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Osborn College Access Network

Detroit, Michigan

Wytrice Harris

By Matthew Lewis
October 10, 2013

Wytrice Harris, Network Coordinator at the newly formed Osborn College Access Network (OCAN), knows that obtaining a higher education can be complicated. This Osborn neighborhood resident did all the right things as a high school student, graduating from Cass Technical High School with honors before being accepted into Florida A&M University. Wanting to escape family issues at home and discover what living in a new place would be like, Harris left for Florida. While there, she found herself in a trap that many unprepared college students fall into.
"I was irresponsible. I partied too much and stopped going to class," says Harris.
She returned home to Detroit that summer and reflected on her situation. Something (she credits the Holy Spirit--Harris is also a pastor at Total Life Christian Ministries alongside her husband Daryl) told her not to go back to Florida. She decided to enroll at Wayne County Community College and paid her way through classes. She was two credits shy of a degree when, in her words, "Life happened." She got married, went to work, and had children.
It wasn't until her twins were six months old a decade later that she went back to school and finished a liberal arts associates degree at WCCC. "I knew I wouldn't be able to convince my kids to finish what they started if I couldn't finish what I started."
But Harris wasn't done. She went on to receive a BA in mathematics and psychology at U of M Dearborn (while at the same time convincing her husband to get his GED and a BA in psychology), then a Master's in mathematics, and is now finishing an education doctoral degree in instructional technology.
Harris describes the degree as being "about creating better learners and more efficient practices for teachers and trainers."
Harris is now sharing the lessons she learned in her adventures in higher education with youth in the Osborn community through her new role with the Osborn Local College Access Network.
"I'm able to speak to high school students about why it's important to stick with education while you're young, when school is your primary responsibility. I did it the hard way with family responsibilities, bills, etc."
The Osborn Local College Access Network is one of only four such neighborhood-based organizations in the city of Detroit. Its mission is to "dramatically increase the college awareness, admission and completion rates in the Osborn Community among students and adults."
Harris is attempting to fulfill this mission by building partnerships and trust in the neighborhood. Harris is a fixture at the Matrix Center on McNichols, where the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance has its offices and scores of local youth pass through each day.
"I try to find partners with mutual goals," says Harris, who is collaborating with the newly formed Osborn Parent Mentor Program, as well as working with her husband Daryl to start a pastors' alliance in Northeast Detroit. "We want to bring these pastors, who all want to help the community, together without ego."
She's also working to connect students in Osborn with underutilized resources, such as the Tuition Incentive Program, a State of Michigan program that encourages eligible students to complete high school by providing tuition assistance for the first two years of college and beyond. According to Harris, the program is only utilized to 40 percent of its potential.
In addition to her presence in the Matrix Center, Harris is setting up shop in an office within the Osborn High School complex (one building that houses three separate Detroit Public Schools) right next to the college advisor. She has an open door policy and will be a familiar face to students who need to know that attending college is not only an ambition, it's an achievable goal. They only need to hear Wytrice's story to believe it.

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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