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Stacy Goodwin Lightfoot is an education leader

Alum who attended college against odds guides youths to do the same

Surely Stacy Goodwin Lightfoot’s leadership at an education nonprofit won her the invitation in 2015 to testify before a U.S. Senate committee.

The hearing, after all, focused on the information students need about college options and, since graduating from DePauw in 1999, Lightfoot had spent her career guiding low-income and first-generation students to succeed in higher education.

But just as surely, Lightfoot’s life story positioned her as an expert able to speak from the heart about the pathway to college.

Lightfoot was the daughter of a single mother who made $12,000 a year so, as she told the committee, “statistics suggested that I would continue to live in poverty, work a low-wage job and not obtain a college degree.” But she attended a Chattanooga K-12 magnet school with a “culture of college-going” that sponsored a tour of Midwest colleges, including DePauw. Her counselor “knew enough about me to know that I would do well in a small liberal arts college environment” and, when DePauw offered a robust financial aid package, “it was a really, really good match. … I was able to grow so much into who I was.”

Leaders the World Needs

Lightfoot majored in communications with a concentration in theatre, expecting that theatre was her future. As a Bonner scholar she also spent many hours in service. So when that same counselor recruited her to be a camp counselor during summers, Lightfoot responded. When the counselor started Camp College to encourage students of color to go to college, Lightfoot chaperoned. When Lightfoot graduated from DePauw, the counselor helped her get a job at Girls Inc. And when Lightfoot was writing her master’s dissertation, the counselor recruited her to work for the College Access Center she had started. It merged with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Fund in 2009, and Lightfoot has worked her way up to vice president of college and career success.

“I fell into my passion because of her mentorship, because of her knowledge,” she said. “And now I want to be the Susans – and I have been the Susans – for other students.”

Lightfoot does not regret turning away from a theatre career. Her DePauw adviser, Steve Timm, urged her “to explore other things and to learn other things,” she said. “That’s the hallmark of what a liberal arts education does. You learn a little bit about a lot, as opposed to learning a lot of information about just one thing that you want to do. …

“No, I did not go to college to become the vice president of college and career success,” she said. “Like, who does that? People don’t major in what they end up doing. They may use some of the skills from what they majored in. … There really are very few careers where you have to major in that thing in order to become something. Someone can major in English and still become a doctor. You can major in art, art history, and still become a lawyer. And DePauw helped me realize that.”

Timm recalled Lightfoot’s 1996 performance in “Marat/Sade,” which he directed. “Stacy sang with a conviction transcending the given circumstances of the play; her voice revealed an absolute determination to shape the future. One couldn’t listen to her without thinking she was destined to make plenty of good noise down the road. And to the benefit of many, that’s exactly what she’s done.”

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