MEET OUR STAFF

Experienced, Dedicated, Proven

DEBRA
NEALY

Co-Founder
Executive Director

Debra Nealy is an educational access strategist with a laser focus on college access and success. As a first-generation St. John’s University graduate, she has 25 plus years of experience in education and business. In 2002, she followed her true passion and began serving youth as a classroom educator and ultimately empowering them as an independent college access advisor. Debra is the founder of Think College Access, an independent college access collaborative that leads students and their families from transition uncertainty to college admission and graduation clarity. Her workshops and one-on-one mentorship, complemented by her curriculum, have supported student acceptances to more than 90 colleges with scholarship awards in excess of $58 million. Debra has presented college access seminars to countless students and families through The Department of Education's Upward Bound TRIO program, The City of Atlanta’s College Prep Series, The Steve and Marjorie Harvey’s “Girls Who Rule the World” initiative, The 100 Black Men of DeKalb’s Male Empowerment Symposium, churches, and for various high schools in the Atlanta, DeKalb, and Fulton County school systems. Debra is passionate about empowerment and is committed to changing lives through educational access

TESS MARKS

Alumni Coordinator

Tess Marks graduated from Loyola Marymount University. Her unique college trajectory, began with being a study abroad student for her first two years. Her college experience began with a full year of studying art in Italy. From there, she moved to New York for sophomore year, and finally to the campus of Loyola Marymount University. As a transfer student, nearly every year of college, Tess understands the importance of building and maintaining social networks.  She appreciates the challenges that come with adjusting to new environments and the opportunities that develop when students are introduced to the importance of cultivating mentor/mentee relationships. Tess has always been passionate about  creating safe spaces for people to experience authentic relationships, and plans to do just that for Step Ahead Scholars alumni!

ARIA ALBRITTON

Director of Operations

Aria Albritton is an alumna of Johns Hopkins University. As a graduate from an underserved high school, Aria understands the necessity of creating and identifying comprehensive support networks for first-generation, low income, and diverse student groups that empower them to successfully navigate their university experiences. She served as an AmeriCorps member, with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where she focused on college readiness, which included launching a student-led, literacy and mentorship program for refugee elementary and high school students. After her AmeriCorps service, Aria joined the IRC as a Career Readiness Specialist for out-of-school youth offering them one-on-one mentorship. In addition, her grant writing acumen raised thousands of dollars for a wide range of IRC youth programs. Aria believes in the power of youth leadership, peer-to-peer mentorship, and in creating spaces for young people to realize their unique agency in changing their lives and their communities. Her lived experiences and life goals make her a perfect addition to the Step Ahead Scholars team.

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