Jeff Nelson

BHSI Fellow Update: OneGoal’s Jeff Nelson

Applications for the 2014 Bluhm-Helfand Social Innovation Fellowship opened this week, and we’ll be profiling the social innovators, civic leaders and creative thinkers who make up the ranks of BHSI alum.  And if you’re a social entrepreneur 35 years old or younger with a civic venture that is helping re-shape our society for the better, apply to be a 2014 BHSI Fellow here.
2011 BHSI Fellow Jeff Nelson is Co-Founder and CEO of OneGoal, a teacher-led organization that strives to empower low-income high school students to reach their full potential and graduate from college.  We caught up with Nelson, whose organization has grown immensely in impact and influence—having recently been featured in Paul Tough’s bestseller How Children Succeed—since we first met him at CIW 2011.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Nelson.
Tell us a little more about OneGoal and the results its curriculum has had on college retention rates.
The OneGoal course is grounded in a 1,400-page curriculum that focuses on developing noncognitive skills,  improving academic performance in core high school classes and standardized tests, enrolling in a match college and succeeding during the critical first year of college. We provides the district’s highest performing teachers—those already working in and paid by high-poverty high schools—with training and support to teach the OneGoal course to low-income students, offered every day of junior year and senior year of high school. The students, teachers and content move online during freshmen year of college to bridge the gap between high school and college and ensure students persist to graduation with the tools, habits, and confidence to succeed on their own. This spring, OneGoal will serve 2,500 students in two markets, Chicago and Houston, through its corps of 70-plus high-performing teachers trained to deliver the OneGoal course to high school students. To date, 87 percent of OneGoal’s high school graduates have enrolled in college, in some cases at rates more than double the local average for students matching at similar tiers. Of the OneGoal students who enroll, 85 percent are persisting in college or have graduated with a college degree.
What did you gain from your experience as a BHSI Fellow?
It was a pleasure to be selected as a BHSI Fellow. I gained strategic support on scaling our model and impact, tremendous exposure and a broadened network and a cadre of new colleagues who brought important perspective and insights into my work with OneGoal. We have maintained the relationships built through BHSI; many of these folks continue to be supporters and valuable collaborators to our organization today.
Tell us about your next steps.  What do you have planned for OneGoal in the coming year and how can the CIW community help?
First, OneGoal has committed to grow to serve 5,000 students annually in five markets by 2017, with plans to launch our program in a third region on July 1, 2014.  OneGoal will also prioritize innovations that not only work for the student population we directly serve but that also have systemic implications for all students. And to augment our efforts, we commit to work alongside K-12 partners and the broader higher education community to disseminate and replicate the lessons we collectively learn in order to move the needle for all students across the country. CIW can help us spread the word about expansion throughout Chicago, our flagship and biggest region. We will need many partners to ensure that students in our city receive the resources they need and deserve to achieve college graduation.
What advice would you give future BHSI Fellows and CIW attendees to ensure they get the most out of Ideas Week?
My advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity and conversation that are part of BHSI. Be a sponge—BHSI creators Leslie Blum and David Helfand, in particular, gave great advice, and our investment in creating a strong Talk provided talking points and footage that we used and shared with folks for years after my fellowship.
Q&As are edited for clarity and length. 

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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