With a graduation rate of only 11% among first generation college students in the U.S., Nasir Qadree’s diploma is proof that he’s beaten the odds. With a career that started on Wall Street and has taken him to positions at venture capital firms and foundations, he’s pledged to not just beat the odds for himself, but to change them altogether by opening doors for others. Nasir’s passion for helping fellow first-generation students is part of why he joined the leadership team of GlobalMindED, where he now serves on our International Advisory Council.
I recently sat down to talk with him about his journey, his perspective on what first generation students need to succeed, and how he’s personally pledged to make that happen at scale.
Tell us about your own path as a first-generation college graduate. Who and what made a difference for you?
NQ: This community of peers is less about me, and more about the importance of different communities that played a vital role in raising me. To be clear, my family played the most significant role in my development by providing me with the space to explore, be creative, and reflect…especially when I was unsure. With this foundation, coupled with building solid rapports with mentors, I learned early on the number of career fields that attracted my interest, like Social Entrepreneurship, Education Innovation, Financial Services, and Government. I also had a strong circle of peers that grew up in similar circumstances. Like me, they all had chips on their shoulders, which transpired into an aggressive nature of zeal in our characters. Finally, what most first-generation students do not receive is structure. My mother put me through several non-profit programs such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and Boy Scouts of America to provide me with the opportunity to better understand how best to navigate to and through college.
I’m convinced that when you have a holistic support team, you have confidence in yourself, which encourages you to be exposed to more. Those first-generation students who have succeeded have beat the odds because they’re anchored by an incredible, tireless community of support that will do everything and anything to see them achieve their full potential.
How did you get the idea to run marathons in each state? How do you advertise this, and what is the link for those who want to donate?
NQ: In 2010, I was inspired to start running marathons by a close friend who took on a challenge to complete 50 marathons. Though nothing compares to a full marathon, I had experience running cross country at Dunwoody High School in Atlanta, Georgia. My mother was also a long-distance runner, running the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta every year for 15 years. I guess I’m somewhat genetically connected to her in that way, so running is not new to me.
However, what prompted the idea to raise money through running was a larger conversation across our country, that first-generation college students, 87% percent of whom come from low income households and 23% of whom are immigrants, exist everywhere. In a time where most Americans believe the American Dream is dead and economic mobility is farfetched, the first-generation college population is a true testament to the fact that the American Dream is reachable when you add support systems around these students. I choose to champion America Needs You (ANY), a national nonprofit that supports America’s first-generation college students by providing career development, mentorship, and training.
I’m running 51 marathons (one in each state, including Washington, DC) for students across the country who are redefining their families’ narratives by literally climbing a ladder that no one around them has ever climbed before. My audacious belief is that if every state – including DC – has an ANY Program, then together we can shift the paradigm so that more first-generation college students graduate and feel incredibly confident that they can compete in the workforce and serve their communities.
I’m raising $1 million dollars towards ANY and scholarships. With every full marathon I run, I know I’m supporting a first-generation college student realize his or her full potential. If I don’t raise the full amount through donations once I’ve completed all 51 marathons, I have pledged to personally make up the difference.
What 3 words would you use to describe yourself?
NQ: Loyal, Zealous, and Optimistic
What is an example of a way that you have surmounted professional obstacles based on the grit and determination that you mastered as a First Gen student?
NQ: True story - my very first job out of college was serving as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York. From the moment I received the job offer (first semester of my senior year at Hampton University), I read every Wall Street book, researched every black Wall Street Executive, and became an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal. I was so fired up! On my first day, I caught the chills. I looked around me and noticed I was the “almond in a pile of a vanilla ice cream.” My peers in my class came from more familiar schools like Harvard, UPENN, Georgetown and Stanford. The more I got to know my peers personally, I also learned that for some of them, beginning their career on Wall Street was a life-long dream at an early age.
After overcoming the idea that I was not a mistake in being hired at one of the most iconic banks in the world, I turned my attitude around. With the help of a committed mentor, I believed my background was in fact unique…that I brought a fresh new perspective to our work. This idea also opened my eyes to mentorship. The truth is, when you are a first-generation college student, you are literally climbing a ladder that no one around has climbed before. As you continue to climb, turn around to lift up others behind you.
How is your leadership on the Advisory Council of GlobalMindED contributing to this larger mission and goal?
NQ: The truth is, as we built support systems around first-generation students across our country, it is important to note that everyone can help. More importantly, I strongly believe it is vital that we have an established, diverse cohort of stakeholders. The GlobalMinded Advisory Council consists of global thought leaders in academia, the private sector, entrepreneurship, private foundations, nonprofits, family offices and venture capital. My role on the Advisory Council is to find, develop, and invest in innovative tools that provides upward mobility for students, workers and our most vulnerable communities. I’ve come to know tireless leaders over the course of my career who continue to lead by example by inspiring the next generation of change agents. You are a reflection of why we should not consider this work as simply a job, but as our moral duty. Thank you for holding me accountable.
What else can readers do to create opportunity for this crucial audience of emerging leaders?
NQ: I quote songwriter Ani DiFranco often, "I know there is strength in the difference between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap." No matter your background or political views, it is important that we recognize our country’s first-generation college students as the fuel to our economy, and a clear resemblance of perseverance and zeal. Too often organizations operate in silos instead finding areas within their models where it makes the most sense to partner. If we truly care about closing the opportunity, resource, and capital gap, it is important we continue to explore ways to partner that yields an end to end solution, and scales.
If you would like the chance to meet inspiring first-generation leaders from across the country like Nasir, please join us at the GlobalMindED 2018 conference in Denver, CO from June 9-11. To learn more about the community of thought leaders that we convene at this annual event and the work we do to support underserved populations, including first-generation students, visit our website.