Stephannie Finley is the Executive Director of University of Colorado Colorado Springs’ University Partnerships and Public Policy. She helps link the university and members of the business, education, and nonprofit communities, along with working on regional priorities with UCCS' community partners.
Part of this work includes Colorado Springs Promise, a partnership between Pikes Peak United Way (PPUW), the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), School District 11, and Mitchell High School. The vision of the Colorado Springs Promise is to inspire and equip first generation and low to middle income students for a better future through education.
America’s Promise Alliance heard from Finley about the partnerships in her community, what excites her in the field—and what challenges her. Take a look at her answers below:
Q: How does your work help create a GradNation for all?
A: We started Colorado Springs Promise as a result of United Way’s Cradle to Career community initiative and a chance visit to a local homeless shelter.
As we took a tour of the homeless shelter and saw the sad, confused, tormented faces of our citizens, we couldn’t help but think…what if we could reach them on the front end of their journey, not after trauma and destruction changed the course of their lives?
We knew in our hearts that the answer to reaching them on the front end of their journey was through education, most especially completing high school! We have four pillars to bring about positive results.
We are building a champions program, creating a program for family engagement, developing a workforce component, and building a support structure. We believe this is key to getting more students to graduate. We have a lot of voices in the process, but we are most proud of the fact that the students participate in arriving at solutions and seizing opportunity!
Q: What successes in your community are you most proud of?
A: When we publically launched Colorado Springs Promise this past January after spending a year in preparation and action, we had some of the most notable community influencers in the audience. Many of them stepped up to help in support of giving our students what they need to feel safe and motivated to graduate.
We are most proud that we will have our first family engagement dinner in September kicking off our efforts to include the families in positive actions towards graduation.
We have the support of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce/EDC, the Pikes Peak Workforce Development Center, the State of Colorado, the university and more in becoming champions for our students.
We have also assembled a team of experts (who are also moms) who are helping to build a support structure around the students, teachers, counselors and administrators that can find resources and address homelessness, hunger, health and more so that we can work to eliminate stressful situations that impact graduation rates.
Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
A: We do not have a fulltime employee yet whose every thought is spent on this initiative. Everyone working on it so far are volunteers that devote their discretionary time to the effort. There is an incredible amount of passion behind our actions; however, it is time to have someone lead it in a full-time capacity.
Our administrators and teachers at Mitchell have been incredible, the students have helped us build our program with their input, the recently retired chancellor of the university personally got involved in problem-solving and illuminating opportunities, and United Way has been the very best conceivable organization to serve as the backbone of this critical effort!
Q: What principles guide your work in education and youth development?
A: Our community owes it to our kids to give them every chance possible to achieve their best life by inspiring and equipping them for a better future through education. It is our promise to them.
Q: Describe what makes your work unique in three words or a phrase.
A: All-out community promise to be there for the students!