A family legacy of education and hope

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    Taylor Docking talks about the creation of Project Intersect during a speech a Adrian College.

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  • Like father, like son is a well-documented adage that fits Jeffrey Docking and his son Taylor like a comfortable shoe.

    Taylor was 14 years old when his dad was appointed president of Adrian College in 2005, but he obviously observed Mr. Docking’s goal of making a college education within reach of all, despite personal circumstances.

    The 11-year enrollment increase from 900 to today’s 1,700 during Mr. Docking’s presidency is marked with many stories of struggling students whose dreams of a college education were realized because of his support. Several students who have received financial aid and encouragement have been referred to the president by faculty members who learned of their special circumstances.

    Just as Mr. Docking is all about young people in all walks of life making their dreams of a college education come true, Taylor set a similar goal on the south side of Chicago that has trickled into Adrian College enrollment.

    He is the founder of Project Intersect, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create partnerships between small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest and low-income high schools throughout south Chicago.

    Adrian College is the first liberal arts college to partner with the program and this year welcomed three south side Chicago students.

    “Adrian College and Project Intersect share an important value that education is the key to a better life,” Mr. Docking said. “It is our responsibility as adults to help good students from impoverished areas of America enroll in colleges that can teach them how to create a life of opportunity and consequence.”

    Taylor traced the tough climb to achieve Project Intersect in a heart-warming speech at the Adrian College President’s Dinner in October, attended by nearly 300 people with his parents, Jeff and Beth Docking, at the head table.

    After graduation from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Taylor joined the Teach for America program and was assigned to teach third grade at Catalyst Maria School on Chicago’s south side. Teach for America is a national program that places recent college graduates in schools in low-income and often dangerous communities.

    He describes Chicago Lawn, the neighborhood where he taught two years, as having all the markings of a struggling community, including abandoned buildings, pot-holed streets, garbage in the yards, homelessness, and gangs.

    “And, if you don’t see it firsthand, you will hear it in the sirens signifying another occasion of violence somewhere nearby,” he said.

    Early on in the Chicago assignment, Taylor thought it was beautiful that the children persevered despite poverty, and though he taught third grade, he had the opportunity to talk to upperclassmen and learn their thoughts and dreams about college.

    “I have come to believe that there is something uniquely beautiful about a group of students walking past the garbage and the graffiti and boarded up buildings toward the one place that promises them the possibility of a better life,” he said.

    His students’ improved test scores the second year was not the only thing that made an impression on the young instructor.

    “I was observing that in the midst of the decay in Chicago Lawn, there were some really good kids — I mean kids who were smart, kids who were kind, kids who were mature, and hard working and perseverant beyond their years.

    “They are the roses that grow through the concrete, the kids who can escape the violence and make a better life for themselves and their communities if given the proper support.”

    Help with the project he hoped to put into motion was only a telephone call to Adrian College away. The college would send Admissions Counselor Joe VanGeison to Chicago to talk to each of 35 Catalyst Maria students and help them apply for college admission. Taylor received another affirmative to his request that the college send the Bulldog bus to Chicago to bring the students and some parents to Adrian for an all-day visit that included class visits, exploring the campus, and having lunch and dinner in the student dining room.

    The three south Chicago students who are now Adrian College freshmen were selected from essays written telling why they would like to attend Adrian and interviews with college administrators. One received a full-tuition scholarship; the other two students received several scholarship supports.

    In addition to raising funds for Project Intersect and securing more partnerships with liberal arts colleges, Taylor is doing graduate work in public policy at the University of Chicago. Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., is the second liberal arts college, after Adrian, to partner with Project Intersect.

    Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: