Nicole has always had a knack for finding holes in systems. She looks at a situation, takes everything into consideration, and creates a whole approach to a solution. Her own struggles with finding her passion and calling motivated her to help others.
“When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt lost, and had a lot of anxiety and societal pressure to try to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had been in this system that had taken me so far, and then I was set free with no guidance. I just felt so lost. My mom was really wonderful in trying to help support me, she even took me in to get an assessment done, but the assessment left me with more questions. She brought me to a career college counselor but I feel like I didn’t get anything from it, the only thing I remember is the fancy office- that is what I was left with. She also bought me What Color is Your Parachute, but what teenager is going to spend their time reading that? We tried many different tactics but it was all so frustrating and I was still left feeling like I didn't know what to do.”
Then, in 2008 when Obama was coming into office, she pitched a television series to BET showing different successful African American professionals in different fields. “If a black man is president, what else is possible?” she said. The pitch went well, and she was encouraged to line up people, until it was suddenly canceled due to firings in the company.
“I knew this was something that needed to come into the world. It wasn’t just something I wanted to spend my life doing- nobody else was doing it and it was something us as a society needed. It took me a couple years to think about how I wanted to bring this into the world. I started thinking how it is great to inspire youth, but that it is possible to cause more damage than good if youth are inspired yet have their hand dropped in the process due to not knowing how they can fit into the equation.”
Nicole began to look at what makes us who we are: personality, skills, values, all of the pieces of understanding a person. She began to recognize patterns that people fall into, and wanted to find a way for them to explore that. She had done training in personality work, spirituality and psychology practices and in November of 2012, she decided to start GROW as a way to support youth into living into their full potential. GROW is a program that seeks to help young people discover their talents and hone their skills. It is a tool for envisioning your future and finding your passion. They cover topics such as assessment of who you are, imagination of what’s possible, and management of tools for success. A bonus effect is increased EQ, and students being able to study other’s perspectives as well as their own.
“I founded it myself and for the first year, it was just me. I was a single mom, attending U.C. Berkeley and launching GROW. It was crazy, totally insane. I was still kind of finding my bearings with GROW, and while attending school I met a woman in one of my sociology classes that was all about what I was doing, and with her help, I started forming the first team. We did our first beta test of the curriculum at UC Berkeley.
Within the first class, the impact exceeded anything I ever thought it would have. One changed her major, another student called me crying saying how this class changed her life. So that started building the momentum, and from there it began to take off.”
She met Bryan Breckenridge who at the time was a part of Linkedin's nonprofit sector. She was persistent in trying to get him involved, and he eventually caved. He connected them with Linkedin for Good where they were able to accumulate volunteers and further beta test. Now, Bryan is VP of GROW, they have 16 volunteers and 4 board members. “It’s been wonderful- I couldn't do it without them, they really get the mission and are such rock stars,” Nicole said.
Everyone has experienced moments where their passions were diminished. Nicole spoke of how her CFO who has worked as the VP of finance at Apple, he was told that he should be a toll booth worker. One of GROW’s advisor’s high school counselors told her that she would be lucky if she got into beautician school, and now she is Global Customer Education Operations Manager for Linkedin. The counselor to kid ratio is extremely skewed in high-poverty districts, this ratio spikes to 1,440 students per high school counselor.Kids are lucky to make it in to be able to even change a class - and that is why GROW is so important., and that is why GROW is so important. Going into their junior year of high school is often when students really start to think about what they want to be doing with their lives so GROW can be especially beneficial, but it is really applicable for all ages.
Q: Is there a student in particular whose story stands out?
A: Oh gosh, one story? There’re 3 that really stand out.
There’s Lindsay who was in the first class, who was the one that said the class saved her life. She changed her major, and now, she’s graduated, and going into the work she loves.
We have another student that was on probation when he took our class, and after taking it, he went to the courthouse and brought his certification from our program and said I am not drifting anymore, I know the direction I am going in. In fact, he ended up leaving our class a little early so her could focus on his school work because now, he understood the importance of why he needed to be in school- and he was only 14. He found that value in himself, and he found direction.
The last one is Che, who was In the 2nd class we taught. His grades increased, he went from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. He has ADD and before he was ashamed of it, but now he is all about it. He understands how that is a part of him and how that brings value. He has been staying on path and keeping with his direction.
Q: How has running a program like this impacted your relationship with your daughter? Have you used any of the GROW techniques to foster her own potential?
A: I think I have always really allowed her to be who she is, I think that it allows more acceptance. More than anything, she gets to see what it is like to be a woman in power, being successful, and trying to make a change in the world. She also learns from some of the students. And I think my daughter helps me too, she keeps me hip.
They have been focused in the Bay Area, but they are looking to expand. Major contenders for the time being are Arizona and New York, but when the program is live online, they can expand nationally, and even internationally. India, Ecuador, New Zealand and Shanghai have already voiced interest, but they are taking it one step at a time. They are also looking at expanding outside of schools, and into businesses, and retreats to create a sustainable income for the organization. Their curriculum has been tested on a number of demographics: different ages, different locations, and more. What they have found is that it is really is applicable to everybody. Exploration is extraordinarily important. “They say that this next generation will have something like 17 carreers, which is a lot!” Nicole said, “Things are changing. GROW is not about finding your one and only job, this is a framework, a framework that they can always go back to and revisit. This is basic human stuff that we don't teach, and that’s crazy.”
GROW has an online beta test version that will be released in the Fall. This program will help certify teachers to teach the curriculum to assist with scalability. The teachers will be trained and assisted with materials which facilitate a curriculum that is either introspective or interactive, removing a teacher that lectures at students and provides a teacher that facilitates an experience. This also make it easy for teachers with busy schedules to be trained and takes away from the quality vs quantity problem that lots of organizations experience when expanding.