Intention, persistence, and perspective. These are some of the themes that rise to the surface when talking with 29-year-old Trey Williams about his Northeastern experience. But looking back, he will be the first to admit that this level of maturity took time to develop.
Trey graduated from New Mission High School in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood in 2010, and although he took mostly advanced level classes and had college aspirations, he hadn’t applied himself seriously enough to get accepted anywhere. When he heard about Northeastern’s Foundation Year program through a local youth support organization, he knew he’d found himself a pathway to a college degree; but his first year of college was a rocky start, and he almost didn’t make it through the first semester. “I was a kid. It was the first time I had responsibility, and I didn’t know how to manage that freedom properly. I wasn’t asking the right questions and didn’t know who to talk to, and at first I was just in it for the piece of paper at the end.”
With thoughtful guidance from the Foundation Year faculty and advisors, Trey finished the year on the Dean’s List and matriculated into the College of Professional Studies—starting as a Biology major before transitioning to Psychology, and eventually settling on Management. Like many students in the College of Professional Studies, he had to work full-time to finance his education as he went. As he neared the completion of his degree, the financial burden became too high, leading him to quit taking classes. “In 2015, I ran out of financial aid, and that’s when it hit me that life is real and you have to be very intentional about the choices you make. Losing financial assistance, not being able to graduate, watching friends and family members graduate around the same time. That really hit me hard.”
After working for several years in hospitality, Trey found himself at a crossroads. “As you rise through the ranks in your career as a person of color, you start to see less and less people who look like you, and it can be hard to gain favor. Over a four-year time-frame, I worked my way up to a Director level, but still no one took me seriously, because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.” With the perspective he had gained over his years in the workforce, Trey knew he wanted to become a financial analyst, eventually pursue a PhD, and become an economist. But the first step was to complete his undergraduate degree.
“As a person in my early 20’s, paying for my education cost my entire life savings. I had slowly been saving over time, and I realized I could either use that money to invest in my education or keep working service industry jobs that would end up working me to death. And I figured that by the time I was 40 I would probably want to still be able to stand.”
Trey graduated with a degree in Management from the College of Professional Studies in 2019. He recalls, “Some of my friends didn’t end up graduating because even after finishing Foundation Year, they still experienced financial barriers they couldn’t overcome towards finishing. For me, it took 9 years.” Even after completing his degree and pursuing several certifications in financial modeling and analytics, he had trouble finding a job as an analyst. “I had to be in the workforce for a little while to realize that just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean you’re any more qualified than the person standing next to you. I needed to be ahead of the crowd on the cutting edge. I needed to be at home doing research in my free time. And I realized I would also need a master’s degree.”
By this time, Trey had gained perspective through life experience and had created a set of intentions and goals which he planned to achieve by investing in his education. But persistence always came naturally. “I lost a friend when I was young and knew I wanted to get my family out of the neighborhood we lived in. I lost my mother at 21 and wanted to help my grandmother. I wanted to be an example for my younger brother. I wanted to begin to establish generational wealth for my family. I knew as long as I applied myself and worked my connections, I’d get there.” Trey completed his master’s in analytics in July 2021, started a data analytics consulting company, and accepted a data science fellowship with The Data Incubator, an immersive training program designed to fine tune the skills necessary to become a leader in the data science field.
Having made measurable strides toward his goals, Trey has had time to step back, reflect, and begin to pay it forward. In 2020 he joined Northeastern’s Young Alumni Advisory Board as Chief Executive Connector. “I’d like to mentor current students to help them understand why they’re in school, how they can apply their skills and education to work in the world, and how to work their interests and passions into their course of study. I want students to have a more active role in engaging with project and academic work than I did as an undergrad.”
He has also had the opportunity to consider his personal journey from the very beginning, starting with Foundation Year. “The Foundation Year faculty are amazing, they give 110%. I see the value that they brought to my life with extra support and hand holding, because I was not prepared to be in a college environment, and if I had gone straight into the standard Northeastern experience, I don’t think I would have been able to survive let alone perform at a level that was exceptional. They were able to give me the space and feedback necessary to grow. Foundation Year is everything. It really is the foundation.”
Foundation Year is an innovative, first-year college program at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies that provides students from Boston with rigorous academics integrated with student support services to create an environment where students can be successful for their entire Northeastern college experience. Learn more about Foundation Year.