News & Record

Local leaders chosen for Guilford chapter

Say Yes to Education taps local leaders for its Guilford chapter
October 20, 2015

By: Marquita Brown

GREENSBORO — To pay her tuition and minimize her college debt, Mary Vigue took classes in the mornings and worked the late shift at a gas station in Florida.

She said she worked three different jobs her senior year.

“I know what it’s like to work for my education,” Vigue said.

That experience is one way Vigue said she would be able to relate to the thousands of students she stands to help in her new role as executive director of Say Yes Guilford.

Say Yes to Education, the New York-based nonprofit organization, announced Vigue’s hiring Monday. Her official start date is Nov. 16.

For now, though, Vigue still needs to pick her staff. They don’t even have office space — the national organization is finalizing leases for offices in Greensboro and in High Point, Vigue said.

Say Yes Guilford launched Sept. 17. Then work began to put in place the leadership needed to run that chapter.

Seventy candidates expressed interest in being executive director of the local chapter, and 25 of them were screened, national Say Yes spokesman Jacque Steinberg said in an email.

What stood out most about Vigue was “her appreciation for the mission and potential of Say Yes Guilford,” Chief Operating Officer Gene Chasin said in a news release. He also said Vigue’s experience as an administrator, her political saavy and her “demonstrated ability to bring disparate groups together” helped set her apart from the other candidates.

Vigue was also a nontraditional college student.

After high school, she said, she was tired of school and unsure of what she wanted to do next. She said she was working “low-wage jobs and hoping to get by.”

At age 22, Vigue started attending Broward College, a community college in Davie, Fla. Then she earned a full ride to Florida International University, something Vigue said she worked hard to earn.

“I know the value of education and how it can move you and change where you are,” she said.

The partnership between Say Yes to Education and Guilford County stands to benefit more than 72,000 students in the local traditional public schools, the majority of whom come from low-income families. Guilford County Schools has a poverty rate of about 67 percent.

The program’s goal is to break down barriers students face to graduation and college through a system of services and supports.

Most students also will be eligible for last-dollar tuition scholarships from Say Yes, starting with the Class of 2016. These scholarships are meant to close the gap between tuition costs and any other scholarships or grants students receive.

As scholarship director of Say Yes Guilford, Kristen Christman will shoulder the work related to that aspect of the program, the organization also announced Monday.

Christman is the former director of UNCG Guarantee at the UNC-Greensboro. She beat out 53 other applicants to land the job, which she started Oct. 5.

UNCG Guarantee is a scholarship program for students from low-income families who have high academic achievement, are North Carolina residents and plan to attend UNCG.

“I have seen the power that scholarships provide students who never thought college was possible,” Christman said. “So I hope with Say Yes that we can scale accessibility, opportunity and success in all kinds of ways.”

For the past couple of weeks, Christman said, she has attended Say Yes information sessions for students and families. She said she also plans to work with local schools and guidance counselors to increase completion rates on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and to “help with anything around access to post-secondary” education.

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