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Meet Ellen Ridyard

Ellen Ridyard headshotEllen Ridyard
Sponsor-a-Scholar Director
Philadelphia Futures (PA)
Co-Leader of the Community-Based Organizations SIG

What drew you to college access work?
I am a proud Philadelphian. Working in an after-school program at a local shelter after college made me acutely aware of the educational inequities students can face in our community’s public schools. That experience connected me to teaching and a career in education, serving at a turnaround charter school in Philadelphia, where I taught English and writing courses. In the same high school, I then taught SAT prep courses and finally became the school’s college advisor, guiding the first graduating class through the college application process. From the moment I stepped into college access and advising, I understood both the great need college access addresses and the startling opportunity that college access provides me as a professional who enjoys supporting students and families through an often-overwhelming college process, who feels at home on college campuses, and who is energized by the opportunities postsecondary pathways afford communities.

What is your favorite part of the job?
I’m certain we have the best job in the world. My favorite part of my work is connecting students to great opportunities. When students ring the bell in our office to celebrate a college acceptance; open their portal to good news and virtual “confetti” in class; and find out they have been awarded a key, gap-closing scholarship, there is no better feeling or affirmation of good, hard, collective work. Also, I love learning. I appreciate that the college access field is ever-changing: It keeps me on my toes. I enjoy the evolving nature of our field and work, including new modes of opportunity.

How did you get involved with the Community-Based Organizations SIG?
I first became involved with the CBO SIG in 2018 thanks to my good friend and colleague, Tracy Kyttle, who I met during a trip to Lehigh University (PA), where we both serve on the counselor advisory board. I have always attended the NACAC annual conference and have enjoyed connecting there with colleagues from all sides of the desk. But I wasn’t aware of the NACAC SIG format or groups. After talking to Tracy, I was excited to dive into a community of practitioners who were eager to share resources, best practices, challenges, successes, and more.

Why is this SIG important to you?
I have found the SIG leadership role so professionally rewarding and impactful: it’s led to great networking, resource-sharing, deeper learning, collaboration around conference session proposals, generating a collective summer opportunities database, and much more. Because we are all so busy supporting college access initiatives, I appreciate the dedicated space and time necessary to look up and out to my CBO SIG colleagues across the country to learn, share, and connect. I’ve found it a remarkably supportive forum—both in person and virtually. The SIG is full of ideas and of possibility.

Why should counselors and admission professionals get involved with a NACAC SIG?
Getting involved in the NACAC SIG is a great way to lend to or amplify the CBO voice in NACAC conversations. It’s also so critical for us to put our collective heads together to problem-solve access challenges. CBO professionals can share, network, vent, brainstorm, and connect in the SIG, and we very much enjoy and welcome that collaboration and conversation.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
The biggest challenge facing our profession today is access. Campus diversity is aspirational without dedicated institutional structures to support true access. Students need assistance  visiting campuses and paying for testing and application fees. They must be able to afford the annual college bill in order for colleges to retain students effectively. I would urge high schools and colleges to constantly examine their college admission processes to look for both the on-ramps and the roadblocks. For example, the workshop I attended at the 2019 NACAC National Conference around micro-barriers in the admission process struck a chord with me. We discussed workarounds for application fees, deposit waivers, and the challenge of providing access in high school visits—three of many micro-barriers present within the college application and enrollment process, which I hope in my lifetime, are eliminated. Along those same lines, I hope to see tuition become completely free. When I get overwhelmed thinking about the challenges our profession faces, I often turn to my colleagues to note their creativity, energy, and determination in pushing through these challenges in the name of student success. But, it doesn’t have to be this hard. I’m confident that inroads are possible with a spotlight on access.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
You can always find me reading when I’m not a work, especially when I’m traveling to and from work. Sometimes my head slips so far into a book that I miss my train stop. I’m involved in a book club with good friends, which keeps me accountable for reading, despite limited time. I’m a nature person at heart, and feel energized by being outside and being in nature, especially at the beach. I enjoy cooking with my two little kids, who keep us very busy in and out of the kitchen. We are lucky to have our families close by, so we spend a lot of time socializing with them on the weekends. Finally, I’ve also been a traveler, which I hope returns more and more to my life as the kids get a bit older. I am up for adventures and travel and exploring new places. My new year’s resolution last year was to explore more.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
This question was hard for me. I asked my husband, who immediately said Leslie Knope from “Parks & Recreation”, which made me smile. My best friends said Alice in Wonderland because I am creative and get lost in my thoughts, books, and daydreams, and I am a kid at heart. But I would say Hermione from Harry Potter or any heroine who gets scrappy, uses her smarts, and is fiercely loyal to her friends and community.

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