Ja’lia Taylor is paving the way for underrepresented students in the Auburn area to attend college through her Young Professionals in Training program.
“My hope for this program is that it can become full circle. We want these students to improve their own lives and come to a four-year university, but also to come back into their community and create ideas and initiatives that will continue to help the generations after them,” Taylor said.
Taylor is a student at Auburn University pursuing her doctorate in special education and master’s in information systems.
Taylor is from the small town of Smithville, Georgia, and graduated from Lee County High School. She went on to graduate from Georgia Southwestern State University with a degree in special education as a first-generation college student.
Upon graduation, Taylor worked as a special education teacher and department chair. While working as a teacher, Taylor came across a group of boys who eventually became the first members of Young Professionals in Training.
“This group of boys was terrorizing teachers and the teachers were quitting, so I asked to have them moved into my class,” Taylor said.
Taylor was able to teach these students for one class period and she set up a mentoring program to attempt to correct their behavior. Taylor and others began mentoring the boys and these interactions greatly improved their behavior, Taylor said.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Taylor later went back to school at Auburn where she served on the Presidential Task Force as a graduate student representative. Through the task force, Taylor was able to forge connections with Provost Bill Hardgrave and other influential faculty and staff of Auburn University who helped Taylor bring Young Professionals in Training to Auburn.
In 2016, Auburn produced a climate study as a part of a larger initiative for the University to become more diverse and inclusive.
“The study suggested to create a pipeline program for underrepresented students to attend Auburn University,” Taylor said.
Young Professionals in Training is being utilized as part of this pipeline program to prepare students to apply for Auburn First, which guarantees automatic acceptance to Auburn University if certain conditions are met.
In order to qualify for Auburn First, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school and earn a B average in two Auburn courses.
Young Professionals in Training mentors and tutors underrepresented students in fifth through 12th grade.
“We start mentoring the students early to keep their GPA up and help fill in gaps at schools where students have limited resources,” Taylor said.
Young Professionals in Training provides tutoring sessions as needed, virtual mentoring sessions once a month and social and emotional learning for their students. Students also participate in community change projects to instill values of uplifting their own communities.
The students’ tutors are Auburn University faculty, staff, students and alumni and members of the advisory board for the Curtis House.
Currently, 40 local students are involved in the Young Professionals in training program mostly from Lee and Macon counties. For students to join the program, their parents must fill out an application and priority is given to students with the highest need.
Young Professionals in Training also involves the students’ parents. The program assists parents by helping them to get their GED, enroll in further education or enrolling them in a workforce development program through the City of Auburn or The Curtis House.
This program also helps parents to better understand the college admissions process, so they can be able to assist their child.
“Being a first-generation college student, there are a lot of things where if your parents aren’t educated you just don’t know,” Taylor said.
The Curtis House, a nonprofit community service organization in Opelika, has been an instrumental tool in the creation and success of Young Professionals in Training. The Curtis House has assisted in reaching target communities and providing support for the program.
“This program provides opportunities for kids that want to succeed but may not have the same opportunities,” said Tamarcus Milner, president of The Curtis House.
The goal for this program is to lay down a solid foundation for students so that when they graduate, they can come back to their home and be better equipped to further enrich their own communities.
Venus Hewing, program coordinator for Young Professionals in Training, hopes this program will be a step in the right direction to increase diversity at Auburn.
This program is about showing these students that they are capable of being successful in college and in life, Hewing said.
“Students come to Auburn from all over the country, but there are students in our own backyard who want to be here, but they are not because they are being overlooked because they are underserved,” Hewing said.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman