Aaron Mallory, AM candidate 2015, has a vision for helping disadvantaged youth succeed in high school and college, and his studies at the School of Social Service Administration are helping make his concept a reality.
During his senior year at Southern Illinois University, Mallory noticed that some minority students, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, were struggling. He developed a program called Success 101 that taught first-year students such skills as the importance of going to class, engaging with faculty, and turning in assignments on time.
He noted that many of these students were the first in their families to attend college and lacked guidance in how to succeed. His class paid off as first-year students enrolled in Success 101 earned average GPAs of 2.8 compared to similar students not in the program who had average GPAs of 1.4.
That success changed the direction of Mallory’s life. “I had planned a career in electrical engineering, but after seeing how Success 101 helped students, I realized I had found my calling.”
Following graduation, Mallory, returned to the Chicago area determined to build on his success. He founded Guide Right Organization (GRO), a nonprofit that delivers education preparedness to disadvantaged students. “My goal is to offer the best evidenced-based life skills training to disadvantaged youth and families nationwide. I would like to have an organization in every inner city in the country.”
He learned, however, in searching for funding that a good idea was not enough to generate financial support. He persevered and four years ago received his first opportunity. “I will never forget the feeling of getting my first paycheck for my company and my idea,” he said.
Mallory planned for success, adding locations and staff. Now, in its fourth year, GRO has 11 employees and 501 (c) 3 Status. In addition, he realized the need for an advanced degree to expand his knowledge.
As he researched schools of social work, “I quickly realized the best one was right in my backyard at the University of Chicago. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I only wanted SSA.”
Mallory began his studies at the University through the Graduate-Student-at-Large program at the Graham School that allows students to take graduate-level courses for credit. He enrolled in SSA’s Administrative Methods taught by Lecturer Shaun Lane to study the challenges of managing nonprofits.
Administrative Methods was just the first of the helpful courses Mallory has found at SSA. Another is Social Interventions: Policies and Programs with Associate Professor Scott Allard. “It was my first class as an SSA student. Professor Allard was so energetic and enthusiastic. Classes were like a conversation.
“SSA has changed the way I think. I spend more time researching programs and evidence-based models. Additionally, it has shown me different service models and ways of being effective. And the expectation for rigorous analysis in my writing is preparing me for the professional world. In fact, the final in my policy class was to write a policy brief; it is very much like writing a grant application.”
Also preparing him for his career are his field placements. In his first, Mallory provided education about the Affordable Care Act to residents on Chicago’s west side. In his second year, he is working with BUILDChicago.org (Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development) where he expects to learn more about nonprofit operations and structures.
Mallory also has a part-time position at UCAN, which supports youth in foster care, and continues hands-on leadership at GRO, where he currently focuses on establishing mentorships that provide positive perspectives to 13-15 year-old youths to overcome the negative ones in music and media.
“I bring students to SSA and the Reg (Regenstein Library) so they can see the campus. Most of them are from the South Side and have never seen the University. My goal is to get them out of their environments, to see themselves here, to see that hard work pays off, and to know that others have done it and they can too."
Recently, Mallory got a call from a young man from one of GRO’s earlier programs. “He called to tell me he had a 3.8 GPA at the end of his first semester in college. My hope is to have thousands of young men call their mentors after their first semesters and announce they have 3.8 GPAs.”