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by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - College Possible staff members interact with David Douglas students at a recruiting event in early April.

Her parents hadn’t attended college, and after watching her sister struggle with the application process, Ehlers sought help in navigating the higher education system.

A three-sport athlete who participated in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Ehlers committed two hours twice a week her junior and senior year to a program called College Possible.

After graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., this spring, the St. Paul, Minn., native will move to the Portland area to become a coach for the region’s newly launched College Possible program, mentoring low-income students in East Multnomah County.

“It’s become a big part of my life in strange ways I didn’t expect,” Ehlers said of College Possible. “I have a big heart for underprivileged youth. Before, I was the one who needed help. Now I want to be an advocate for someone else.”

College Possible Portland is in the process of recruiting low-income sophomores from Davis Douglas, Gresham, Reynolds and Sam Barlow high schools who have a desire to earn college degrees.

Recruitment for Gresham High will continue through May, while the other schools will finish up Friday, May 3.

In its 13-year history, 98 percent of College Possible participants have been accepted to college, and nearly 94 percent have gone on to enroll in college. These students are 10 times more likely to earn a college degree than low-income students nationally.

Ken Thrasher, a retired CEO, East County education advocate and now board chairman of College Possible, saw these statistics and identified the nonprofit organization as one that would benefit communities in the Portland area.

For its first Oregon group, College Possible will accept 140 students for the fall of 2013. The program relies on AmeriCorps coaches who act as friends and role models to the students, often staying in contact long after students have graduated.

“We call it a near peer relationship,” said Catherine Ryan Gregory, a communications VISTA staff member for College Possible Portland. “These students have big ambitions for college, but don’t always know how to make it happen.”

Like Ehlers, students will meet for two hours twice a week after class at school their junior and seniors years, completing more than 320 hours of programming. Through College Possible, juniors prepare for the SAT and ACT and learn about the college application process, while seniors submit college, scholarship and financial aid applications. Additionally, College Possible takes students on tours of college campuses that interest them.

“If no one in their families have been to college or graduated from college, it can be a pretty big leap for them to imagine being on a campus like Portland State University,” Ryan Gregory said. “(The tours) can be a turning point for students.”

So far, College Possible Portland has seen an overwhelming response in East County, especially at Reynolds High School. On Friday, April 26, Reynolds sophomore Ikram Ismail stopped by to interview with College Possible. She lit up talking about her future dreams.

“I really want to go to college, and I’ve been working really hard at it,” Ismail said. “I want to work in government — in law enforcement or as an ambassador.”

To be eligible for College Possible, students must have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher and qualify as low-income by receiving free or reduced lunch or coming from a family with a lower income than the median income for families in the district.

While the program is geared toward students interested in four-year colleges, Ryan Gregory said it also welcomes students who may pursue the trades, associate’s degrees and certificates.

“We push for opportunity," she said. "Sometimes students, especially if they don’t have a lot of role models, might not immediately picture themselves going to a four-year college. They may change their minds. We’ve found that low-income students and students from minority groups that are severely under-represented can really increase their earning potential with a bachelor’s degree.”

By 2020, College Possible is expected to reach 20,000 students in 10 locations across the country. Program leaders are hopeful it can help end the cycle of poverty in communities like those in East Multnomah County.

“I hope that the students will be empowered, more confident in themselves and appreciative of their diverse backgrounds and experiences,” Ehlers said.

For more information, visit, call 503-907-0248 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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