Interview with Randall Clarke: Educational Talent Search Program

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn College Educational Talent Search Program
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn College Educational Talent Search Program

The Brooklyn College Educational Talent Search Program helps high school students get a head start in preparing for their college experience. Talent Search is part of the federally funded TRiO Program, which was founded by the Higher Education Act of 1965. Talent Search, along with Upward Bound and Student Support Services, works to make sure that students across the country have equal opportunities for higher learning. I sat down with Randall Clarke, who is the Project Director of the Talent Search Program at Brooklyn College, to get his take on the importance of this program for today’s generation and what the upcoming year holds for him and his staff.


Can you give us a bit of background about the Educational Talent Search Program?

Randall Clarke: The Talent Search Program is a federally funded program designed to prepare low-income and first-generation high school students for college. The Brooklyn College Educational Talent Search Program (BCETSP) currently serves 729 students across 10 plus schools in the borough of Brooklyn.


Is it mainly just in Brooklyn, or do you also cater to other boroughs as well?

Ours is just for Brooklyn, but there are other Talent Search Programs in other boroughs. Manhattan has one as well as the Bronx. There might be multiple ones, not just at CUNY schools, but private colleges, as well as organizations that are able to apply for a grant, and have been successful at obtaining one.

(CUNY is the City University of New York)


What made you want to be involved in this program?

I began working with this population of students while I was an undergrad in college. I studied to do education and developed a desire to help students become successful, to do something for themselves, gain something for themselves, be proud of themselves, and move forward.

A great way to start the process of students ultimately taking care of themselves is to educate them. Let them know that they can strive to be successful in academics, and that they don’t have to settle to be a “C” student or settle for someone telling them: “You are not capable, therefore I’m not going to give you a chance.” It’s about inspiring students to say: “Wait, I want to do something. Let me work hard for it.” So that is what started my process, and then professional opportunities led me to this particular position.


You mentioned that ETS caters to low-income/first-generation students. Why do you think a program like ETS is so important for students of this background?

There are many studies, and I think with the creation of this program, people will realize targeting minorities was not sufficient. This program came out of the belief that the way the US can eliminate poverty is through education. People who have a high school degree earn more than those without, people with an undergrad degree earn more than those without, and the same for Master’s and Doctoral. You make better decisions and better opportunities by educating yourself.

Liberal arts education, I think, is phenomenal because it exposes you not just to your narrow path of focus, but to a wide world of arts, sciences, maths, social skills, and social sciences. By being exposed to these things, it goes back to being able to make better decisions for yourself. I think these programs can create clarity in one’s ability to make well-informed decisions for low-income families, whether it be the child of a low-income person, whose now able to pull him/herself out, and will ultimately pull the parent out with them. Ideally, this will be a way of eliminating poverty as a whole. It’s going to take more time. It’s 50 years going.


What do you think are the strengths of the program?

The counseling. Being able to offer students people who are like them — people who have experienced hardships and challenges, who have gone through the educational system, and understand pitfalls by having experienced success. The counselors are the heart and soul of this program. They are the ones at the front line, working with and encouraging the students, as well as exposing them to opportunities and be perceptive to them. I really think the counseling is the most important aspect of this program.


What are some of the obstacles that you and the staff faces?

There are quite a few. Developing positive reports with the schools as well as methods of how we interact with one another. Trying to figure out: how does this program enter the school and be successful, and how does the school understand, learn, and is informed of what we’re doing, so that they can better support us. I think communication between the program and the schools that we work with is a big obstacle that is getting better as we talk more and develop methods to implement the program.

The second is getting students to be inspired to participate. If the students don’t come, then nothing can get done. Motivating them to come to campus, or meet with their counselor at their school, and getting them to take pride in their academics and what they’re achieving all play a big role in the success of the program.


Do you have any success stories that you would like to share?

We do. We have a really good percentage of students who participated in the program that ended up graduating from high school and moving forward to college. One gentleman came up from Jamaica, wanting to go to college. He met with our counselors, realized that he can skip a grade, which he did, so he not only graduated high school early, he was the valedictorian of his class. He is now going to college to be an engineer.

Another example is a student who started the program in her eleventh year. She received SAT Prep with us and worked hard. What I want to always impress is that while we provide information and opportunities, it’s the kids that work hard. It’s their effort that really make these success stories seem so great. That young lady came to us working hard, and all we had to do was provide her with various opportunities. That way, when it came time to select the college she wanted to go to and apply for scholarships and FAFSA, she was informed. She had that knowledge to make a clear and informed decision. She’s going to college for a full ride.

Those are the two people that are on the cover of our brochure. We’ve had valedictorians, salutatorians, who were at the bottom of the academic realm, GPA wise, and they made it to college. They started in a two-year or they worked hard their senior year and convinced a four-year to take them. We’ve just worked with them to prepare and advise them in that way. So, we’ve had both sides of the spectrum: the strong student who came in and was willing to work hard, and that student who was discouraged, initially, but stepped up their game and are now successful.


Do you think that students, particularly in the categories that you serve, are losing faith in the education system?

I don’t know if they’re losing faith as much as as they are being persuaded that the education system is not good. Everyone wants shortcuts; everyone wants instant gratification. This generation is very instant-gratification oriented, where it’s like: I sit down, you tell me something, and I’m supposed to know it. If I can’t grasp it in that one shot, I’m not smart enough to know, therefore I’m not smart and I shouldn’t be going to college. Or, I should be going to college, but if I don’t, it’s not my fault; it’s someone else’s. It’s not 100% true. It’s not every student’s mindset. I don’t think it’s a matter of losing faith in the system as much as never understanding the system from the get-go.


What do you guys hope to achieve for the upcoming school year?

For the upcoming year, we’ve broken it up into two semesters. For the first semester, we’re going to focus on our seniors and 11th graders. For the seniors, we hope to make sure that they complete their college applications at least by Thanksgiving. We want them to apply not just to CUNY — since CUNY is considered a safe net system of schools — but we want them to strive and apply to some private schools and to SUNY, based on what is their best fit. We want them to consider what school(s) they can afford, what major they want, distance from home, and comfort level. For our 11th graders, we are going to prepare them for SATs, getting more familiar with colleges, and start seeing colleges.

For our 9th and 10th graders, we are going to help them figure out what their career interests are and where do they see themselves. In the spring, our focus will be to get the lowerclassmen involved at different college campuses and universities so that they’re exposed to what colleges require of them down the road.

(SUNY is the State University of New York)


What is one lesson that you have learned within the past academic year that you hope to apply to this year?

I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned, and that was confirmed for me last year, is that everyone is different. People are people. We all have different standards, different interpretations, and different frustrations. From that, I’ve learned that everyone has to be treated the same, but approached differently. It’s hard, especially from a management point of view. Not only am I trying to engage these students, I’m trying to engage my staff. I’m trying to engage my community partners. I’m trying to engage a lot of different entities so that they all work toward the common cause of preparing a large population of students for college. It’s hard because some days you wake up and you have to remember you’re human and you don’t feel like doing something. You have to remember that it’s no one’s problem but your own, and you can’t expect your staff or your students to take that point of view if you can’t either. So, I think that’s probably been my biggest challenge and lesson learned. People are different, but the expectations must remain consistent.



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