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"Pushy moms" help underprivileged students find path to top colleges

"Pushy Moms"
"Pushy Moms" help students in need transfer to top colleges 05:05

To highlight how Americans have more in common than recent headlines might suggest, “CBS This Morning” has launched a new series, “A More Perfect Union,” to share stories of people coming together. We begin with a group of women who call themselves the “pushy moms.” After helping their children get into good colleges, they’re now applying those skills to help less-privileged students.

Most of the students at LaGuardia Community College come from families earning less than $25,000 a year. Many are first-generation college students, and some are there for a second chance after dropping out of other schools.

For those interested in transferring to a four-year college, it can be an overwhelming process. That’s where the “pushy moms” come in, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

At a diner in Queens, Peire Wilson listens to advice that may help him reach his goal of becoming an entertainment lawyer. Big dreams require attention to small details.

“Not only is this a safety school, it might be a good strategy school,” explained his “pushy mom, Melanie Rose. 

“Yeah, it’s a good strategy school,” said Wilson, a student at LaGuardia Community College.

“You need to know whether or not you’ve hit the send button and when you did that,” Rose said.

“Right,” Wilson said.

Rose runs through a checklist of college essays he’ll have to write, and application she’ll have to submit.

“Every school’s going to ask for some references,” Rose explained to Wilson.

But he can’t get that guidance at home.

“This is uncharted territory for anybody in my family. I’m kind of the trailblazer along the way. So, I have to be the guinea pig,” Wilson said.

“And you want to do it right,” Miller said.

“And I want to do it right. I’m going to do it right,” Wilson said.

Rose is one of 10 women at LaGuardia Community College who is using the experience of pushing their own kids into college to help other students follow that same path.

The school’s chief engagement officer, Karen Dubinsky, started the Pushy Moms Program two years ago.

“What our kids had that these kids don’t is the basic confidence that they were going to go to college,” Dubinsky said. “So meeting deadlines, getting everything in order, without somebody pushing them, is very hard. Without someone saying, ‘Did you get that essay in?’ Or, ‘When is that due?’ ‘Do you need to take a test?’ And they say, ‘Oh, thank you for telling me that.’”

The volunteers have helped about 40 students. Some have transferred to schools like Columbia, UC Berkeley, Miami and Smith College in Massachusetts. 

That’s where Zoraida Colon studies sociology, after connecting with a pushy mom in 2014. 

“What did she give you that you didn’t have?” Miller asked.

“Just the insight to know that I can move forward, and that a lot of times, coming from a community college, you might feel like less than or you might feel like, ‘I’m not prepared for this big private school that has a great name.’ But just support and just being empathetic as well and knowing – but also not too empathetic,” Colon said. “She gives you a little bit like, a nudge, like your mom.”

“She was rough,” Miller said.

“Yeah. Like your mom. Like, ‘You can do this. This is what you need to do. These are the steps that you need to take,’ and just laying it out,” Colon said.

Her mentor, Jan Raymond, came up to Massachusetts with a CBS News team from New York. It was the first time they’d seen each other since Colon switched schools.

“Her experience prior to coming to Smith was such that the road to get here was longer. Right?” Raymond said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Colon agreed, nodding.

“Wouldn’t you say?” Raymond asked.

“Yes,” Colon said.

“And so when you see her and you see what she’s done… are you a – just not a pushy mom, but a proud, pushy mom?” Miller asked.

“Of course,” Raymond said.

In addition to sharing their expertise, pushy moms said they provide something else many of these students lack – expectations.  

“When someone is setting a bar for you, your natural inclination is to want to reach that bar and to reach that goal. And our students, by and large, really do,” said Pamela Weinberg, a pushy mom.

So as Peire Wilson figures out where to go from here, he can take comfort in knowing he’s headed in the right direction. 

“So confidence is what you’re looking for?” Miller asked.

“Yeah, just a little bit, just a little bit. I feel like I’m already a confident guy, but that little added touch, that mom’s touch, it helps a lot,” Wilson said.

“I say all the time, ‘I don’t know who gets more out of the program: the student or me,’” Rose said.

“Why is that?” Miller asked.

“It’s an amazing feeling. You know, I’m not necessarily changing someone’s life, but I’m impacting their life. And to me, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Rose said.

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