Chris and Ashley Kirkwood founded The Kirkwood Foundation (“TKF”) to encourage diverse students to pursue high paying careers. Chris Kirkwood has dedicated his entire professional career to working with high school students and in so doing saw first-hand how the lack of exposure to diverse professional mentors informed students’ college and major selection. Ashley Kirkwood attributes her preliminary career success as an attorney to the guidance and tutelage of great professional mentors and the resources provided by her parents. It is TKF’s goal that through Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood’s combined experiences and the dedication of TKF’s volunteers, it can level the playing field for diverse students in under-resourced communities throughout the Chicagoland area.
Research from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University (“the GW Study”) shows that African-American students are more likely to choose majors that lead to low paying careers. In summarizing the GW Study, Kenya Downs, a digital reporter on race and education, noted, “African-Americans make up only a small percentage of some of the highest-paying of majors, including those in STEM and business. They’re only 8 percent of engineering, 7 percent of mathematics and 5 percent of computer science majors.” (See African-Americans Over-Represented Among Low-Paying College Majors, PBS, Tʜᴇ Rᴜɴᴅᴏᴡɴ) More troubling, “even those who do major in high-paying fields, typically choose the lowest paying major within them.” (See African-Americans Over-Represented Among Low-Paying College Majors, PBS, Tʜᴇ Rᴜɴᴅᴏᴡɴ)
TKF does not purport to know the solution to this widespread and far reaching issue, but in any event it seeks to address, at least part of the problem by exposing diverse students to mentors in a variety of careers, with a special emphasis on pairing students with mentors in STEM, legal, and medical careers. Through TKF’s programming, students learn the process for becoming a lawyer, doctor, engineer, and entrepreneur. Additionally, students meet diverse graduates of Ivy League and selective enrollment colleges. The goal here is simple: exposure that leads to opportunities, and opportunities that give our students choices. There is power in having options and we want our participants to know about all of the options available to them, not just those that they see day-to-day.