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Law professor helps put local high school students on fast track to college

While many professors, students and faculty alike were enjoying some down time over this year’s fall beak, Wake Forest Law Professor Omari Simmons was using his extra days off to travel to Atlanta with 24 high-achieving high school students from nine area schools on a tour of colleges.

Simmons and the students were joined by Harold Holmes, the Wake Forest Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Services, who served as one of the chaperones. The group visited Davidson College, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Over the past 15 years, Professor Simmons, on a volunteer basis, has helped hundreds of talented students attain their higher education goals as executive director of the Simmons Memorial Foundation (SMF).  SMF is a small nonprofit organization that promotes higher education access for vulnerable students in North Carolina and rural Delaware.  SMF implements a series of programs that include college consulting, mentoring, college visitations, standardized test preparation, and scholarships.

Bolstering SMF’s programming is a thriving volunteer spirit. The success of participants relies on mentors with diverse experiences and a strong commitment to service, and Simmons’s and Holmes’s participation in this year’s fall break trip displayed just that.

Over the past decade, SMF has chartered trips that have allowed students to become familiar with a wide range of selective colleges, stretching from New Haven, Conn., all the way to this year’s trip’s final destination, Atlanta. The trips are more than just run-of-the-mill information sessions, though.

During the day, SMF exposes students to the multitude of college and cultural sites surrounding the given area, whether it is Ground Zero, Monticello, or as was the case this year, the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In the evening, students are treated to guest speakers, panels, and lectures from distinguished groups of local professionals, college alumni, professors, and administrators, many of whom also join the group for intimate dinners and stimulating discussions. Through these chance meetings, lasting mentoring relationships develop and enrich students’ lives.

Holmes in particular was impressed by the organization of the trip, and the array of enriching experiences.

“The trip was impeccably managed, with a mix of higher-education experiences at the schools we visited,” he said. “The students received a truly valuable and significant immersion into the college admissions process at a very diverse set of high quality institutions.”

According to Holmes, “What Professor Simmons is doing with this important work . . . speaks to the substance of his character and commitment to the development of our youth.”

Simmons, too, believes this year’s college trip, and the previous ones, foster lasting positive effects on participating students, particularly in regards to the college selection process.

“SMF’s college trips expose students to various college environments—public, private, liberal arts, and HBCU’s—early in the college selection process,” said Simmons. “They also provide exposure to new people, perspectives, places and most importantly generates excitement about college. The opportunity to navigate college campuses, towns, and cities increases the likelihood that students apply to and attend selective colleges and universities.”

This year’s trip certainly reinforced the real impact SMF is having on its participating students.

“The trip was a great opportunity for students whose college search didn’t exceed beyond the North Carolina state lines or students who are financially unable to go out to visit colleges,” said Jordan Latham, one of the participating students. “I was never considering any school in Georgia before the trip and never would have had the chance to visit Georgia without it. The opportunity to actually visit and tour a college is probably one of the most important steps in the college search process.”

While touring the library of Davidson College, the group ran into a veteran of last year’s trip, Jada Decreny-Jackson (Carver High ’12), who was diligently studying in the library. Decreny-Jackson warmly spoke of her college experience so far, and reinforced the importance of the college trip.

For more information on the Simmons Memorial Foundation, visit www.smfnonprofit.org.