Community//

Michael J. Carter of ‘Strive for College’: “Talk less, listen more”

What I am focused on next is building a stronger, more equitable college-to-career pipeline. Most companies know that a diverse workforce produces better products and services, but, too often, the traditional ways that big companies have advertised jobs have failed to source diversity. At Strive, we have an incredibly diverse population of smart, ambitious, hard-working […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

What I am focused on next is building a stronger, more equitable college-to-career pipeline. Most companies know that a diverse workforce produces better products and services, but, too often, the traditional ways that big companies have advertised jobs have failed to source diversity. At Strive, we have an incredibly diverse population of smart, ambitious, hard-working students who would be thrilled to have the opportunity to interview at a Fortune 500, and we have partnerships with several big companies. We’re working to create a model where Strive students and partners both benefit from access to the other.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael J. Carter.

Michael J. Carter founded Strive for College while a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis where he received a full-tuition merit scholarship as an Annika Rodriguez Scholar. While there, Michael taught at-risk middle school youth, ran Strive for College, interned at Google and a venture capital firm, and conducted public policy research and analysis at American Enterprise Institute. During these years, he also studied at Oxford University in England, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and wrote his senior honors thesis on a history of admissions to elite universities in the U.S. and UK. Michael graduated cum laude in 2010.
 
His work with Strive has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, TIME, Education Week, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He has spoken on various panels, including at the Brookings Institution and Chicago Ideas Week. Michael was named a 2011 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2012 Bluhm Helfand Social Innovation Fellow, a 2013 CNN Hero, Forbes 30 Under 30, and one of The Gentry Top 50 Philanthropists, a list which also included Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison.
 
Michael is also the Founder of UStrive Inc., an innovative virtual mentoring technology platform. Michael is active in investing in and advising emerging technology companies in Silicon Valley.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I built Strive because of my grandparents, who worked two jobs each so that my mother could be the first one in our family to go to college. When I was little, I once proclaimed to my grandfather that anyone could go to college, and in response, he called me a “menso,” which is Spanish for moron. He knew what I didn’t yet: there are many barriers that keep disenfranchised youth from expressing their full potential. As I grew older and realized that my grandfather was right, I became committed to doing something about it.

I created Strive from my college dorm room during my freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis. I led a pilot that matched WashU students as mentors with students at a nearby high school. The school was in an economically depressed area, and only 3% of its students went on to a four-year college or university. After a year of working 1:1 with the mentors on college and financial aid applications, nearly 90% of the school’s seniors were heading to four-year institutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I was really young when I started Strive, and within just a few years, we were ready to talk to investors about making substantial donations to reach more students. On more than one occasion, the potential partner asked where “Mr. Carter” was, not realizing that the young boy standing in front of them was Mr. Carter. They may have had lowered expectations after realizing Strive’s CEO was young, but once they learned about our impact on disadvantaged students, they became convinced that Strive was a good investment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was pitching a potential supporter. Ever enthusiastic, I told her all about Strive and the good work we were doing. Finally, she looked at me and said, “Do you ever shut up? You talked at me for twenty minutes, yet you don’t know why I took this meeting, what motivates me, or anything else about me. Why don’t you ask me some questions?”

It was one of the greatest lessons I ever learned: listen before you talk. Now, any time I’m having a conversation with a potential investor or partner, the first thing I do is ask what they’re passionate about and why they agreed to take a meeting about Strive.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Strive is revolutionizing one-to-one mentoring by making it virtual. Students from anywhere in the US can connect with volunteer mentors anywhere in the US, and because all communication takes place on Strive’s online platform, it can be more easily monitored by staff than is the case in in-person models. Strive’s scalability is a strength at all times, but this year it was absolutely crucial: when COVID-19 hit the US in the spring, Strive was ready to serve the 600% increase in student engagement on our platform.

Strive operates on a scale unmatched by other college access organizations. We are the only college access organization to serve students in all 50 states, and over the past four years, over 1.2 million students have opted in for a Strive mentor.

Strive collaborates with other organizations working in the college access and persistence space, including national organizations like The Common Application and College Board, as well as more regional organizations like Peer Forward and Michigan Hispanic Collaborative. Our partnerships with other nonprofits help us reach more students and improve the services we offer students. For example, with College Board, we co-wrote a curriculum for students and mentors to use to find answers to some of the most questions students were asking most frequently in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without a doubt, though, the best evidence of the impact that Strive is making is the stories of individual Strive students. A young woman whose family only had one mattress who is now going to her dream college. A Haitian-American immigrant who was the first in his family to attend college. There are so many good stories. That’s what motivates me, every day.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Frances Maher is a mentee who was paired with Bill Copeland, Vice Chairman of US Life Sciences at Deloitte. Frances was accepted on a near-full ride scholarship to Brandeis University, and throughout her time in undergrad kept up her relationship with Bill Copeland. Through a connection, Bill helped Frances receive a summer internship at NIH. Frances is now giving back and mentoring additional Strive for College students and continued giving back through her initiative UniSelfCare, which Frances co-founded to build virtual community and fight mental health stigma. I’m proud that Strive for College helps open doors for thousands of students like Frances each year.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I am focused on a single mission that we can achieve together as a society: use technology to democratize social capital. With the Strive platform, we connect students who traditionally have not had access to the types of experiences that often result in financial stability and social agency–such as going to college and participating in internships–with people who can help them break into those spaces.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is about making decisions. The problem with many people today is that no one wants to be responsible for making decisions. Leaders analyze information and listen to colleagues, then they make a decision without waffling. If you’re wrong, you can pivot. Second, leaders surround themselves, in business or whatever initiative they’re in charge of, with great people, then give them autonomy. If you’re micromanaging, you’re not leading, you’re stifling.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Slowly then suddenly: everything happens more slowly than you’d like at the beginning, then it all comes into place. Have patience to get to the end.

Talk less, listen more.

Empower others. In the beginning of Strive, I wanted to do it all, but over time, I’ve learned to empower others.

Forgive and move on. If you spend time thinking about how someone has wronged you or owes you, you’re wasting time.

Have fun! We like to end all our staff meetings with a big, “Strive five!”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What I am focused on next is building a stronger, more equitable college-to-career pipeline. Most companies know that a diverse workforce produces better products and services, but, too often, the traditional ways that big companies have advertised jobs have failed to source diversity. At Strive, we have an incredibly diverse population of smart, ambitious, hard-working students who would be thrilled to have the opportunity to interview at a Fortune 500, and we have partnerships with several big companies. We’re working to create a model where Strive students and partners both benefit from access to the other.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My papa said, “Tell me who you’re with, and I’ll tell you who you are.” I always think about that, whoever I’m with, both in business and personally. Who you spend your time with is who you become.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sal Khan from Khan Academy. He made it possible for people to learn from one of the greatest teachers of all time. If he had made Khan Academy a for-profit company, he could have made billions, but he wanted to reach people who needed it the most. He is very mission oriented. He’s built something of incredible value to millions of people. At Strive, hope to build a platform that gives hope to millions of people, too.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter @Strive4C

LinkedIn Strive for College

Facebook @StriveforCollege

Instagram@strive4c

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Community//

Remote Internships Are Here To Change The Face of Inclusive Hiring

by Matt Wilkerson
Well-Being//

Fortune 100 Executive, Valerie Love, Chats Leadership, Wellness, And Inclusion

by Angelina Darrisaw
Community//

Quinton Carter: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending:”

by Ben Ari
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.