We had the good fortune of connecting with Elizabeth Paulus and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Elizabeth, we’d love to hear about a book that’s had an impact on you.
A few years ago my son Drew recommended a book to me, The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.  In it the author gives examples of seemingly dead ends in the pursuit of an important goal or vision.  Visions need persistence. Through persistence, a dead end becomes a puzzle to solve creatively, often with better results.  It’s a very short book with a message of encouragement for those determined souls. History is full of examples of them.  Michelangelo reminds us that, ‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.’ If you have a vision, be resolute, and you will find your way.  This has been a great encouragement to me over the last few years.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I became involved with helping low income students to college when our foreign exchange student from Brazil returned to her home country in 2009, leaving behind her dear friend with whom I remained connected. This local senior in high school asked for my help to complete financial aid paperwork to go to college.  The language was complex, first of all.  And recording the family income in the application was an eye-opener.  I learned even more as I stayed engaged throughout her first year of college. This very bright young lady would have met failure without intervention.  What I learned was the path to college is fraught with hidden obstacles sure to derail an unsuspecting student.  I found it very troubling because of the loss of human potential that results from sheer innocence. I decided that I needed to do something.  Together my husband and I founded College Bound AZ, a 501c3 to help low income students get to college.

One person trying to build an organization from the ground up so that is sustainable is hard work.  At the beginning, we partnered with Mesa United Way who incubated our program for five years to get us launched. I examined the whole college-going process and developed the 6-Step Critical Path to College and began designing lesson plans.  We always had a vision for a high school program but began with the 8th grade.  A junior high school principal opted to pilot my program where we are now beginning our eleventh year.  Various other schools have opted in over the course of time.  Many of those 8th graders are now in college or have already finished. The 6-Step Critical Path is found on our website www.collegeboundaz.org and there’s a poster online and a jeopardy-type game we use to

teach it.  The Junior RISE Scholars’ year results in students preparing their college-going resume, integrating the activities and accomplishments from our weekly program.  The resume reflects their career choice, grade point average, a placeholder for their future honors classes and scores from their future ACT or SAT tests, community service, extracurricular activities, awards, work experience, and references. This resume becomes their torch to the future since students have experienced for themselves the specific behaviors that will help them be college-ready.  We have beautiful posters depicting the 6-Step Critical Path to give out, and those interested can contact us.

 

After two years we added a high school component and had programs at three Mesa high schools. Two years later we moved our high school program to a weekend model to give students access to mentors. During this time, I completed my master’s degree in Education Leadership and completed the College Access Professional certificate through the AZ College Access Network. After several years using the weekend format, I took a leadership class through the Mesa Chamber of Commerce called the Chair Academy.  I learned that leaders need to “challenge the process”.  We had used the same high school model for seven years, but perhaps another approach would let us help more students.  In 2018, with the encouragement of my business coach through the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, I redesigned our high school program to leverage Arizona State University’s promise program.   

 

The promise program provides low income students, those that financially qualify for a Pell grant and who have a minimum 3.0 grade point average with four years paid tuition and fees. I presented the program, called RISE Scholars (Reaching Impact through Student Excellence), to Arizona State University and the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) for support in piloting it.  My education credentials, along with my years in management at the city of Phoenix and as a lieutenant colonel in the AZ Army National Guard, helped to forge the partnership that is now impacting many more First Generation students. EVIT’s programs touch so many.  They have students from 11 different school districts and various charter schools, some of which may not provide any college advisement to students.  Students attend eight one-hour sessions to complete the college-going process, including sessions on financial literacy, to better ensure their first-year college success.

 

During RISE Scholar’s pilot year, 24 students went to college, representing a 50% increase in student success over our former model.  In 2020, 54 students went to college, representing another 50% increase and $4.5 million in financial awards.  I expect the number to double again as we expand RISE Scholars to include students going on to community college, which is also free if a student financially qualifies for a Pell grant.  My goal is to get 500 underrepresented students to college each year.

 

Beyond college there is an opportunity for students to become the professional they have dreamed of becoming.  College provides that opportunity once you complete your degree.  The challenges to education for low income student do not stop when they get to college.  My good friend and mentor doctoral candidate Anthony Hernandez shared a 2017 Wisconsin Hope Lab study that he co-authored.  The study reported 13% of community college students are homeless, and over 60% face food insecurity.  College Bound AZ responded by contacting our closest community college to set up food and hygiene product deliveries to keep students in college to completion.  Ultimately, the program’s alumni would be the ongoing support system for the community college needs. Our three programs combined have us serving 650 low income students each month.  Several hundred students have gone to college because of our program’s support, and we have touched thousands.

RISE Scholars has succeeded, and it has been a challenge.  My bachelor’s degree from ASU is in Chemistry.  I was able to lean on experts to learn about cloud technology and customer relations

management systems to grow and keep up with technology.  After an initial grant from the AZ Department of Education, much of the funding for several years came from my family until my husband and I learned how to write successful grants.  I am a lifelong learner, a fundamental requirement for launching something original. Now I know I was meant for helping these children, even if they are 18 years old, to turn their dreams into degrees.

 

I have a wonderful and strong Board of Directors to work with.  It is so true that together we can go farther, and we work as a team very well.  I am very grateful for them and that our small group represents community members taking action to smooth out the path to higher education for a very vulnerable demographic.  One of my interests is traveling back east to search my family’s genealogy through original documents.  A couple years ago I was in Voluntown, CT reading the original records of community meetings from about 1760.  Because there was no government yet, they had to solve their issues among themselves.  Their grassroots efforts were all they had.  As Ghandi said, “Be the change in the world you want to see.”  Find your passion, and your passion will empower you.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?

We definitely have some “go to” places when friends and family comes to visit! Breakfast Eats. These include First Watch, Crackers and Company, The Biscuit House, and a favorite for years, George’s Wild Berries. I think I make the best pancakes from scratch around! For lunch or dinners, we like Waldo’s BBQ; Bobby Qs; Red, White and Brew; Lou’s Bar and Grill, Phoenix; Fate, Scottsdale; and Uncle Bears. Then there’s the fun places to go and sometimes those are eating venues as well. When our family wants to get all of us together, we go to Organ Stop Pizza; it’s so fun! Friends like to visit during Spring Training, so we would definitely take in a game or two and make sure to try Chuck’s Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich while in the park. To show people the beauty of the desert, we drive to Saguaro Lake, eat at the diner, then take a boat tour around the lake. Old Town Scottsdale is a good bet for shopping and walking along the canal there, then eating at Bandera’s, which was the site of our first date 20 years ago! The Gilbert Water Parks are close to home and a wonderful place to walk, as well as Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Both make such a visual impact with our guests. A little farther out of town, we have to take many trips to the Grand Canyon to show off our state’s iconic Grand Canyon. There’s so many more places, but these are where we go most often with visitors.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

I’d like to recognize the Mesa and Gilbert Chambers of Commerce. Through the Chambers I uncovered a plethora of resources which have been just as integral. to 10 years of success as the heart and hustle piece. If you’re not a Chamber member, you’ve missed! And there’s no question that my shoutout is dedicated to my mentor and husband of 20 years, Gerald Paulus. In a marriage, your lives are so intertwined that wherever it is you aspire to reach, you both have to be on board for the journey. My husband truly is, and has in fact pushed me on when I didn’t want to go on. A nonprofit is a corporation, with all the complexities that go with running a business. To be honest, it would not have succeeded for 10 years on just my skills alone. We both have long-term backgrounds in municipal government and in the military which provided the foundation for this undertaking. A nonprofit though, requires more than strong fundamentals. Like a business, it requires heart and hustle, which my husband gives freely. He models the mantra, “Let’s get this done!” Gerald is also a model of compassion for others, and they just don’t come any finer.

Website: https://www.collegeboundaz.org/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CD7WdlGH_QE/?igshid=1v7f4xm1lbw01
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-paulus-4540a499/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CollegeBound_AZ
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CollegeBoundMesa
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAdbQnJZLGIDiMXq2VSBYbg

Image Credits
Elizabeth Paulus, Gerald Paulus, Drew Trojanowski