Elise Tolbert took her 2013 degree in environmental science from Tuskegee University, added a master’s in public health and environmental sciences from the University of Michigan, and went on to work for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation in Washington, D.C. But now, the Tuskegee, Alabama, native is back home, where she is focusing full time on her organization, Next Step-Up — and she’s putting her motto of “blazing your own trail” into practice as she seeks to follow her heart and create paths for others.
Creating a mentoring 'bridge'
Founded in 2010, Next Step-Up, Elise explains, is a mentoring and tutoring program that provides the tools, skills and motivation area students need to reach their “next step.” Through the program, university students mentor and tutor local middle and high school students. She sees the organization as providing a bridge better connecting Tuskegee University students to the community as they provide a beneficial service.
“Our vision is a world where each individual has what they need to become positive, contributing members of the community,” she explained. “Our mission is to empower students to pursue their dreams by providing academic assistance and mentoring, and to positively impact the communities we serve.”
Finding inspiration through student leadership
The concept for Next Step-Up dates back to Elise’s first year at Tuskegee, when she ran for Miss Freshman Class on the platform of “E.M.T.,” which she explains are both her initials and the acronym for “Emergency Merging of the Two Tuskegee.”
“I noticed that Tuskegee University students had a negative view of the locals, and that locals had a disconnected relationship with university students,” she explained, vowing to make a difference. “I also noticed that local high school students were very smart but needed guidance and motivation to reach their goals. That need aligned perfectly with university students who wanted an avenue to interact with local students, but lacked a formal way to do so.”
Improving quality of life through education
Elise and her Next Step-Up organization recognize that, by improving the quality of a community’s education, health and environment, you improve overall quality of life.
“I know education and preparation for success are vitally important for determining a person’s life trajectory,” she noted. “I am passionate about Next Step Up’s work because we aim to prepare youth to be brilliant, ambitious and motivated contributing members of society.”
While Elise’s focus is more local now, she’s as much a global thinker as she is a local one.
“I enjoy leading volunteers, community members and others in initiatives that provide support for high school students,” she said. “As the founder of Next Step-Up, I envision expanding our efforts across the United States and abroad to reach more students and impact more lives.”
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