By Dawnell Powell, January 15, 2015
When EP Alumna Erica Mosca (Graduate School Fellowship 2011) made Las Vegas her home, it wasn’t the lure of luxe nightlife that attracted her. Instead, it was the opportunity to open students’ eyes to possibilities beyond the Strip.
In Las Vegas, it’s common for students to choose to join the tourism industry after high school. As a 5th grade teacher and Teach For America corps member, Erica realized that most of her students – who came from low-income families – faced especially tough odds to get to and through college.
“It’s hard to be a leader without a network or net worth,” Erica says. “When only eight percent of students from low-income communities graduate from college nationwide, there’s a lot more that we must do to help all students succeed.”
As a first-generation college student herself, Erica knows that path isn’t easy.
Erica spent much of her childhood moving around Southern California as her parents sought affordable housing before they settled in Northern California. She attended seven different schools between kindergarten and her senior year of high school.
Despite repeatedly having to start over, Erica focused on her parents’ idea that college could change your circumstances. With every move and every new school, Erica worked hard to catch up and then get ahead.
But at the end of 7th grade, Erica learned that she hadn’t tracked into 8th grade accelerated classes. Concerned about being college-ready, Erica confided in her English teacher.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Erica says. “After I talked to my teacher, she went to the school’s office on my behalf and made sure that I was placed in honors classes. I learned the power of advocating for yourself and others. I vowed that I would do for others what my teacher had done for me.”
On the way to launching her own nonprofit to help more first-generation and low-income students make it to college, Erica became an EP Graduate School Fellow in 2011. Her placement with Teach Plus solidified her desire to support college access.
That summer, she also began building the foundation for her own company, Leaders in Training. With the support of another EP Fellow, she built Leaders in Training’s first website.
In 2012, Erica officially launched Leaders in Training, a nonprofit that supports east Las Vegas students to become the first in their family to graduate from college and become future Nevada leaders. Leaders in Training offers four years of free tutoring, SAT prep, and leadership training during high school. In return, the students pledge to return to Las Vegas and/or become stewards of their communities.
Erica developed the program’s comprehensive nine-year program (students spend a year between high school and college developing strong leadership skills) with the mindset that change only happens when leaders reflect the communities they’re serving.
“When students are lawyers, doctors, and leaders in the community, then we can change the pervasively low expectations we have for Las Vegas’ kids," Erica says.
Erica remains unfailingly committed to this tough, important work. “I can relate. These students’ parents are like my parents,” she says. “They want their children to thrive, and I want to help ensure they have a college education to help them get there.”
Dawnell Powell is a Manager on the Career Advancement team at Education Pioneers. She is responsible for ensuring that Alumni are aware of opportunities to gain the skills necessary to transform education. Dawnell has a passion for leadership development and lifelong learning.