May 17 • 23M

This Changemaker Now Runs the Nonprofit That Helped Her Gain Admission to Smith College

Nolvia Delgado Is the New Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation

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Some of the world's great changemakers join host Devin Thorpe to share leadership lessons you can use to increase your impact.
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Devin: What do you see as the personal strength that has most enabled you to be successful?

Nolvia: That's a really good question, I think for me. Throughout my life, there's always been this desire to help others, and I always knew that that's what I wanted to do. I just didn't know how.


Thirteen years ago, Nolvia Delgado was a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She completed a rigorous application to the Kaplan Educational Foundation for support transferring to a selective four-year college. She won the Kaplan Leadership Scholar award, and with the foundation’s help, she earned admission to Smith College’s class of 2011.

After graduating, she pursued a career around education and the Foundation that helped launch her career recently appointed her to serve as the Executive Director. “The Kaplan Leadership program changed my life and gave me the opportunity to transfer to Smith College,” Nolvia says.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Nolvia credits her mother, who didn’t complete high school, with instilling in her the value of education. “She would always say, ‘Education will open doors. Education is the way out.’”

“I understood it. And that's why I worked so hard,” Nolvia says. “But I could have never imagined where an education would take me and that it would open so many doors—literally—for me.  It's a dream come true for both of us.”

Nolvia says Kaplan guided her in choosing a four-year college. She was considering both Vassar and Smith, which she says “was just the perfect place for me.”

Nolvia’s first job after graduation was with the Foundation—the first Scholar hired full-time. She left to continue building her career, staying close to the field of supporting opportunities for education among underserved communities. Earlier this year, she took the top job at the Foundation.

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Nolvia is a model Scholar. She epitomizes the program. The Kaplan Educational Foundation helps community college students from underserved communities find selective colleges where they can finish their undergraduate education.

The Foundation provides help to its Scholars with much more than financial aid, helping students complete their community college education and prepare for the rigors of competitive four-year schools. They cover the fees for the transfer applications and even help with living expenses at the community college.

The Foundation helps the students find schools where they will receive sufficient financial support to graduate without student loans. The program also provides students with emergency funding during their junior and senior years. The scholars also receive career training.

“The mission of the Kaplan Educational Foundation is to identify high achieving, underrepresented community college students and help them transfer to selective four-year institutions,” Nolvia says. “The work doesn't stop when the scholar transfers to a four-year institution. It's then making sure that they graduate.”

The result is that over 84 percent of the Scholars who transfer graduate from their chosen four-year schools.

“Part of our mission is to ensure that our Scholars, once they graduate, are taking leadership positions in their respective fields and that they're able to work on improving outcomes for all of us,” she says. “We make it a point to expose students to different leadership opportunities and ensure that they have the tools to be agents of change.”

Underlying Nolvia’s success is her superpower, a desire to help others.

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How to Develop a Desire to Help Others As a Superpower

“I come from a family of women who are all giving back to their communities in different ways,” Nolvia says. “I think it's the desire to help others that was instilled in me by the women in my family.”

Nolvia shared a story of her early career as an example of her deploying her superpower successfully:

When I was working at the Community Schools Initiative in Brooklyn, there was a lifeguarding program [that] would train students to be certified lifeguards. They would get a job. It was a very it was every Saturday.

I knew that that program would keep students off the streets. It would provide them with an opportunity to obtain a certification, to have money in their pocket. And my desire to help others, I think, helped so many students stay off the streets.

I know that for some of them, it changed their lives. And what that meant was pushing to make sure that we had the program on the campus, that it was available, that I was there every Saturday to make sure that the program was running smoothly.

The outcome is that some students—a lot of students—were kept off the streets and now are working full time as lifeguards. So it was a life-changing opportunity for students.

That desire to help others is flourishing in her new role as well. Nolvia offers some profound counsel for strengthening your desire to help others.

Honestly, it's doing everything in an arm's reach.

If there's something that you can easily do, if there's an introduction you can make, if there's somebody resume you can review—whatever it is that is that you have the capacity to do. Then do that.

Sometimes people get consumed with the idea that they have to go out and just change the world. That can be that can be daunting. Just do whatever's in an arm's reach, whatever expertize you have, share it.

You'll be you'll be surprised at the impact that you have just by doing things that might seem small to you. But for someone, it could be life changing.

By following Nolvia’s example and her advice, you can strengthen your desire to serve other people and make it a superpower that will help you do more good.

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