Champion: Katie Booms, Westside Collaborative

How are you involved with Challenge Scholars?

Katie: I do community engagement for Challenge Scholars families. I am available to answer any questions they have, enroll their children in the program, and work with them to take advantage of all the resources that come with being a Challenge Scholar.

What made you decide to become a vocal leader for the initiative?

Katie: I know how amazing it is that Challenge Scholars can make the college dream possible for every single student who meets the basic requirements of attendance, behavior, and grades.

What I learned at college changed my life completely. But now I watch my peers struggling with student loan debt, some of them wondering if college was even worth it for them. I remember having to patch together 13 scholarships to pay for my education, which I could only do at all because I was an outstanding student from a small town that supported its top graduates. I want to support the Challenge Scholars promise of life-changing college experiences without the crippling debt.

What do you like most about the Challenge Scholars initiative? What are its strengths?

Katie: The strength of Challenge Scholars is that it is based in a neighborhood, at schools that follow a community model. This creates a college-going culture among all the area students and families. It also gives local organizations and businesses a clear opportunity to contribute to the positive future direction of our neighborhood.

When Challenge Scholars do go on to college, the skills they build will be valuable not only for themselves but for their future employers and neighborhoods as well, many of which I hope will be on the Westside.

Challenge Scholars do not have to figure out how to navigate the long road to college on their own. They are supported by their peers, school support staff, and community partners who all have a strong interest in their success. There’s the saying that it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a whole community rallying around its schools to raise local children through the levels of higher education and into a brighter future for everyone.

In what ways do you see Challenge Scholars influencing students and the community?

Katie: Challenge Scholars is a point of pride, for both students and the community. I’ve seen more students than ever believing they will go to college. When I stop them in the hallway or in the park after school, Challenge Scholars can tell me which university they want to go to, what kind of careers they might want, and how they want to change the world.

I see parents looking relieved and proud of their children. When I see Challenge Scholars stickers in windows of houses and Westside businesses, I know that this community cares about its students and their education.

If you could give Challenge Scholars one piece of advice, what would you tell them?

Katie: The most powerful tool you have is your curiosity. Because the fact is that a school day is long, and there are many years of them ahead of you.  So find something to take an interest in. It doesn’t matter if it is a sport, a school subject, or a hobby. If you can be curious about that one thing, then it will give you the motivation to work through the lessons or whole classes you find difficult. Then, maybe you can cultivate your curiosity about other things as well. Because if you can train yourself to care about these math and science and arts things that you will have to do whether you care about them or not, then it will save you a lot of boredom and frustration.

It would be ideal, of course, if all your teachers knew your exact learning styles and interests to tailor your education to you, but in the end, you are the one who has to choose where to give your attention. You are the one who gets to keep what you learn. You are the one who loses out on anything that happens while you aren’t paying attention, even if it’s for a very good reason. Use your power to look around, notice things, and ask questions.

Katie Booms is a Community Engagement Coordinator with the Westside Collaborative.  Learn more at or