While tutoring a 15-year-old homeless student with a learning disability and few interpersonal skills, Sarai Koo recognized the importance of education to the future success of disadvantaged youth. In one semester, her charge went from earning C's, D's, and F's to A's and B's. He later graduated high school and decided to pursue higher education, a path that Koo believes is critical to improving one's circumstances.
"Education is the gatekeeper," she says. "You need to get skills, knowledge, and opportunities to move forward."
The experience inspired Koo, an M.A. student in human development at the time, to conduct more research into how she could help other homeless students turn their lives around.
She wrote her thesis, Homeless Youth: Succeeding in School, and her findings-that basic necessities and a mentor are critical, and educators should never count out students who seem hopeless, among others-prompted a new career devoted to helping students transform their lives.
After graduating from Pacific Oaks, Koo started Maps 4 College, a community-based holistic organization that has helped more than 3,000 students prepare for college and life through college counseling, financial literacy and communication skills, personal development, and academic preparation.
"We provide access and a pipeline for people to improve their lives," says Koo, who is also pursuing a doctoral degree in education. "Youth and adults find a voice in our program that liberates them from their prior learning constraints, so that they can actively engage in shaping their own future, leave behind their past worries and concerns, and look forward towards what lies ahead."