Gunn High School senior Kevin Ji is one of 17 students across the country who have been selected to serve on the inaugural advisory board for Better Make Room, an educational campaign Michelle Obama started in 2015.
As a member of the student advisory board, Ji, 17, will help lead the outgoing First Lady's effort to target Generation Z, or young people ages 14-19 years, in a public awareness campaign that aims to "celebrate education, change the national conversation, and reach students directly where they are and give them a space to create content while also navigating the college-going process," states a 2015 press release announcing Better Make Room's launch. The campaign provides students with resources on how to register for the SAT and ACT, fill out FAFSA and complete college applications, among other tools to help students and families access higher education.
The board's "mission" is to "create a college-going, college-persisting and college-graduating culture at their schools" and to connect fellow students with information and resources.
"They wake up every day with a mission, working towards a vision that sees every student at their school enrolling in and completing their education past high school — whether that's a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university," an announcement states.
Ji served on the Palo Alto Youth Council for three years, received numerous Bryant Street Garage Fund grants from the city to fund projects serving teens, and established Palo Alto's first Teen History Bowl Tournament last year. He also founded Financial Literacy for Youth to provide and advocate for better financial education for students.
"I've always been dedicated to empowering young people's undervalued voices and making meaningful changes in my community," Ji said in a statement. "But I want to tackle educational inequities beyond just my community. Better Make Room provides me a tremendous platform to elevate students' voices to be heard in the halls of government."
Ji said he plans to collaborate with the other student board members to help make public-school learning more engaging, work with teachers to incorporate real-world applications to make classroom learning more relevant, and ultimately, "to ensure that students across America have the opportunity to connect with resources they need to choose their best path beyond high school."
Better Make Room's inaugural advisory board has 12 high school students and five college students. Two-thirds of the members are, or will be, the first in their families to attain a postsecondary degree, according to an announcement. Two-thirds of the high school students currently attend Title I high schools, meaning the schools get additional funding from the federal government due to high percentages of low-income students. And the board members come from all over the U.S., representing 13 states.
They are all "deeply and personally committed to the mission of Better Make Room and have already demonstrated their remarkable ability to create change in their own communities," the announcement states.
As an advisory board member, Ji said he hopes to "usher in a culture of empowerment among American youth regardless of their background.
"I will continue my mission to 'better make room' for those voices that remain unheard," he said. "Higher education should not just be for the privileged."