College Forward | 10.18.16

A Message from Our CEO


Dearest Friends of CoFo,

Fourteen years ago, Doreen Wise and I cooked up a crazy scheme at my kitchen table. Blessed equally with bravado and ignorance, in early 2003 we blithely filed the paperwork to create College Forward.

What a ride it’s been! Over the years our little nonprofit grew to serve more than 8,000 young people and became a national leader in college services for low-income students. We’ve cheered at hundreds of college graduations. We’re honored by close relationships with many of America’s most innovative educational and philanthropic organizations. CoFo college graduates advocate for legislation in Austin and Washington, D.C. We partner with the White House on three educational initiatives. And College Forward is just hitting its stride! We’re approached almost daily about new opportunities; our challenge now is to choose which of those will achieve the greatest good for the students we care most about.

But my part of this glorious journey is nearing its end. I dearly love College Forward, our students, and our extraordinary band of co-conspirators, but the time, focus, and business acumen required to take CoFo into the future exceed my inner beach bum’s energy and attention span. On January 1, 2017, I’m handing the reins over to Austin Buchan and retiring for good. Austin and I have worked closely with CoFo’s Board of Directors for three years to plan and execute a careful, logical, collaborative transition, and we believe we’ve set a new standard for doing it right.

Austin Buchan joined College Forward in 2010 to head college completion. A year later, he led the development of our groundbreaking CoPilot student information system, which already reaches 156,000 students in 17 states. His strategic thinking and strong business skills earned a promotion to Chief of Staff in 2013 and to Executive Director in 2015. Austin has adroitly launched successful state and national advocacy campaigns and established two self-sustaining social enterprises. Last month he received the National College Access Network’s coveted “Executive Leadership Award of Excellence” for his work advancing our field. With the support of CoFo’s Leadership Team, Austin has effectively led the organization since July 2015, freeing me to focus on partnership development. He’s a rock star.

Austin is surrounded by an equally-talented team whose average tenure at CoFo exceeds 5.25 years: Scott Del Rossi, Charlie Herrmann, Monica Durham, Leigh Ridge, Rip Rowan, Carl Searles, and Cameron Vanzura. The Board has readied this group for leadership with extraordinary care, close mentoring, and high-quality training; they and their committed staff have time and time again met and exceeded every challenge. The Board and I have complete confidence in their abilities and their leadership.

College Forward is also lucky to have an entrepreneurial and endlessly supportive Board of Directors. They collaborate closely with the staff to define policy and strategy. With a wealth of experience in business, education, and nonprofits, they’re always available to brainstorm an idea or give advice about a thorny problem. Just last week, I was privileged to witness CoFo Board Chair Dennis Cavner receive the Governor’s Lone Star Achievement Award, the state’s highest honor, from the Governor of Texas.

The thousand souls who have come together to help build this organization are the best, most caring, most generous people I’ll ever know. The entire Board, Austin, CoFo’s staff, and I are enormously grateful for the contributions of those who have helped build or guide College Forward since 2002. Knowing you, working with you, and having your friendship has been the greatest privilege of my life.

  • To our students: thank you for inspiring me every day. I’m embarrassingly proud of you.
  • To our donors and grantors: I’m humbled and grateful for your trust, support, and advice.
  • To our partners: working with you and for you is a great source of joy and pride.
  • To our AmeriCorps members and volunteers: OMG, look what you’ve built!!
  • To our Board of Directors: y’all are way, way better than Harvard Biz School.
  • To our hardworking staff: you’re the bomb! Thank you for the daily miracles.
  • To Doreen: you’re the very, very greatest BFF in the history of the world.
  • To Austin and CoFo’s Leadership Team: y’all got this! Go forth and do good.
  • To everyone: as of January 1 I’ll be free for happy hour almost every day. Hit me up!

With respect, gratitude, and love,

Lisa Signature - No Last Name