Greg Owens could have left Toledo in his rearview mirror after graduating from Yale University in 2004 with double majors of economics and premed and starting three years on its football team.
But the feeling he received from helping other students reach their dreams drew him back home.
Instead of going to medical school or working in New York City as an investment banker, Mr. Owens, 24, decided to come back to Toledo as an entrepreneur. He is an education consultant for a program called STARS, which stands for Student Testing and Academic Resource Services.
STARS runs ACT and SAT preparation courses, competing with more traditional programs like Kaplan but at a fraction of the cost of those services, Mr. Owens said. The graduate of St. John's Jesuit High School is running the business with his former high school guidance counselor, Mona McGhee, who now works at Central Catholic High School.
Tutoring is something Mr. Owens has done since his junior year at St. John's, when Ms. McGhee leaned on him to help other students prepare for the standardized tests to enter college. STARS also does Ohio Graduation Test and proficiency test preparation.
"There is a big need in this area," Mr. Owens said. "I saw all the test prep companies. Being from a single-parent home, I know my mom couldn't afford those courses for me. Everyone who wants to do well and have a successful life, college is where it starts."
Mr. Owens attended Nathan Hale Elementary and Old West End and Brynedale junior high schools before receiving financial aid to attend St. John's. There, he played varsity football for three years and was one of the top students academically.
He admitted it was a terse conversation with Ms. McGhee his junior year that changed his life. A speaker from an Ivy League school addressed a group Mr. Owens was in and asked how many saw themselves at such a university. No one raised his hand. After the speech, Mr. Owens said he ran into an upset Ms. McGhee.
"She told me she was upset with me, and I didn't know what she was talking about at first," Mr. Owens said. "She said she was upset because I didn't raise my hand, and I told her I didn't see myself [at an Ivy League university]. She told me, 'If you don't think highly of yourself, don't expect anyone else to.'
"A lot of people don't realize [attending an Ivy League university] is a reality. They don't think outside the box. I didn't always want to go to Yale until someone imbedded that seed into my head that said, 'I can do this.' That's what I try to do with the students. The one quote the students always hear come out of my mouth is, 'Don't settle.' I really believe that. Ms. McGhee instilled that in me."
Ms. McGhee said Mr. Owens has always been a person others looked up to. She said today he's able to inspire parents and students alike from all walks of life. She said his caring attitude and belief in hard work and that anything is possible make those he comes in contact with believe in themselves.
She said she has hired Mr. Owens since his junior year in high school to tutor other students, and the St. John's minority students improved their scores. She had him teach an ACT prep course while still a student.
"I told him, 'Without question, you can do this,' " Ms. McGhee said. "That's how we got started. I could see immediately that the other students were going to benefit from having [Mr. Owens] in their lives."
Mr. Owens said he has been able to reach out to a variety of students and parents because of his age and the fact he attended schools in the heart of Toledo's African-American community, then St. John's and Yale, which have small minority populations.
"There have been so many kids that he's been able to reach into their hearts and get them motivated and change their lives," Ms. McGhee said. "I can sit here all day and talk to a parent, but they look at him as a sign and a stamp of success, and they believe. They say maybe my kid won't go to Yale, but he's going to go somewhere under this direction and leadership."
STARS has tutored students from many of Toledo's public and private schools, but Mr. Owens said he sees one day taking the concept of tutoring and guidance to other cities and even statewide.
It's a different path from being a doctor or investment banker, but Mr. Owens said he believes he's on the right one.
Black History Month ends tomorrow. Remaining events include:
Contact Clyde Hughes at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6095.