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Torrence Robinson is the incoming senior director for community affairs at the Fluor Corp. in Irving, where his work will include dealing with education challenges. The Allen resident already has plenty of experience in the world of education because his off-duty job is The Compelling Why, an organization he founded to help “students of promise” realize their dreams. That job consumes his weekends and other free time. Points recently asked him to explain his organization, its impact and his vision.

What is The Compelling Why?

The Compelling Why produces seminars for middle and high school “students of promise.” These are students in the academic middle who with the right motivation and encouragement can maximize their academic potential.

How do you identify “students of promise?”

Students of promise are generally those students school staff has identified as not being actively engaged through extra-curricular activities. They achieve grades below their capability. And they could benefit from adult role models.

Once you identify these kids, what happens? Do they get an invitation to a seminar?

The Compelling Why works directly with district and campus leadership to identify students who are then invited to one of our seminars. We believe there is value, particularly in our local community, in exposing students to role models – business and community leaders, entrepreneurs – who mirror them in terms of gender and ethnicity.

For example, we will work with the district to identify African-American male students to attend our seminar that features African-American male role models. We have done the same for Hispanic males and females and African-American female students.

For Dallas Independent School District students, seminars were held at Southern Methodist University. For Richardson Independent School District students, seminars were held at the University of Texas at Dallas. Exposing students to the college environment is the type of academic expectations CW wants to provide.

A typical seminar consists of a 90-minute discussion, a campus tour and participation in the “Opportunity Fair.” The Opportunity Fair – think of it like a college career fair – is where we invite education and youth service organizations that provide academic enrichment or promote the college-going culture to share their information with our students. The objective is to get them to enroll.

There are already plenty of academic and life-skill enrichment opportunities available in our schools and communities. And they can support the overall education mission.

To date, our partners have included AVID, Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., Education is Freedom, Group Excellence and the Urban League.

Which DISD schools participate?

We are in these high schools: Bryan Adams, Adamson, Carter, Conrad, Kimball, Roosevelt, Skyline and South Oak Cliff.

We intend to expand to middle schools.

And what kind of results are you seeing?

To date, we have reached 836 students during seven seminars.

Our main objective is to increase the number of students engaged in school- and community-based programs that provide academic enrichment and promote the college-going culture. Our window for making an impact is about two school semesters. That allows time for students to enroll in electives where enrollment is once per year.

It is still too early to make a definitive assessment. We have also defined ways to assess changes in student attitudes resulting from their experience with The Compelling Why. We are in the process of analyzing surveys now.

So, you started this on your own?

Yes. I was inspired to put into action an idea I had been hanging onto after attending an SMU seminar on new ideas that could change the world. Today, CW is a nonprofit corporation, with a fiscal sponsorship arrangement with The Dallas Foundation that allows donors to make tax-deductible contributions until CW establishes its own 501c(3).

CW benefits from the work and passion of our board of directors and more than 50 volunteers, including professionals from various parts of the business world, as well as university staff and students. Organizations that have contributed in-kind services, volunteer or financial support include AMS Pictures, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Frito Lay, Haynes and Boone, Southern Methodist University, Texas Instruments and UT-Dallas.

How do you plan to keep it going?

There is no doubt that it will be a challenge. This effort is in addition to my full-time career. With that said, we will raise additional dollars and recruit more volunteers and education and youth service organizations to create the capacity for growth and sustainability.

CW envisions itself as a facilitator that can direct students of promise to the resources of our program partners. We will help reinforce the personal roadmap needed for success – valuing education, self-motivation, personal responsibility and active engagement – so students are motivated to maximize their potential.

This Q&A was conducted, condensed and edited by Dallas Morning News editorial columnist William McKenzie. His e-mail address is wmckenzie@dallasnews.com. View the original article at https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2010/12/10/point-person-our-qanda-with-torrence-robinson

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