As part of the America’s Promise Community Spotlight Series, designed to help you connect to and learn from your peers in the GradNation Learning Community, we asked Dreama Gentry what she’s excited about, what she’s most proud of, and what she’s learned during her work at Berea College.
Check out what Gentry had to say:
What led you to work at Partners for Education at Berea College?
I grew up in rural Appalachia, and I was the first in my family to attend college. After practicing law for a few years, I realized that my job as an attorney was not fulfilling. I craved a role where I could have a positive impact on individuals and on systems.
My experiences as a high school participant in the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program and as a college student counselor in the Berea College Upward Bound had shown me the life-changing impact of college access and success programs. I left the practice of law and came to Berea College, my alma mater, to design and implement educational opportunity programs in rural Appalachia.
What work are you most proud of or excited about?
I spent three years working daily in a high-poverty high school to build a college access and success framework that worked and that could be replicated. I learned so much working directly with students, teachers and families. I could see the impact I was having on the young people and their families. I found the work satisfying in a way that practicing law had never been.
Berea College provided me with the freedom and opportunity to replicate and scale up my work. Twenty years after making the leap from the courtroom to the classroom, I am leading a team of 300 committed professionals and volunteers on a quest to achieve the result that all Appalachian Kentucky children succeed in school.
We are making progress toward our result as we annually provide college access and success programs, cradle to career, to 35,000 youth.
What keeps you doing this work?
The impact on the children and youth of Appalachia. I am reminded of the individual impact daily as I work alongside Jenny Ceesay, a member of my leadership team. As Director of Programs, Jenny leads the Upward Bound and Talent Search work and she was instrumental in starting our AmeriCorps work that now provides 130 members an opportunity to serve in rural Appalachia.
I met Jenny when I was a Berea College student spending the summer working in Upward Bound. Jenny was a high school student and many of the people in her life did not expect her to be successful. Upward Bound was her life-changing experience. I have had the privilege of walking alongside Jenny as she graduated college, attained her Master’s Degree, and dedicates her career to serving others.
I keep doing this work because Jenny’s story is not unique. Each year I do this work I see the lives of young people transformed. I see young people who had been written off by their schools, their families and their communities, develop hope, confidence and aspirations. The work my team does daily to inspire young people, to provide them with the skills and support to graduate from high school and from is the work that changes lives. I cannot imagine more valuable work.
Dreama Gentry provides leadership and vision to Partners for Education at Berea College. Partners for Education utilizes a place based, student focused approach to improving educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs including Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs, Investing in Innovation and the nation's first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages more than $24 million annually to provide educational opportunities to 35,000 students and their families.