Michael DeStefano describes his high school years in one word: “tumultuous.”
After failing out of an elite public school, he moved through a few more schools.
He was even held back in the tenth grade.
“I was an apathetic student,” Michael says.
“I had a hard time focusing and I didn’t put in the effort to succeed,” he says.
Then he met Mr. Howland, a teacher who went above and beyond to connect with his students. And that made all the difference.
“For the first time, I felt like I had a bright future,” Michael says.
A Teacher, A Mentor
Mr. Howland was more than just Michael’s teacher – he became a mentor.
“He was from the same neighborhood as me and his lessons really resonated,” Michael says.
Michael says many of Mr. Howland’s most valuable lessons had nothing to do with coursework.
“He taught us about finances, home mortgages and credit,” Michael says.
“I felt like he genuinely cared about our success – and not just in the classroom,” he says.
With Mr. Holland’s support, Michael began to forge a new path toward higher education.
Turning a Corner
After graduating from high school, Michael lived at home and worked several jobs to save up for college.
“My parents couldn’t afford much, so I tossed pizzas, brewed coffee, and stocked shelves – always saving my paychecks in full,” he says.
A year later, Michael was able to enroll at a local community college.
“I was so excited on the first day of class,” Michael says. “Like I felt going to a sports game as a kid.”
It was a breakthrough moment.
“I felt like I had turned a corner,” he says. “I finally understood how hard work pays off.”
An Invaluable Experience
During college, Michael landed an internship at Pearson through a student mentoring initiative called ‘The Learn and Earn Program’.
He supported project managers in the office, assisted with meeting preparation and even conducted research.
“It was a formative experience for me,” Michael says. “The professional insight I gained was invaluable.”
Expanding What Works
As an intern, Michael also thought about ways to empower more community college students—students like him.
“I think there needs to be a shift in our approach to community college,” Michael says.
“Classrooms can’t teach everything – and students need more opportunities to develop hard and soft skills,” he says.
Michael says expanding student mentorship programs is a great place to start.
“Interning and job shadowing prepared me to succeed in the workforce,” Michael says.
“I hope that in the future, community college students will have more opportunities to reap these benefits,” he says.
Never Too Late
Last semester, Michael completed his associate’s degree.
“I’m incredibly proud of myself,” Michael says.
“Six years ago I didn’t even care about the future. Now, I know I’m on the right path,” he says.
His next big goal? Earning his Bachelor’s degree.
“I’m not where I want to be yet,” Michael says.
“I’m still trying to figure out what industry I want to enter, but I’m comfortable not knowing exactly what the future holds.”
Michael has come a long way since his tumultuous high school years – and he hopes sharing his story can help inspire others to action.
“Whenever people ask me for advice, I always say the same thing: it’s never too late to make a change.”