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13 May 2013

Beating the odds grad finds the support needed to juggle family and work, and make it through college

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May 13, 2013 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Graduation candidate Ronald Wilson, right, with Derrick Perkins, project  director for Center for Male Engagement 


Orphaned at 18 and left to support and care for his 13-year-old brother, the odds were stacked against Ronald E. Wilson going to college, let alone graduating. So, it is not surprising that Wilson was overwhelmed by emotions upon learning he will be one of 1,934 candidates for graduation at Community College of Philadelphia’s 47th Annual Commencement on May 4.


“My plan was to get my degree by any means necessary because I knew that was what my mom wanted me to do,” says Wilson, who is slated to receive an Associate in Arts degree. “She was all about the big moment and was looking forward to me graduating from college.”


The last two years were an uphill struggle for the Frankford youth, but the College’s Center for Male Engagement (CME) was there to support him from start to finish. CME, now in its fourth year, offers training in life and study skills, help in setting and meeting goals, and peer-to-peer support to help minority male students stay engaged and focused on their studies. Student outcomes have improved as a result.


Among African-Americans, for instance, a greater percentage of CME participants remain in school than do their African-American male peers who don’t participate.


CME is one of a number of strategies initiated by the College to provide students with resources and personalized services. And, it is paying off. The Class of 2012, with 1,823 graduates, was 46 percent larger than the Class of 2003. This year’s graduating class is on track to be the largest since the College opened in 1965. Approximately 38 percent of this year’s class will receive degrees in the high-demand areas of science, technology, engineering and math.


Wilson started college in September 2010, just three months after the death of his widowed mother and the loss of the family home. The brothers were staying with an aunt. Wilson worked to help pay the bills. Throughout it all, he remained determined to attend college and become a physical therapist.


The incoming freshman was immediately directed to CME, which provided wraparound services, including daily interactions with a dedicated support coach who offered advice and guidance on handling issues that arise in life or the classroom.


“They gave me so much structure I know that I would have been severely delayed had they not been there,” says Wilson, now 20.  “Truth be told, I owe these guys a debt I can never repay.”


The Culture, Science and Technology major received notice he was graduating while visiting the CME office. “Oh man, I bust out crying,” says Wilson, who was immediately surrounded by cheering staff and fellow participants congratulating his achievement.


Wilson, who plans to transfer to a four-year institution, is one of 14 CME participants set to graduate this year. Another 85 have successfully transferred to four-year institutions since the program began. “Ron [Wilson] is a chief ambassador of the program and a testament to what can be accomplished with intentional and coordinated programming, coupled with a willingness to access the services provided. His resiliency should be admired,” says CME project director Derrick Perkins.


Ronald Jackson, Ed.D., dean of students, says the lessons learned from the CME program are applied to other ongoing initiatives designed to bolster the College’s strategic efforts in providing support services during the first year of College “to get students started on a firm foundation.”


Jackson says the College has hired a Student Success Support Coach to provide similar services to students identified through the College’s Early Alert System. This system identifies students falling behind in their classes and offers a range of support services to keep them on track.


About Community College of Philadelphia


The College has a current annual enrollment of more than 37,000 students. Named a 2011 Leader College for the Achieving the Dream initiative, the College works to foster student success, support student goal completion and eliminate cultural achievement gaps. Visit the College at Follow us on Like us on Facebook at


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