Why Virtual Volunteer Marilyn Rutz Levy Loves College Access (and Flamingos)

Virtual Destination College Team

At ScholarMatch, we make college dreams possible for low-income students.

In 2010, we started off as a college drop-in center on Valencia Street and have since expanded our services to reach 2,000+ high school youth across the nation, thanks in part to our Virtual Advising program. Our virtual platform connects passionate volunteers to high school seniors from California to Kentucky to even Hawaii, making higher education more accessible for under-resourced students.

Without the unwavering support of our volunteers, we would not be able to fulfill our mission of sending hundreds of students to college every year. We had the opportunity to sit down with one of our Virtual College Coaches, Marilyn Rutz Levy, to chat about her experience in our Virtual Advising program.

Marilyn is a retired technical writer who currently lives in San Francisco with her husband

Hey Marilyn! How did you hear about ScholarMatch?

“It is so funny! I was sitting at a Giants game with a friend of mine and he was asking me if I was still involved in tutoring at my local elementary school. I told him I hadn’t really done that in a while. He sent me an email from his college list serve — a local Brown alum had sent out an email about volunteering for ScholarMatch. I looked at your website and thought, ‘Wow, this is something I can do. How many times have I read my daughter’s high school and college essays?’”

How does your college experience inform your passion for college access?

“Back in the 70s, one could work part-time — maybe 20 hours a week at a slightly over-minimum-wage job — and afford to go to a state university. I look now at how expensive things are and I feel very badly that really good students have to go into debt or may have to drop out [of college] for a couple of years to work. I think it’s very hard to go back into school. If there’s anything that I could do to get students into school and keep them there, even if it’s just one by one, that’s my motivation.”

Marilyn speaking to our Virtual Advising team, Leo and Cristian, about her experience in the program

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience mentoring your virtual student?

“I was nervous when I started! I thought, ‘How much am I going to be able to help this person?’ and I wanted very, very much to do a good job for her.

The crunch time when it came to doing the [personal statement] essays was really intense, and part of it is because I didn’t say to her, ‘You need to get these [essays] in to me a couple of days before the deadline.’ I didn’t do that because that’s not how I work — I always work until the very last minute. And part of it was not realizing how many questions she would ask and how many schools she would apply to. But it was exhilarating working with her! I was a technical writer for many years and I went to San Jose State to study Broadcast Journalism. I do like writing and editing and I think that was the thing that I could help her with the most. My student also lives in Central New Jersey, which worked out great because she’s a bit of a night owl. It would be 1 o’clock in the morning her time and we would be working on an essay together.”

What were some of the highlights working with your virtual student?

“As a Virtual Volunteer, if you’re engaged with your student and your student is engaged with you, every interaction is particularly interesting. In these days, it is so hard to get individual help without paying for it. Even the best public schools don’t have the kind of individual attention that most students need. So, I don’t think any one thing stands out — except for meeting a couple of deadlines by minutes! It was like being in the newsroom again! ‘Will they make it?! Can we get this on the air?’ That was really exhilarating knowing that I helped her do that. It was a really good feeling. And I am hoping that as her acceptances roll in, she’ll be accepted to the University of Maryland at College Park or Rutgers. I think she deserves to get in.”

“The student is going to choose the schools. You can open up the window, but they have to jump through. We can give them ideas about what would be a good match for them, but they’re gonna have to make that decision.”

What piece of advice would you give to new Virtual Volunteers joining our program next year?

“It’s a lot easier than you think it’s going to be. If you’re worried that you’re the one who has this student’s life in your hand, that’s not it. First of all, they have other resources, and your main job is to be a cheerleader. And, if you have any questions, you can always ask ScholarMatch — having really good backup is very important. In my experience, the student is going to choose the schools. You can open up the window, but they have to jump through. We can give them ideas about what would be a good match for them, but they’re gonna have to make that decision. Don’t be afraid that it’s all on you. Everybody understands that you’re not a professional, and your biggest job, I think, is to be supportive and figure out what the student needs the most help.”

Do you have a fun fact or a special hobby, talent or skill that you want to share about yourself?

“I collect flamingos, and I have since the 80’s. In fact, you may want to photograph my flamingo Toms. This started when I worked at Wells Fargo in the 80’s, and I started to collect [flamingo] postcards and put them on my bulletin board. Sometimes, I would come into work and someone would give me some flamingo figurine — one time there was a lamp! So these things would just show up on my desk. And so I have lots of little flamingo things around my house. Flamingos were kind of an ironic 50’s throwback in the 80’s. Now they’re very popular, but for many years, you really had to search for them!”

Marilyn’s first (and only!) pair of Toms sport bright pink flamingos

Got a college degree and want to pay it forward? Join ScholarMatch in making college possible for high school students across the nation by signing up to become a Virtual College Coach. Not only will you receive extensive college advising training from ScholarMatch, you’ll also provide crucial mentorship to high-achieving students from around the country. Virtual Volunteers will support their students from June 2019-June 2020.

Sign up today at scholarmatch.org/get-involved!