CINCINNATI -- Will Lampkin sailed through high school, getting As and Bs without much studying.
But when it came time to apply for college, things got difficult in a hurry.
Neither of his parents had been to college before Lampkin graduated from Withrow University High School in 2014. He became overwhelmed trying to fill out the Federal Application for Student Financial Aid, college application forms and scholarship applications all by himself.
That’s when he found a Cincinnati Youth Collaborative advisor working at his school for the nonprofit’s college and career success programs. She helped Lampkin navigate the piles of paperwork involved in applying for college. Then CYC went a step further: The organization helped connect Lampkin with Karen and Dave Troup, a married couple that became his mentors throughout his four years at the University of Cincinnati.
“They didn’t really think they did much, but just talking to me and giving me support,” Lampkin said, “they were like my angels on my shoulder.”
Now CYC has a full-fledged mentoring program for first-generation college students with most of the participants attending Cincinnati State or the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus. The program had 175 students paired with mentors last year and hopes to grow to 350 this year, said David Plogmann, CYC’s chief development, marketing and strategy officer.
“We graduate 95 percent of our participating high school seniors that start the year in mentoring, college and career success or career readiness programs. But we can’t declare victory then,” Plogmann said. “A high school diploma isn’t enough to be successful.”
That’s why CYC began developing a mentoring program for first-generation college students at the same time Lampkin’s experience was demonstrating just how important it was to have mentors.
Navigating ‘a rude awakening’
Lampkin’s connection with the Troups was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
The CYC advisor who had worked with him at Withrow nominated him as one of the organization’s Youth of the Year in 2014. The Troups met Lampkin and some of his family at the Dream Makers Celebration, where he received the recognition and a scholarship from CYC.
Karen Troup was working at the University of Cincinnati at the time and was impressed with Lampkin, who talked about how he would be attending UC. She approached him and suggested that they look each other up when he started classes on UC’s main campus.
Lampkin jumped at the chance to have a knowledgeable adult on campus as a resource.
“He’s just a very bright, friendly young man, and we were happy to have the opportunity to help in any way we could,” Karen Troup said. “He pretty much ran with things. He’s very dedicated and enthusiastic.”
Dave Troup said he viewed his role in the relationship as one of encouraging Lampkin not to be afraid to take chances.
“It was really clear from the beginning that he was going to be successful,” Dave Troup said. “We were just cheering him on basically.”
Lampkin said their support was critically important, especially during his first year at UC.
Remember how Lampkin didn’t study much in high school? That made his freshman year in college a huge adjustment.
He got a D in his college calculus class during the second semester of his freshman year -- the first D he had ever received.
“It was like a rude awakening to me,” he said. “My GPA was 2.3 by the end of my freshman year, and I was on the cusp of losing my scholarships.”
The Troups didn’t tutor Lampkin directly or contact any professors on his behalf.
But Karen Troup told Lampkin there were resources on campus to help him work through confusing material. She recommended he go directly to his professors for help in any classes where he was having trouble. And the couple encouraged him not to give up hope because of that bad grade.
“If I didn’t have them, I don’t think I would have been able to graduate,” Lampkin said. “They really encouraged me to keep going.”
Learning to build connections
Lampkin retook that Calculus class and earned a B. He ended up graduating from UC with a 3.2 GPA in 2018. It would have been higher, but he kept the D on his transcript.
“This is something I need to embrace,” he said. “I need to embrace these failures because if I embrace them, they won’t happen again.”
That attitude helped Lampkin succeed, the Troups said.
So did his willingness to reach out to his mentors when he needed help.
“It definitely wasn’t just Karen and Dave staying in touch with William,” Karen Troup said. “It was William staying in touch with us as well.”
That two-way effort is so important that it is a requirement in CYC’s formal college mentoring program, Plogmann said.
Nationwide, only one in 10 first-generation college students earn a degree after six years, he said. Those students need more help, not necessarily with money, Plogmann added, but with guidance.
College students are busy, though, so mentoring typically happens through texting and other electronic means rather than planning lots of face-to-face meetings.
To encourage the busy students to keep that communication open, CYC has linked the scholarships it gives students to staying connected with their mentors in addition to maintaining good grades.
“It’s helping them understand the importance of building a network of resources that are going to help you not only through your college but in your life,” Plogmann said.
That was a lesson Lampkin learned well.
He still is in touch regularly with the Troups. He maintained his connections with CYC so well that now he is working there as a marketing and communications contractor.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.