachelor’s degree and earning a Ph.D. in social welfare.
Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s mission is to create a society where every family passes a legacy of prosperity and well-being from one generation to the next. In 2011, Executive Director and Aspen Institute Vice President Anne Mosle founded Ascend to spark and spread breakthroughs in the ways we think about and invest in leadership to foster the well-being of children and the adults in their lives, together. Ascend has since propelled a national movement to shift the odds back in favor of families. Through the visionary leadership of more than 100 Ascend fellows and 460 Ascend Network partners, two-generation (2Gen) approaches are now being advanced in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Ireland and Rwanda. Together, the leaders in this growing 2Gen movement are transforming systems that serve more than 10 million families.
The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.
Contact: Brendan Creamer
Ascend at the Aspen Institute
- Vinice Davis
- Amber Angel
- Nicole Alkire
- Ignacio Angel Jr.
- Cherrill Dominique Baker
- Mikah Jorgensen
- Karlee Knuth
- Brittnee Marsaw
- Christian Ortiz
- Isis Patterson
- Jessica Engstrom
- Maria Isabel Ramos Martinez
- Kimberly Salazar
- Family and Workforce Centers of America (FWCA)
- Buckner Children and Family Services
- Brendan Creamer