From Charter School to College Graduate

by: Percee Goings-King Special to the AFRO
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Graduating from Columbia University, after arriving there via Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast D.C., was the next step in my journey to my first job in New York City. One year on from graduation is an opportunity to reflect on where I have come from and where I am going in life as I start my career.

Percee Goings-King. (Photo Courtesy/blog.publiccharters.org)

Stepping stones matter. I knew that the 4.1 grade point average that I had accumulated so carefully, and which my school environment nurtured, helped smooth my path to college. Similarly, my academic studies at Columbia and my college experience together helped me take the next step.

Starting work at ad tech industry firm Flashtalking in Manhattan—a global company with offices around the world—would not have been possible without the introduction to different cultures, religions, philosophies, science and technological knowledge that college provided.

As a software engineer, I have not simply had to bring my skills to the table, but must also be open to continuous learning.  My industry—ad tech—is a niche point in a complex market that is driven as much by commercial strength as technical know-how, and the unique needs of clients representing many different sectors.

A key component of the “lifelong learning” habit that I have acquired is how to match my abilities to the swiftly-changing requirements of our various clients.  Solving a broad and diverse range of problem sets is key to this.  Creating solutions for the music, fashion and sport industries, among others, has made me want to continue integrating innovative technologies into these fields.  While I continue to think about my next career steps, I am mindful that this is my trajectory at the moment.

While my college courses consisted of acquiring knowledge bit by bit from some very fine minds, work is more results-driven, with significantly more stress than the work at Columbia.  But I have long thought that, whatever it was I ended up setting my mind to accomplish, would require long and sometimes grueling hours.

In this respect, the structure at Columbia—late night studying; early morning workouts as a student-athlete; and a compact class schedule—as well as the healthy competition among students, helped me prepare me for post-graduation and the quick turnarounds required in my official first post-college job.

Working for a little over a year, I have learned that keeping up with industry changes is fundamental to staying relevant.  Bringing an awareness of industry trends to my work gives me something to contribute in addition to my technical knowledge.

Because of the effort I have put in, I can honestly say that I do not wish I had made a different journey.  From this perspective, the District of Columbia—home to my family, friends and many former colleagues—will always be a special place for me.  The starting point of these connections make them both humbling and motivating, as I make my way in the world of work in New York City.

Where I am today, and who I am today, is thanks in many ways to the diverse array of supporters who have helped me along my path. And I feel the piercing eyes of my younger siblings and cousins who look up to me, as I perform my other job of role model, providing them with some necessary fuel for the long run.

The importance of mentorship and support cannot be underestimated in a world in which the journey from my Washington, D.C. neighborhood through the Ivy League to a career is not the norm, or what society at large expects.

Scholarship funds are essential to bridge that gap.  In my case, that includes Friendship Scholars, run by my D.C. public charter school; Columbia Finance Aid, and Grace UMC.  I also was named and aided as Most Successful College Graduate of the Year by the D.C. Association for Chartered Public Schools, which will be making the same award to another District public charter school student this month.

One overlooked aspects of these awards is that they help not only financially, but mentally.  They boosted my self-esteem, which is needed every now and then, especially in a competitive college environment.

The practical and psychological boost these supports provide complement academics, such my “A” grade in engineering math from the University of Maryland I received in high school, or my acing the Advanced Placement U.S. Government & Politics exam—important building blocks for college.

Wherever the next step takes me, it has solid foundations.

Percee Goings-King is a graduate of Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast D.C. and of Columbia University.

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