One Million Degrees offers broad support to help low-income youth graduate from college and achieve their career dreams

CHICAGO (CBS) — One Million Degrees is the only organization in Illinois, and one of few in the United States, to provide comprehensive support to low-income youth who are the first in their families to attend college.

On Friday, CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot showed us the life-changing work of the Chicago-based organization.

One Million Degrees helped LaCrese Smith realize her dream of graduating from college.

“Sometimes it’s not easy, but you have to keep pushing,” Smith said.

Smith, who grew up in Englewood, is the first person in her family to graduate from college.

“I feel extremely happy,” Smith said. “I feel successful. I feel rich.”

The Chicago-based organization provides students with coaching, mentors, tutoring, workshops, and financial aid to help their career dreams come true. The help doesn’t stop there.

“I never got a costume. So I got a costume as a gift,” Smith said. “One Million Degrees – they helped me in my professional development. At first I was shy. I really didn’t speak much. I was scared.”

Now the once introverted student, who attended Kennedy-King College and graduated from Morehead State University, works in the field of criminal justice — and wants to be a federal judge.

One Million Degrees partners with 10 community colleges in the Chicago area, including seven City Colleges of Chicago. After students graduate from college, they often transfer to four-year colleges or get jobs.

Since the non-profit organization launched in 2006, it has had nearly 1,500 graduates.

“When you know and see someone who has obtained this degree, of course we know it changes their life and that of their family – but it also motivates and inspires their peers,” said Aneesh Sohoni, CEO of One Million Degrees .

Lura Buckley, a 2016 One Million Degrees graduate, grew up in North Lawndale. Buckley says she is a role model for her younger sisters.

“They can do that too,” Buckley said. “They can do anything – and for me, that made me the happiest and the proudest.”

Buckley is a graduate of Harold Washington College and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds a bachelor’s degree in science and marketing.

She not only works for CNA Insurance — which donated to the organization when Buckley was a fellow — but she also gives back to the nonprofit by mentoring the next generation of fellows.

“Everyone really had an impact on my life, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” Buckley said.

One Million Degrees is supported by donations. Since 2006, they have awarded nearly $200,000 in student financial aid. To learn more about One Million Degrees and how you can apply for the program, or to donate, visit their website.

One Million Degrees was honored in 2017 by the Make It Better Foundation for its work in education and won the foundation’s Philanthropy Awards.

The foundation is dedicated to amplifying the work of nonprofit organizations in Chicago. CBS 2 Chicago is a proud sponsor of the Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards.

Last fall, One Million Degrees also won the National Evergreen Education Award – with a $10,000 prize to recognize the impact on college success for low-income students.


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