15 Years of
Empowering Students
+ Changing Futures

The First 15 Years of OneGoal

The obstacles that stand in the way of students achieving their dreams loom as large as they did 15 years ago. The difference is that we now know what it takes to help students overcome those obstacles. Let’s look back at how asking tough questions, taking bold action, and prioritizing authentic relationships led OneGoal to become the leader in postsecondary access and success we are today.


Call to Action

The Chicago Tribune page-one story on April 21, 2006, sent a shock wave through the city with the headline “Of 100 Chicago Public School Children, Six Will Get a College Degree.” Jeff Nelson, a 6th-grade teacher on the south side, remembers looking up at his classroom of 32 students and wondering which two would be the lucky ones to graduate from college.


Forming an Organization

Before OneGoal became OneGoal, it was Urban Students Empowered. US Empowered started in the 2003-04 school year as an after-school program for 32 students. In 2007, Jeff joined the founding team to pilot what would become the touchstone of OneGoal’s model as an in-school classroom program, which served 200 students by 2009. Read more in this interview with Matt King, one of the six co-founders.

Our First Cohorts

Six teachers became our first Program Directors leading cohorts of students through our curriculum. In many ways they are co-founders too, as their insights and experience shaped and evolved our curriculum in those critical early years. Fun fact: Lindsey continues to lead at OneGoal, now as the Managing Director of Program Foundations in Chicago.

Establishing Roots

After operating from a coffee shop for the first few years, US Empowered leased our first Chicago office space in 2011. With a new home office, expanding team, and venture funding from A Better Chicago, conditions for long-term sustainability and continued impact were set.

In 2012, Urban Students Empowered
became OneGoal, and since has reached
over 23,000 students.


How Children Succeed

NY Times author Paul Tough’s book
How Children Succeed  hit the stands in 2012 featuring OneGoal as an example of an intervention that successfully helps students build non-cognitive skills.

University of Chicago

rigorous evaluation by researchers at the University of Chicago demonstrated OneGoal has a statistically significant impact on low-income students by increasing college enrollment and persistence rates by 10-20 percentage points. Of the interventions targeting adolescents that have undergone rigorous evaluation, OneGoal is one of the few that results in statistically significant positive impact.

President Obama

In 2015, President Obama shared the story of OneGoal Fellow Caleb, then a junior in college, and recognized the impact and potential of OneGoal in his speech on College Opportunity. Caleb just earned his Doctor of Pharmacy; learn more about his story in our recent profile:
From OneGoal Fellow to Doctor of Pharmacy: Meet Dr. Navarro. 


The White House

OneGoal Fellows Jazzmine Brooks and Schantal Scott visit the White House for the
Beating the Odds Summit.

Lessons from Leadership

“We are committed to our belief that every young person deserves an equitable opportunity to achieve their greatest postsecondary aspirations. I am humbled and incredibly optimistic about leading OneGoal alongside our team, students, educators, and partners.”


– Melissa Connelly, OneGoal CEO

Blended Learning

OneGoal’s curriculum – based in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy – transitioned online in 2020, allowing for more flexibility for diverse, remote, and hybrid classroom settings across the country.

OneGoal Leadership Network

OneGoal launched the
OneGoal Leadership Network, a new set of services designed to build district capacity for postsecondary success. Illinois and Kentucky were the first two states to choose OneGoal to provide postsecondary leadership expertise throughout their states.


UChicago Inclusive Economy Lab

Unprecedented internal and
external research studies reaffirm OneGoal’s impact. UChicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab finds that OneGoal Fellows are 40% more likely to graduate from college than peers from similar backgrounds. 


“The results are highly encouraging across a broad swath of academic outcomes, suggesting that OneGoal’s interventions have important potential for designing a pathway toward greater postsecondary success for more of the City’s young people, including Black and Latinx students, who are disproportionately underserved.”


– Carmelo Barbaro, Executive Director, UChicago Inclusive Economy Lab

Awards + Media

Celebrating 15 Years



Vision for the Future

After 15 years, we know all too well the depth and complexity of the problem. Yet, we look forward with confidence because we see what’s possible. We know what it takes to ensure students succeed in their postsecondary paths. The work ahead is big and requires change at many levels. But together, we can build an equitable future for generations to come.