Meet the Leadership of an organization that provides access to transformational educational experiences that empower 200+ underserved, high-achieving students to graduate from top colleges and emerge with skills and confidence to have a lasting impact.

Lauren O’Shaughnessy, Board Chair

What brought you to REACH Prep?

” I was introduced to REACH Prep during the Annual Luncheon in 2017.The speaker that year was Sonia Manzano (or you may remember her as “Maria” on Sesame Street). She was incredibly dynamic and spoke to the heart about what it’s like growing up in a community that doesn’t have excellent access to education, but given the encouragement of some special teachers, was able to gain access to a performing arts school, which ultimately led to a scholarship at Carnegie Mellon. This is not unlike what our students go through. Often, through the mentorship of certain teachers, who are familiar with our program, we can identify students who are excellent additions. Listening to Sonia speak, followed by our youngest Cohort getting up on stage, and hearing the excitement from current scholars in the audience, the whole luncheon struck a chord in me, and I knew I needed to be involved. “

I co-chaired the 2018 Luncheon and was one of the original members of the newly formed “Junior Council,” (now called the Associate Board), and transitioned to a Board role in 2019-2020. With my previous experience as an event planner, I brought my own expertise in terms of events and fundraising opportunities, thus adding an annual event for the Junior Council, and later events to follow like the Virtual 5K during COVID and the annual Golf and Tennis outing.

Tell us about your educational experience and how it relates to the students at REACH Prep.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a district with wonderful public schools, but I decided to move to an independent high school, strictly because I needed a change. Like most of our scholars, who advocate for themselves, I knew it was time for me to move on and join a more competitive landscape. I attended a private, all-girls school and then headed to the University of Notre Dame for college. Education has always been an important part of my upbringing. Being involved with REACH has brought to light how incredibly easy it was for me to make these personal education decisions, which I took for granted.

What are your plans and goals for your time as Chair of REACH Prep?

Where do I begin? There are so many opportunities for growth at REACH, but for the next couple of years, I want to focus on strengthening the opportunities we offer to our Scholars. That begins with our youngest Cohort in Prep Academy to our college graduates. Prep Academy does an excellent job of preparing our youngest students for their journey at independent schools, these children are going to school 5 days per week in the summer, and every Saturday during the school year. How do we infuse more fun into this? A recent donor suggested a sports program. Yes – let’s do it. Most students who attend independent schools or are attending schools in well-funded districts have plenty of access to every sport imaginable. Some of our scholars have never picked up a lacrosse stick or tried on a pair of ice skates. This type of program would help
immensely with the social integration for our Scholars when they begin at their new schools.

How about internships? Yes – let’s do that, too. This means working with many people
in our community as well as corporate partnerships that we can tap into for different volunteer and internship opportunities for our high school and college aged Scholars. REACH has worked well for the past 29 years, but as we enter our 30 th , I would like us to get to a point where we are fully sustainable. It’s always incredible to me that we work on a strict budget with 11 full time staff. Imagine the programs and opportunities we can offer our students with more funding and more staff!

Tell us about how you and Candice collaborate and how you’ve been working together in your first 6 months in the role.

From the moment I saw Candice’s resume, I knew that there was something special that she could bring to REACH. While going through the months long interview process, Candice’s candidacy kept coming back to the top of the pile. Obviously, Candice brings a wealth of knowledge of the space with her time at Prep for Prep and Harlem Children’s Zone, she also brings an incredible passion for our mission, which you just can’t teach.

Over the past 6 months, I have seen her step into this role as if she’s always been there. The staff respects her immensely, and while she certainly has an agenda for how our organization should run, she also brings the fun. She knows the best way you can get people to be passionate about their jobs is by making it feel like it isn’t a job.

We have an incredible mutual respect, and we can laugh at many things as well as put our heads down and get to work. It’s an excellent partnership and I consider her a colleague as well as a friend.

You must be thrilled that the REACH Prep Annual Luncheon is on!

We are excited to bring back our Annual Luncheon this April for the first time since 2019. Like I mentioned before, this is the event that got me involved with REACH in a meaningful way, and this event builds an awareness for what we do more than anything else. It is so special to be present with our scholars, our scholars’ families, partner schools, and donors in one space. We hope you’ll join us!

Dr. Candice Clawson – Executive Director

What brought you to REACH Prep? Tell us about your career experience leading up to REACH and about your education.  It looks, from your resume, that you were born to be in this role?

“I grew up in a household where science and technology were the career focus of my parents, so naturally I wanted nothing to do with that. When I was deciding what to study in college Business seemed to be a natural fit because I was organized, process oriented, and decisive. When I started coursework in school I landed on Management because at 18, I thought it would give me the credentials and qualifications to boss people around for the rest of my life. In hindsight, that may not have been wholly accurate. During college is when I discovered my love of higher education. It’s one of those careers you don’t know is an option until you are immersed. I thought I would be a Dean of Students and then a University President, which I suppose is not off the table, but began a career path toward that goal. “

After I got my Masters in Higher Education from Columbia, I spent the better part of decade amassing different experiences within higher education and eventually was drawn to equity and access work. That led me to a 5-year stint at Prep for Prep, where I got to engage with hundreds of students at colleges across the country and developed a deep understanding of the multitude of experiences scholars face. After Prep, I was brought into the Harlem Children’s Zone to lead and revamp their Center for Higher Education and Career Support and spent 3 years there building a sustainable college readiness to career attainment pipeline for over 2,000 participants annually. Working at that size and scope was like running a small organization within a larger community and I learned so many valuable lessons about relationship building, staff development, and the very real issues faced by students of color in the American education system. The totality of my experiences personally and professionally, made success in the REACH Prep role a possibility. I know that I have had the privilege of education and access to resources my entire life, and I feel incredibly lucky to make substantive impact to ensure the intergenerational cycles that have impacted communities of color are reduced and hopefully one day,
totally eradicated.
Where did you grow up?  Did you attend an independent school?

I grew up all over the place. I lived in Trumbull from birth until 5 th grade and attended Middlebrook School. Both of my parents work in pharmaceuticals, my mother is microbiologist, and my father works in production optimization. Both of their careers took off around that time, so we did a fair bit of moving for their professional pursuits. First, we lived in El Paso, Texas, then Upland, California, after that Greeley, Colorado and then we settled into Sicklierville, NJ where I finished high school. At the time I
didn’t like all the moving because it was hard to be the new kid in so many places. Now that I am older, I see it as a strength. I am adaptable, able to find commonality with people quickly, and have experienced many different ways of life regionally and culturally that provides a deep appreciation for people, the human condition, and the rich diversity of this country. Now that social media is so popular, I am back in touch with many of my friends from my many homes and it’s been a real joy to have connections everywhere.

I did not attend independent school, I have always been fortunate enough to live in well-funded districts where the public schools were highly rated and I’m grateful for that. One of the many reasons REACH Prep exists is because so many of our scholars do not have high quality local schools as an option, and it underpins the division in our education system by race and socioeconomic class.

My son will be attending kindergarten at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the fall, and I am looking forward to being a Fieldston parent and contributing member of the dynamic community there.

What are your goals for REACH Prep?

My largest goal, may sound strange, but it is for REACH Prep to no longer be a necessity. I hope one day to be obsolete. When I say that I mean we as a society have found substantive and persistent ways to solve the education problem that exists in this country. REACH Prep exists because through no fault of their own, our Scholars have been born into a place where race, income, and status often dictate the quality of your education. We know that our Scholars are brilliant, hardworking, and deserving of every opportunity they earn. In my ideal world, all students have access to life changing educational pursuits.

In the next 3-5 years REACH Prep will have witnessed growth and evolution. My goal is to expand our summer programming across high school and college years inclusive of summer camps, academic enrichment, athletic pursuits, internships, and jobs. Access to unique opportunities ensures our scholars are amassing the academic and social capital necessary to have a holistic experience. I would also like to secure the funds to hire additional staff to provide increased support to our Scholars in the preparatory component. Students spend every Saturday and 3 months in the summer dedicated to preparing for independent school admission. The team works diligently to guide, teach, and mentor our youngest Scholars and additional staff will ensure another layer of support. It will also allow us to be more agile and creative with our curriculum and provide additional options for Scholars to expand their knowledge base. We have hundreds of Alumni who are trailblazing every industry from education to medicine, law, and technology; my goal is to hire a full-time staff person to support this very important group. By providing affinity groups, regional events, and continuing education opportunities we can fulfill our promise of “REACH Prep for life.”

Tell us about how you and Lauren collaborate and how you’ve kicked off your time working together.

Lauren is a force! What I appreciate about her is that she is both no nonsense and incredibly kind. We are in regular communication and aside from having a professional relationship, we have a great friendship as well. I know I can call her for anything, without judgement, and she’s there to help. We have a similar approach to most things, which certainly helps, but when we aren’t in total agreement there’s a mutual respect that allows us to come to a conclusion every time. I have appreciated her trust and support. As a long time, REACH Prep supporter, she is the best person to be our Board Chair as we
usher in year 30, and beyond.

Tell about any fundraising opportunities for REACH.  How can people get involved?

Now is the best time to engage or reengage with REACH Prep. We are turning 30 in 2024 and will have a slate of events culminating in a gala to honor the significant contributions to the community we have made over the years. We are always looking for new talent and energy to join our Board of Directors and our Associate Board where folks give their expertise and time to program assessment, making corporate connections, and providing mentorship to scholars along their educational and career pursuits.

REACH Prep is eternally grateful for the love and support we have received from our community over the years and without the kind, and continued generosity, we would not have sustained.

How many new students do you take per year for your 4th grade cohort? 20-25
Is there any way a student can come into REACH later in their schooling or do you have to start in 4th grade? As of now our only admission pathway is 4th grade, but we are looking to fundraise around additional admission points for the future
- How many students are currently enrolled in the REACH program? 220 Scholars, and over 200
college graduates
- Explain how you work with the independent schools.  Does each school save a certain number
of spots for REACH? We have strong relationships with our independent school partners and are in close communication during each admission season. Our scholars earn their place in independent school in the same way as their non REACH Prep classmates. The advantage of our program is one year of preparation that ensures optimal test scores, application assistance, and interview preparation. Ultimately though, the students are selected by their merit to be part of their independent school community and no spots are “held” for them.
– Volunteer Opportunities and Fundraising:  We are always open to new Board of Directors and
Associate Board Members. Those are the two largest vehicles for volunteer recruitment. We
also welcome relationships with business and corporations for career panels, mentorship,
college application reading, internships and access to places and spaces our Scholars may not
otherwise see or know about. We are open to any way people may want to partner with us and
we are open to exploring those opportunities so folks can feel free to contact us at any time!