Project raises awareness about education disparity

MIDDLEBURY — While the number of college graduates is on the rise, low-income students are less likely to hold a degree than their wealthier peers.
Meghan Mason, a Middlebury resident and Middlebury College staff member, is launching a campaign to fund a project she hopes will raise awareness about the challenges some high school students face when it comes to getting a college education.
Mason works in the study abroad office at Middlebury College and is raising $5,000 to earn a spot with the Millennial Trains Project, a Washington, D.C.-based startup that aims to empower young people to advance innovative projects in local communities through 10-day transcontinental train journeys. Patrick Dowd, a 26-year-old Fulbright scholar who had done similar group-building programs on trains in India, founded the startup.
Mason hopes to join 39 other “Millennials” (people age 18-34) on the startup’s inaugural journey from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., from Aug. 8-17. The train will serve as an “innovation lab,” hosting mentors from a variety of professions and 40 young entrepreneurs hoping to build the skill sets necessary to complete their projects. To join the trip, Mason must raise $5,000 in support of her project this month.
The goal of Mason’s project is to put a human face to the challenges that low-income students face when it comes to access to college opportunities. She said she hopes her project “will make the broad statistics that much more real and relatable to hear about the triumphs, tribulations and everyday lives of the people I’ll meet on this journey.”
She will update a blog during each day of the journey, and upon the trip’s end, write an article so administrators and academics can understand the issue better. She is particularly excited at the prospect of meeting Jeff Salingo, an editor-at-large for the Chronicle of Higher Education, one of her favorite publications.
Dowd, the Millennial Trains Project founder and CEO, said in a statement that Mason’s project would be an excellent fit for the trip.
“Meghan’s project exemplifies the sort of exploration, shared discovery, and learning that MTP is designed to support,” Dowd said. “MTP is a real-world platform for the next generation to explore their personal, professional, and creative frontiers on a national scale — and to better understand our country in the process.”
Mason’s passion for higher education access stems from her own roots. She grew up just outside of Akron, Ohio, and attended Ohio’s Miami University before pursuing her M.A. at Ohio State. She counts herself lucky that she had a role model in her life — her mother — who encouraged her to continue her education. But she also recalls many peers who did not continue on to college, and her own self-doubt when personal situations made her question whether college would be a financially feasible option.
She loves her work at Middlebury College but is constantly reminded, as she helps students determine the best study abroad fit, what an opportunity being at an institution like Middlebury really is. She credits the college for the outreach it does in recruiting lower-income students. But, she says, there is always more work to be done.
“I want more qualified students to get far enough in their education to make those privileged decisions,” she said.

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