When Madeline Kerner, CEO of Matriculate, looked to the NationSwell Council community, she found practical advice, meaningful connections, new board members and financial support for her organization. All of this meant more well-deserving teens could apply to the college that best matched their talent.

We spoke to Kerner over the phone to talk about how we’ve been able to support her in her mission. Here’s what she had to say.

NationSwell: We’re so excited to chat with you, Madeline! Tell us about your work at Matriculate. 

Matriculate’s Madeline Kerner: Our mission is to empower high-achieving, low income high school students to make the leap to our nation’s best colleges. There are many students — up to 35,000 every year across the nation — who have done everything that anyone could ever ask a high school student in spite of incredibly challenging circumstances, all while maintaining high GPAs and standardized test scores.

We know that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.

NS: There are so many students who might benefit from this work. How has your NationSwell Council membership supported you in pursuing this mission? 

MK: There are many ways!

We held a Strategic Advisory Group that brought together smart and knowledgeable Council member who shared their expertise and helped us think through some core challenges. Their advise was so valuable, and the generous investment of their time has really paid off. One member in attendance had expertise on how we can share our message, and he’s really gone to work for us: He made some meaningful introductions to other advisors and funders, persuaded me to attend a conference and offered to pitch a story on us.

Separately, I met a fellow Council member at the NationSwell Summit who has since joined our Board of Directors and been able to support our work. She’s been an incredible advocate. Another Council member joined our Advisory Board after my community manager made an introduction, and has been a real shaper and influencer of the organization as we think about our strategic plan and our future direction. There’s absolutely no way I would have met them without NationSwell.

My membership has also helped build our network, and get to know other folks who have solutions that are driving change so that I can learn from them, network in their communities and get access to different perspectives. Because of my membership, I’ve learned how other organizations have built their brand and spread the word in their own communities.

As a small organization focused on impact, we have kept our heads down to just do the work well — but I’ve valued from watching other Council members tell their stories and having the opportunity to tell mine and get feedback.

“We know that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.” – Madeline Kerner

I also wanted to note that I’m excited about the NationSwell Next initiative. I’m sending one of Matriculate’s head advising fellows to NationSwell’s Summit West. She’s at Berkeley and is a real youth leader and a powerful voice for equity and access in higher education. And she’ll be having the opportunity to meet the community. I appreciate the ways NationSwell is helping young people to plug in and build their communities and networks as they envision the change they want to have.

NS: What’s next for you and Matriculate, and how do you anticipate NationSwell working in service of your future goals?

We are five years into our work and currently have a community of more than one thousand undergraduates supporting nearly 5,000 high school students across the nation. We are launching a three year-plan with three areas of focus:

  1. Refining our model to maximize impact
  2. Deepening our continuous learning practices, including with a focus on social capital transfer and our students’ sense of belonging
  3. Strengthening the organization to sustain long-term impact.

As we embark on this next phase, we plan to draw wisdom from the NationSwell community, and hope to expand our network in service of these goals.

This emphasis on continuous learning with a focus on social capital comes in part from a qualitative study by Dr. Katie Lynk Wartman to better understand our near-peer relationship model. Wartman found that undergraduate Advising Fellows build authentic and trusting relationships with their high school students, making them uniquely positioned to influence high school students’ college application and enrollment decisions. Dr. Wartman found that through this relationship, college students transfer social capital to their high school students.

NationSwell is always trying to learn more about how we’ve supported our Council members in their efforts to make the world a better place. If we helped you, we’d love to hear more about it. Let us know.