Kacy Edwards, 36

Kacy Edwards, 36

Co-founder/Co-executive director, Career Compass of Louisiana

High school can be hard enough for some students, before adding the overwhelming process of planning for postsecondary education.

Kacy Edwards saw that struggle firsthand as a teacher at Tara High School. Instead of simply lending support to her students, Edwards took action to help young people all over the state.

Along with fellow teacher and best friend Julie Scott, Edwards went from spending lunch hours helping students fill out applications to founding a nonprofit that provides college and career coaching to thousands of students in 70 high schools.

“I am a firm believer that knowledge is power,” she says, “and one person getting a college degree can change entire generations.”

Career Compass of Louisiana was born in 2006, when Edwards and Scott left their classrooms and cashed in their retirement savings accounts to follow their vision. Armed with a $50,000 grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, they started small but always had their eyes on a larger prize.

Through contracts with 20 school districts, Career Compass's 27 coaches work one-on-one with students on everything from registering for the ACT college entrance exam to applying for and choosing the right college or program. Some community colleges waive application fees for students who apply through Career Compass. And with help from the Boo Grigsby Foundation, the organization awards scholarships to needy students who could not otherwise attend college.

Statistics show that Career Compass' efforts are paying off: 99% of the 6,000 students who received coaching during the 2010-11 school year applied to a postsecondary school that they could successfully attend. Of those students, 80% were still enrolled after a year, compared to the statewide average of less than 50%.

“I know that there are students attending postsecondary schools all over this state who would not be there without assistance from Career Compass,” Edwards says. “And I love knowing that we are having an impact on the future of this state. ... I want this to be a great place for my kids and grandkids.”

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