MLT Blog

MLT Ascend: Why Paying It Forward Isn’t Just a Nice-to-Do


Natalie Jones, MLT Career Prep 2012

It wasn’t until my MLT Ascend Program mentee texted me saying:

“Hey Nat could you write me a recommendation for the HU Baltimore Association scholarship please? It’s due next Friday :emoji monkey with its eyes covered:”

…that two things went through my mind:

  1. Wow, my first letter of recommendation request! 
  2. That’s not exactly how I would have asked, but I guess we’re comfortable now.

“Of course!” I texted back, “Send me the details and your updated résumé and I’ll get started this weekend.” If I were to say that this exchange sums up how our relationship has developed over the past school year, some might scratch their heads. But I know that the foundation I’ve established with my scholar—my way of paying it forward—is making an impact on her outlook and her future.


Natalie-JonesMy MLT Ascend Scholar and I were paired together halfway through her first semester of college. She hadn’t joined any clubs or groups, although she told me she wished she could find more outlets for dance. And she hadn’t met with any of her professors one-on-one for extra help, even though she admitted her classes were challenging.
I thought back to how I felt at the Rising Leaders Conference at the New York Hilton in May 2014. MLT Founder and CEO, John Rice, had briefed a captive MLT alumni audience about this new program being started with funding from the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative, a three-year, $50 million commitment to connect 100,000 low-income youth to economic opportunities through mentoring, civic engagement, summer employment and entrepreneurship training. I was energized by the announcement. But thought, what would that mean for us as MLT Rising Leaders?MLT Ascend has a targeted focus: low-income, first generation minority students with the drive, talent, and intellect to be admitted to college but who are also most at risk of not completing with a degree. The program harnesses the collective power of MLT Rising Leaders to serve as MLT Ascend Coaches to ensure that these students graduate prepared for professional careers that lead to long-term employment and financial stability. As a Rising Leader who has benefited from MLT’s professional coaching program, I am in a unique position to provide personalized guidance, encouragement, advice, and problem-solving support to an Ascend Scholar.


Natalie-Jones_02After our first year working together, helping my scholar develop a personal semester-by-semester roadmap for how to successfully navigate college and connecting her to other resources designed to help her realize her academic potential, I more fully understand the responsibility of my position as an MLT Ascend Coach. Throughout this past school year, I have helped my scholar become comfortable enough to schedule meetings with her professors and advocate for herself in conversations with her academic advisor; and I encouraged her to think proactively about career preparation while excelling in college. Without the structure of the MLT Ascend program, I don’t believe she would be thinking in that mindset. And as Rising Leaders, this is our additional commitment outside of our own career-related professional development to MLT.

Knowledge is power. All students can benefit greatly from a playbook early on in their college years, because the more the semesters pass, the harder it is to make up for lost time. So with a year under my belt, the impact I can continue to make is tangible for me now. I understand it. I’ve experienced it. So even though my scholar texted me to ask me to write a recommendation for her, she’s starting to grasp the bigger picture. She knows she has to put in the work and be disciplined about her future. And the work is never over for us either. No one gets to where they are without an advocate, and we’ve all experienced firsthand that coaching is MLT’s secret sauce. Paying it forward is a must-do, because the earlier these young college students are supported and guided, the more time they’ll have in the future to make their dreams a reality.

MLT Ascend is funded by generous support from the Citi Foundation and Executive Leadership Foundation.