ASU alum wins Forbes College Social Innovator Award

Nicollette Lewis, an ASU alumnus, has been named a 2011 College Social Innovator Award Winner by for her startup company Partnered for Success.

The award, presented in partnership with Forbes and the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative, seeks to highlight and reward college undergraduates in the United States who are creating positive change at a local, national and global level via social entrepreneurship.

According to the Arizona’s Children Association, nearly 10,000 children are currently in Arizona foster care system. Of these, approximately 700 youth are released from the system upon turning 18 years old with little to no guidance as to their next steps. To help counteract this, Lewis and her company Partnered for Success work with teens aged 15-16 to begin preparing them for the transition.

Partnered for Success provides teens and orphans in the Phoenix metropolitan area foster care system with mentoring and life skills needed to succeed upon “aging out” of the foster system. As part of the program, Lewis and co-founder Priya Nathan work to pair youth with college mentors, community service opportunities and personal growth workshops.

“The workshops are important because they help create awareness about educational options, help prepare youth for life beyond the system and also help job training,” Lewis said. “We combine this with community service so kids can develop another skill set and have something positive to put on their resumes.”

The idea for the program grew out of an assignment from a leadership action course at the W. P Carey School of Business, in which Lewis and Nathan were asked to present their ideas on how to take action in the community. After solidifying their ideas and coming up with a business plan, Nathan and Lewis went on to enter and win the spring 2011 Innovation Challenge.

For Lewis, the cause holds special meaning, as she became an orphan after losing both her parents by the time she was 15. Although fortunate enough to live with family members, Lewis says she was still forced to grow up quickly at a young age.

“I didn’t know how to navigate the legal system to receive social security benefits and how that fits into paying for college,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of other kids who are in that same situation where their needs get ignored because they don’t have the state looking out for them to help with the things that parents would normally do.”

After visiting ASU while in high school, Lewis said she immediately gravitated to the business management degree from the W. P. Carey School of Business. After four years of hard work, she received her bachelor’s degree in December.  

For now, Lewis is enjoying dedicating all of her energy to Partnered for Success and the youth in her program. In the future, however, she dreams of traveling to India to study religion and spirituality, while simultaneously donating her time working in a boarding school in the Himalaya Mountains.

And although she misses her family, Lewis says their words of wisdom will always stay with her.

“My parents instilled a lot of great values in me while I had them. I know they wouldn’t want me to mope and let the negative aspects of everything overcome my life,” said Lewis. “I may as well turn this tragedy into something that I can use to benefit other kids facing similar situations.”