Romi Lassally of Ready To Succeed: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System
Broadens mindsets. The diversity among student populations, academic offerings, and extracurricular activities exposes students to new ideas. This helps students challenge their perspectives and elevate their critical thinking.
As a part of our interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Romi Lassally.
Romi Lassally is the co-founder and Executive Director of Ready To Succeed, an innovative Career Accelerator program on a mission to increase the college and career success of underrepresented and former foster youth. Romi is a former media executive turned serial entrepreneur and business development consultant. Before entering the career education sector, Romi worked in digital media as the founder of an online content company for women, True Media, and as the founding features editor for the Huffington Post. Romi is a graduate of UCLA and lives in Pacific Palisades with her husband and has three adult children. Romi@readytosucceedla.org
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
A chance meeting on the Fox Studios lot in my early 20s led to my first career position, and I spent many years as a media and entertainment executive. I didn’t know it then, but I’ve come to realize how limited these serendipitous moments are, especially for foster youth who already face enormous barriers outside of school.
After I sold the media company I had founded, I wanted to formalize what I had done informally my whole life — helping people make professional connections to launch their careers. Shortly thereafter, I met Pat McCabe — an educator and former sports and media executive — and everything fell into place! Pat shared his first-hand experiences about foster youth and their devastating outcomes: Only 4% of foster youth get a college degree, but not even half of them were moving into career-track jobs post-graduation. Their inability to fully utilize their college degree was recreating punishing cycles of poverty and underemployment. This was unthinkable, and we got to work on a solution.
We launched Ready To Succeed in 2016 from our dining rooms. We began with six college-going foster youth and connected them to our professional networks, provided them with career mentoring, and placed them in internships. Fast forward seven years later, and we’ve grown to nearly 400 students and alumni, now including first- generation college students in our community of Scholars thanks to a partnership with Kayne Scholars. I couldn’t be prouder of my students with over 90% graduating college within 4.5 years and launching successful careers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve been fortunate to experience so many wonderful things as a result of my career path, and I’m most proud of the interesting stories surrounding our RTS Scholars, who I am always learning from.
Take Alex, for example. From a young age, Alex dreamed of a career in the film industry, something more hands-on than a typical office job. But he felt like he would have to give up his dream to build a stable career in engineering. When he first started college, he struggled with seeing the point of it, contemplating dropping out. Feeling like he was caught between what he saw as two separate paths, Alex reached out to his RTS Career Advisor and began forming connections and building networks that would broaden his horizons. With his advisor’s help, Alex was able to connect with the head of a large studio, who put him in contact with a stunt coordinator. Finally, he began to see that his background in mechanical engineering was not only a crucial requirement but the path he was excited to pursue for a special effects specialist.
I am reminded why it’s important to help our Scholars to pursue and be ready for careers they are passionate about and not just ones they may think are “right” for them.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
When we founded RTS in 2016, we thought that networks, internships, and career advising were the magic combination for career-readiness. We’ve come to realize that all students — especially foster youth and low-income first-generation college students — need more than just practical career preparation. They need someone who believes in them, who coaches them, and who’s there for them whenever they need the support. We’ve added a basic needs department that supports our Scholars’ mental health and wellness and provides them with financial support. By expanding our career development program to include these support systems, we can help our Scholars develop the confidence, help-seeking, and resilience they ultimately need to be successful in career and life.
We are also really excited about our Camp Ready program that launched in 2022. Camp Ready is a 6-week summer program helping Scholars explore career options and build their job search tool kits before the academic school year begins. In the mostly online, intensive program, led by RTS Career Advisors, Scholars build a resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile and professional elevator pitch. With the success of last year’s pilot program that served 67 Scholars, Camp Ready will become the first stop for all new Scholars joining the RTS program. This is one more way to help students be ready for a career in their area of interest!
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?
I don‘t consider myself an authority in the education field, but rather an expert in helping students prepare for sustainable careers in their field of interest. And we can’t do that without understanding the context of the education system, as the two must happen in parallel.
Since my co-founder and I established Ready To Succeed in 2016, over 90% of our students have graduated college in 4.5 years and pivoted into career-track jobs within six months of graduation. When you compare this with the abysmal graduation rates of 3% for foster youth and 11% for first-generation college-students, it’s clear that our expertise in helping students prepare for careers helps them achieve academic and career success.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
We feel the results are mixed, largely based on the student’s socioeconomic status when they enter college. As an organization, Ready To Succeed acknowledges that the education system works for people who already have established networks. Students who come from families with means typically have access to resources, tutors, and other support systems that help them apply their education in the working world. They benefit from the social capital of their families and can build the necessary skills.
However, rating the education system alone isn’t relevant without the context of how well it accounts for career preparation. Even when receiving an education, they are less likely to land a first job befitting of their accomplishments in school, earning a sustainable wage without previous career experience. Even the most affluent students are struggling. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, a recent Cengage survey of Americans who graduated from a two-year/community or four-year college in the past five years found that nearly one in five (19%) reported that their college education experience did not provide them with the skills needed to perform their first post-degree job. When we look at first-generation college students, less than half use their degree in their first post-college job. Overall, the system needs to work harder at benefitting all students in their career readiness.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going great?
We do appreciate what the system provides and feel there is a lot of potential to grow from here.
- There is something for everyone. With the diversity of majors and areas of study, every student can find something just for them.
- Flexible learning environments. We’ve all had to adapt as our society grows, changes, and reacts to changing environments. It’s admirable how education leaders are creating asynchronous and hybrid learning as part of the curriculum, from kitchen table lab experiments to live lectures delivered via video conference.
- Diversity of Students. Many U.S. colleges are fortunate to welcome a diverse population of students from around the world. International students enrich learning environments and more diverse perspectives benefit everyone!
- Broadens mindsets. The diversity among student populations, academic offerings, and extracurricular activities exposes students to new ideas. This helps students challenge their perspectives and elevate their critical thinking.
- Student Life. Any opportunity to help shape critical life skills is positive. Life on campus can help them strengthen community bonds, lifelong friendships, and interests that extend beyond their degrees.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
Our proven process at Ready To Succeed is based on five key pillars that help prepare a student for a successful, career-track job within 6 months of graduating. Doing this work concurrently with academic studies is a priority to help address the holistic needs of these students, and perhaps they can inspire how the U.S. education system can improve. We’re the only organization doing this and would love for it to catch on!
- 1:1 Coaching: We all need someone in our corner. Personalized career coaching will help students discover their unique strengths and the world of opportunities available to them. Campus career advisors are stretched too thin to adequately address this opportunity. At most UC and California State schools, the average student to career advisor is 1 advisor to every 6,000 students. That means that even if a student is motivated to visit their career center, they might get 15 minutes of career advising each semester.
- Network Building: Relationships are everything! Many students aren’t equipped with the family support system to enable this, so we need to help them build life-long connections with professionals who can open doors to internships, jobs, and people.
- Mental Health & Wellness: We live in a stressful world. Prioritizing wellness through counseling, community-building events and other dedicated initiatives can help give students the fortitude needed to tackle their academic and career pursuits.
- Internships: You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Building pathways for paid internships will help make them competitive job candidates upon graduation.
- Targeted Financial Support: One unexpected expense can derail the best laid plans. Students need access to targeted funding options that cover their basic needs and help them become self-sufficient. An increase in Pell Grants can help those students from under-resourced communities with disproportionately higher debt loads, but it’s only a start. Other patchwork funding aid, such as merit-based via scholarships, tend to favor white, wealthy students and don’t account for the systemic inequities experienced by Black, Latino, and Indigenous students.
How is the US doing regarding engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
- More funding to pursue STEM careers — Funded internships: Low-income students, including all the students we serve, rely on Federal Pell grants and other piecemeal funding sources to pay for college. These grants and scholarships often fall short of what students need, requiring them to take on part-time jobs or other employment. As a result, students don’t have the financial freedom to pursue research or take on that career-building internship. Ensuring paid STEM internships and work-related experiences will ensure that all interested students can develop their STEM identity.
- Experience — Create opportunities to gain practical experience in STEM before graduating, including internships, job shadowing, and research opportunities. Enabling this experience is connected to the need for increased funding, however it also speaks to timing. Increasing engagement should begin early, pre-college/high school. Exploration should go beyond one career day and resources and opportunities should be provided for students to explore STEM career paths. For example, STEM Preparatory Schools here in Los Angeles partner with Project Lead the Way so their high school students can get hands-on experience, so they know what STEM studies and career pathways are available to them.
- Representation — Seeing is believing. STEM is still largely unrepresented by those who identify with historically underserved groups. Enlist strong mentors who can demystify what it looks like to be in the industry. Open them up to looking at the non-STEM jobs in STEM companies!
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
We need to engage more girls and women because there just aren’t enough to close the persistent gender gap in STEM. A close friend and mentor of mine worked with a student who walked into one of her college computer science classes, only to discover that she was the only woman — and Black woman — in the class.
These gaps facing girls and women, especially those with intersectional identities, need to be addressed in order to help realize the potential for growth in STEM, and create more equity and inclusivity that benefits everyone.
I admire a nonprofit called Browngirlscode.org which works to build confidence, technical acumen, and sisterhood. May they keep up the good work! They are showing us what is possible.
How is the US doing regarding engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
This is a growing concern and there are many different organizations with a STEM focus and a mission to diversify. There is strength in numbers, so building a network of mission-aligned advocates and experts can start to move the needle. If you look at STEM outcomes as a pie, nearly everyone has a piece of the piece. Academic institutions, STEM companies, governments, and other organizations all have their way of advancing STEM, but it’s the power of collaboration that will truly change things. has a piece of the pie. It’s time to step back, gaining clarity and perspective, and organizing accordingly.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure, what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I would start by flipping the script. Instead of just asking a student if they’re ready for an employer, I’d direct similar questions to employers: Are you ready for this diverse? What are you doing to create the conditions for diverse, low-income, and foster students to be successful? And how are you doing this in combination with their academic studies? Employers could help fund and implement the following –
- Trained and accessible career coaches who are preparing students for the workforce
- Employer partners who see the value of retaining an intern
- Wellness programs that address the students’ whole self
- Funding partners to help ease the financial burden
- Network building initiatives to broaden a company’s connections to diverse and underrepresented talent
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To laugh often and much: To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The quote reminds me of the transformative power of curiosity, humor, and compassion.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I’ve said it before and will say it again, MacKenzie Scott is continuing to donate billions to innovative organizations and causes that support the needs of underrepresented and historically underserved people. To date, she has given$14.4 billion to more than 1,500 organizations, such as those, like RTS, that focus on mentorship like Friends of the Children.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our Ready To Succeed website (https://readytosucceedla.org/) is chock full of information about our programs, and our 2022 Impact Report outlines what we’ve been able to accomplish thanks to our generous supporters. On social, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Romi Lassally of Ready To Succeed: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.