Organization: Students Rising Above

Location: San Francisco, CA

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About Students Rising Above:


The Students Rising Above (SRA) community is dedicated to impacting the future through the cultivation of extraordinary youth. SRA invests in low-income, first generation college students who have demonstrated a deep commitment to education and strength of character while overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness, and neglect. SRA helps each student to realize his or her potential by guiding and supporting them through college graduation, and into the workforce. Graduates of SRA are breaking the cycle of poverty within their own families, serving their communities, providing a new generation of employees and leaders from diverse backgrounds, and accelerating positive change.

Students Rising Above is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages applications from people of color, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBT applicants. SRA is committed to supporting a positive and diverse workplace to meet the needs of all of our students and encourages applicants with experience serving students from diverse backgrounds and underserved communities to apply.


Founded in 1998 by news anchor, Wendy Tokuda, and Community Relations Manager, Javier Valencia, SRA initially began as a scholarship supporting outstanding Bay Area students who were “beating the odds.” Recognizing that access to college was not enough to ensure college completion, Students Rising Above was a pioneer in providing comprehensive services to help students successfully navigate the academic, emotional, and social challenges of college. Summer internships and career guidance programs were later added to provide students with the skills and experience to successfully transition into the workforce and break the cycle of poverty.

For the past fourteen years, SRA has been led and managed by Lynne Martin, Executive Director, and Barb Hendricks, Founder/Director of Student Programs, who have increased the number of students selected into the program ten-fold. SRA has enjoyed a decade of excellent performance and growth under the leadership of Lynne and Barb. Today, this award winning program has grown into an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization with broad community, foundation, and corporate support and history.

Program and Results

Students Rising Above started as a scholarship program and expanded into a comprehensive year-round program that provides college readiness support, tutoring, one-on-one mentoring, paid summer internships, career coaching and job training workshops, access to health care services, and financial assistance. Students are selected during their junior year of high school and work with a professional SRA Advisor and a volunteer adult mentor for five-plus years; from high school, through college, and into the workforce.

Over the past 16 years, SRA has grown from an initial cohort of 10 students in 1998, to today welcoming an incoming cohort of nearly 110 students for a total of 445 students. SRA has seen year-over-year growth in revenue and programming, and has the operational permanence and financial standing for stable future growth. Students selected into SRA’s program are typically the first in their families to go to college and lack the financial resources and family support to fulfill their educational dreams. The organization’s diverse student body represents the ethnic, academic, and geographic diversity of the greater Bay Area and SRA’s students attend many of the finest four-year colleges and universities across the country. Latino/Latina students account for 41% of SRA’s total enrollment, while 24% are African-American, and 13% are of Asian descent.

The aggregate college graduation success rate of SRA’s students is 91% – nearly 8 times greater than the national average for low-income, first-generation college students. Within 9 months of college graduation, more than 93% of our alumni are either in career-ladder jobs or enrolled in graduate school.

SRA Students overcome tremendous odds.

  • 100% are low-to-moderate income, including 61% who live below the federal poverty line
  • 92% are first-generation college students
  • 47% are in foster care, guardianships, couch-surfing, or not living at home
  • 21% have experienced homelessness
  • 18% are raising siblings

SRA makes a 5+ year commitment to work with students from their senior year of high school until they graduate from college and transition into the workforce. Through SRA’s comprehensive program, students are provided a range of services including tutorial support, personalized assistance in filling out financial aid and college applications, college-readiness workshops, laptops and dorm supplies, career guidance, summer internships, and one-on-one mentoring throughout.

SRA students achieve results far above the national average in some key areas, including:

  • 100% acceptance into four-year colleges, with 98% enrolling in four-year college programs
  • 93% of SRA alumni are in career-ladder jobs or graduate school within 9 months of graduating
  • 50% of SRA students graduate with little to no student loan debt

SRA College2Careers Hub

In an effort to serve more students and propelled by new technology, SRA created the SRA College2Careers Hub in the fall of 2015. This online community is focused on helping low-income first generation students navigate the challenges of managing college and launching their careers. The SRA Hub is the first-in-the-nation 24/7 resource that helps thousands of students get into and through college and then successfully enter the workforce.

The SRA Hub offers one-to-one advising from a professionally trained SRA online advisor. Students get real-time answers to questions and responses are provided within 24 hours of the initial ask. There is a Resource Center that answers virtually every question about college, from how to complete a financial aid form to dealing with a difficult roommate. Templates and tools are available to create letters of recommendation, a personal budget, resumes, cover letters and thank you notes.  Students join an online community which enables them to connect with one another and exchange ideas.

Initial outreach efforts focused on Bay Area high schools (and select states) with limited college counseling resources. Teachers and Counselors began integrating the SRA Hub into their 11th and 12th grade curricula. Response to the SRA Hub has been tremendous. Nearly 7,000 high school and college students have signed up to use the Hub, and 10,000 students are expected by December 2016.

The Opportunity:

Reporting to the Board of Directors, the new Executive Director will be a committed, visionary leader responsible for Student Rising Above’s consistent achievement of its mission, programs, outcomes, administration, and financial objectives. With the organization well positioned to embark towards a new era of growth and technological innovation, the Executive Director will have the vision to explore the possibilities for furthering the impact of the College2Careers Hub, which will continue to be an industry leader in this area. As part of this growth, this leader will have the opportunity to conceive of and develop new business strategies and program models for the organization as a part of its expansion, particularly as it continues to evolve in the digital space.

Students Rising Above is governed by a committed, engaged Board of Directors who have been key in guiding the organization through its growth over the past decade and have served to provide a highly stable, well-stewarded foundation for the future. The Board has been highly supportive and integral to the financial growth and stability of the organization. The future Executive Director of Students Rising Above will have the unique opportunity to elevate and amplify the impact of the organization, reaching students across the nation in new ways, by creating new digital touchpoints for the program.

Position Summary:

The Executive Director will be responsible for managing the overall business operations and enhancing the internal processes and infrastructure that will allow Students Rising Above to continue to grow in support of its mission with a dedicated team that thrives in a dynamic, self-motivated virtual environment. The successful candidate will help forge new partnerships to build SRA’s visibility, impact, and financial resources regionally and nationally. The Executive Director will establish, cultivate, and maintain strong working relationships with staff, key stakeholders, and with a network of corporate partners, foundations and other partnering organizations, including federal agencies, school districts, charter and independent schools, and higher education institutions. In close collaboration with the Board of Directors, this new executive will lead SRA to its next level, exploring opportunities to leverage and enhance the organization’s current model, programs, and resources.

This leader will be instrumental in developing the strategy to increase the organization’s fundraising potential and activities. This will include the opportunity to develop a comprehensive fundraising plan with new and innovative approaches, while strengthening current development initiatives through thoughtful cultivation of national level partnerships, managing all major donor (individuals, corporations and foundations) relationships, and working closely with the Board of Directors. With a strong public relations mindset, the Executive Director will be a strong voice for SRA as the external face of the organization, representing the mission and building a community of corporate and foundation advocates in the Bay Area and nationally as Students Rising Above expands. As the official spokesperson for the organization, the Executive Director will motivate and inspire audiences to support the innovative growth of the programmatic impact and organization at large.

In partnership with the Board of Directors, the Executive Director will assure that the organization has short- and long-range strategies which achieve its mission and goals with consistent, realistic, and timely progress. This professional will cultivate a strong and transparent working relationship with the Board of Directors and ensure open communication about the measurements of financial, programmatic, and impact performance against SRA’s milestones and goals. The Executive Director will be committed to supporting existing core programs, while ensuring continued growth of SRA’s College2Careers Hub. Lastly, this leader will strengthen and grow a cohesive, positive organizational culture within SRA’s virtual work environment that emphasizes collaboration, collegiality, and accountability while maintaining a climate that attracts, retains, and motivates a diverse staff of top quality people.

Core Competencies:

The Executive Director will be a dynamic, visionary leader with a significant track record of successful and applicable experience in fundraising, leadership and management, with the capacity to effectively lead an organization in a virtual environment. This individual will have a combination of breadth and depth with a range of departments and job functions, and the proven ability to be successful in working with an online community, including the capacity to innovate and pioneer new models. With a genuine passion for the mission, this leader will have a progressive outlook towards best practices, and a comprehensive, informed vision for the future of Students Rising Above. The Executive Director will be comfortable and experienced in working across diverse communities and communities of color, and will have the empathy and knowledge to communicate across all constituencies, including to students, staff, donors and the broader community.

As the profile of Students Rising Above continues to rise, the Executive Director will be an expert in public relations, able to speak to its vision, history, mission, demographics and diversity with fluency, clarity and transparency. The Executive Director will be a resourceful person who can handle conflict, foster understanding, and advance ideas. A natural leader, this individual will have the ability to communicate candidly with stakeholders across the various levels of the organization.

The successful candidate will be an innovative and gifted leader and fundraiser with at least 10 years of leadership experience in the nonprofit, education or corporate sectors with progressive responsibility, oversight and management including administrative and financial experience. This professional will have

a track record of working with multiple stakeholders around a common goal and success in advancing communities of color. The Executive Director will be able to set priorities, manage a team in a fast-paced and quickly changing environment, and form partnerships and relationships in order to advance the mission of Students Rising Above. A Bachelor’s degree is required and a graduate degree is preferred.

The ideal candidate will have the following personal competencies and characteristics:

Passion for the Mission: The Executive Director have a passion for the mission of Students Rising Above and the organization’s history, model and potential for future impacts. This leader will be driven by the chance to impact the future by cultivating youth from low-income backgrounds, providing guidance towards opportunities in education and employment, and breaking the cycle of poverty for communities of color. Experience with and sensitivity to the intersection of issues that impact these communities, the Executive Director will strive to be thoughtful and incisive regarding the work and future initiatives at Students Rising Above. The Executive Director will be an empathic leader, treating others with respect. An individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics and values, this leader is someone who can be trusted without reservation. An advocate for diversity, equity and inclusiveness, the Executive Director will understand and address challenges in this area directly with thoughtfulness and clarity.

Expertise in Development and Fundraising: The Executive Director will be an experienced leader with a measurable track record of success in advancement and development, and the expertise and mindset to build strong relationships with current and potential donors and the Board. This leader will have demonstrated expertise with various fundraising and communications channels with success as a high touch leader engaging with all of SRA’s constituents. The Executive Director will be a flexible self-motivated team player who will serve as counsel to Board of Directors in identifying and devising a development strategy for Students Rising Above.

External Relations and Communications: The Executive Director will have a high level of public relations insight. The Executive Director will be the outward-facing voice of Students Rising Above, helping to guide messaging, communicate about new initiatives or developments to all stakeholders, and help to build the brand of the organization as it continues its national growth. This executive will able to speak fluidly and extensively about the SRA’s history and impact, growth strategy, and future direction. An influential and persuasive communicator, the Executive Director will have an inspired ability to build community – including on SRA’s virtual Hub – using accessible language to explicate information, strategy, and processes to individuals with differing levels of familiarity.

Strategic and Entrepreneurial Leader: The Executive Director will be an experienced leader with an entrepreneurial and enthusiastic spirit, and the background and skills to deliver on the vision for Students Rising Above, in particular the digital environment that the organization has pioneered. This individual will be a proven strategic thinker with the foresight, capacity, and experience to understand and balance complex and discrete constituent needs. The Executive Director will demonstrate the ability to diagnose critical areas for attention, and develop and implement clear, action-oriented, innovative strategies that address challenging problems with thoughtful, effective solutions that engender broad support and position the organization for future success. Agile in ambiguous situations and capable of providing stability and inspiring confidence when faced with important and quickly-changing circumstances, the Executive Director will possess the ability to challenge the status quo yet employ a servant-leadership approach that does not threaten the culture at Students Rising Above.

Business Acumen: This individual will have the vison to ideate and implement progressive innovations to the Hub model and the digital environment the programs are built on in an effort in increase the organization’s impact. In concert with the Board and with the organization’s financial and personnel needs in mind, this leader will forecast progress towards stated goals and position the organization for growth and success with sustainable solutions. A results-oriented problem solver, the Executive Director will have the perspective to consider the impact of decisions, plans, and programs on the organization, and make sound recommendations accordingly. This individual will demonstrate the ability to build, nurture, and retain a strong team of professionals that is focused on excellence, accountability, and efficiency.

Relationship Builder and Collaborator: The Executive Director will be exceptionally skilled at developing, building, and sustaining excellent relationships, both internally and externally to the organization. This leader will be a natural collaborator with a demonstrated ability to connect with and build bridges among the various stakeholders at Students Rising Above, including students, program staff, alumni, the Board, and other constituents. The Executive Director will be thoughtful and open, working collaboratively to find efficiencies and opportunities for the benefit of Students Rising Above as a whole. This individual will be consultative, promoting open dialogue with team members to identify best practices, synthesize divergent views, and coalesce all constituencies around a shared view or plan. The Executive Director will be proactive in partnering with others to address the human impact of change.


Students Rising Above has engaged Koya Leadership Partners to help in this hire. This search is being led by Michelle Bonoan, Medelene Beasley, and Jackie Sergi. Please submit a compelling cover letter and resume here or email the team at the following:

Michelle R.S. Bonoan
Managing Director

Medelene Beasley

Jackie Hanselmann Sergi
Senior Director, Sourcing and Special Projects

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital-consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit