By Daniel Garin-Vila, Contributor
As Payton welcomes the class of 2026 into the building for the first time, it also welcomes a new cohort of teachers. This year, there are 22 new staff members joining the WPCP community! I met with Mr. Grant, Payton’s new college and career coach (a position added this year) to hear his story.
Paw Print: What got you into being a career and college coach?
Mr. Grant: I’ve worked in college admissions for nearly 15 years. I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate career and enjoyed my experience ther so much that I wanted to stay connected to the school in some way; becoming an admissions counselor was that way. Then, after a year, I found that I could see myself doing this work beyond Syracuse, so I went from Syracuse to the University of Richmond and then went to Earlham College. Earlham College is where I heavily recruited here in Chicago. I had four solid years of visiting schools throughout the city, including Payton back in 2016. Even as I was getting a master’s in social justice at Fisk University, I still wanted to be connected to college admissions counseling work. Last spring semester, I knew that I would have very few credits in my graduate program and that I could finish them over the course of this academic year without having to be on campus so I looked at a wide variety of jobs particularly within Chicago Public Schools. I saw the position available here at Payton, applied for it, and then interviewed for it and fortunately was offered the position by Dr. Shabazz. I wanted to translate all of the different experiences that I’ve had and the knowledge and skills that I’ve developed over the past nearly 15 years to a secondary setting.
Paw Print: How do you hope to help students here at Payton through the tough process of college application?
Mr. Grant: My goal is for students to make an informed choice about the post-secondary pathways that they might choose (whether that is to go to college or to work, or to go to the military or to trade school or vocational school, or to take a gap year before doing any of the other five things). One of the things Dr. Shabazz indicated that she wanted me to do is to expose students to a wide variety of options. That includes continuing to have post-secondary representatives visit Payton throughout the fall semester but that also includes different webinars and panels that I’ll be hosting. For each panel that I’m looking to have online, we’ll have a particular theme. I am looking to have some of my colleagues on the postsecondary side join for some of these particular panels that also include some field trips that the counseling department is looking to plan at some point throughout the academic year.
Paw Print: What is your best piece of advice for students going through the application process?
Mr. Grant: So I think the best piece of advice is that students do not have to have everything figured out. I’ve heard from some students and families that they feel behind and I’ve told them that that is not the case. This truly is a process. It is okay to not be in a certain place. You don’t have to have the rest of your life figured out. This process is about where you are right now, who you are right now, and what choices might you make to honor and reflect who you are and the things that you value. So you can decide to major in biology and choose a school that you think would best fit that and then decide 10 years later that you don’t want to do that anymore and switch to something else. Or you can take a gap year after Payton to figure out what it is that you might want to do with your life and then toward the end of that gap year decide you’re going to go to trade school because you want to become a plumber. And so it is okay to be in different places in development and to change your mind at various points in time. I did not even declare my major until the fall of my sophomore year and still was able to graduate within four years. I felt that I had opportunities to explore as well. I want to take the stress out of the process for students and their families. So my advice is it is okay to be in different places within the process and it is okay to change your mind about what you might want.
Paw Print: So for our final question, if you weren’t a college/career coach right now, what would you be doing?
Mr. Grant: I would say probably a recording artist. When I was in high school and college, I wanted to pursue getting a recording contract but after a while I decided not to go in that particular direction and as I’ve gotten older I’m glad that I did not. I sing and play piano; I’ve been singing since age seven in church choir, and I was a part of my high school choir and plays. I started playing piano when I was 17 and I played at some events, across campus when I was an undergrad, and then in a variety of churches as well. As I get older, I realize all I want to do is just sing and play piano; so yes, I would probably be a recording artist if I did not do this, or if not a recording artist I would be a pianist somewhere because even though I’ve been singing longer than I’ve been playing piano, piano musically was my first love. That was the first thing that I loved about music.