From Guttman to Spelman—A Go-Getter’s Journey



August 3, 2022 | Alumni Achievement, Student Spotlight, Women of G.R.I.T.

Vanessa Edokpayi is an entrepreneur. At Spelman College, where she transferred after graduating from Guttman Community College, she won first place in a ten-day pitch competition: Spelpreneur. Vanessa and her colleagues are now working on developing a start-up—EVEN—which aims to manage the intensity of the forty-hour work week through promoting a healthy balance between work and personal life “so that the lines between the two aren’t blurred,” says Vanessa.

Some of the skills that have been essential to the early success of Vanessa’s start-up—adaptability, team work, an enterprising mindset, and perseverance—were honed at Guttman. “Teamwork and collaboration definitely aid in your development as a student at Guttman,” Vanessa says. “Much of your first year is based on working together with the people in your cohort. I don’t know if I would be who I was—who I am—without those first-year experiences.”

Vanessa, who was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York, and who went to high school at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, decided to attend Guttman after her plans to attend a four-year college fell through. “So I attended Guttman with the plan of transferring into a four-year college after two years.”

Vanessa admits that transferring to a four-year college has not been without its challenges. “It has been challenging, not only academically, but socially,” says Vanessa. “Being a transfer, to me, is, like, being thrown into a race five minutes after it has started.” Vanessa notes that some experiences available to “traditional” students are not always available to transfer students. “Spelman has traditional programs for freshman students—like the brother-sister exchange (where women from Spelman are paired with men from Morehouse, essentially to emulate a brother-sister relationship)—but those experiences are not offered to transfers.” Compared to Guttman, which Vanessa characterizes as a deeply collaborative environment, this was a stark contrast. And, yet, she is drawing on her own experiences with the aim to improve the transfer process for future students. “I do hope to be a part of the transfer student association’s board at Spelman, to make the transition easier for students at Spelman, like Guttman has made it for me.”

Indeed, Vanessa talks about the personal relationships she forged at Guttman as being crucial to applying and transitioning to life at Spelman. “My advisor at Guttman, Atiya Jackson, was definitely an advocate for me to attend an HBCU. Whether through helping me look for resources to be able to afford to attend a four-year college or through helping me write a letter of recommendation, Atiya has been an amazing resource.”

Vanessa’s go-getter attitude manifested itself via the extracurricular opportunities she participated in at Guttman, such as Women of GRIT (Gratitude, Resilience, Integrity, and Talent). “This is a mentorship program where you can attend monthly workshops and events. GRIT aims to promote personal, professional, and academic success.” Besides GRIT, Vanessa is enthusiastic about her Global Guttman trip in 2019, when she went to Ecuador. “That was really life changing,” says Vanessa. “Being able to fully immerse yourself in the culture, language, and, of course, the food is something I will always remember. On this short, fifteen-day trip, I was able to explore the tropical rainforest in Puerto Quito, climb up four-hundred steps in Guayaquil—in order to see the infamous Guayaquil lighthouse—and eat all the patacones (a type of Ecuadorian dish) that my heart desired.” It is natural to draw a line from her participation in GRIT—which promoted traits necessary to achieve sustained professional success—and Global Guttman—which offered its own balance between academic study and recreation—to Vanessa’s start-up EVEN.

Generally speaking, Vanessa touts the diverse and dynamic activities that students can take part in at Guttman as one thing that differentiates the college from four-year institutions. “Many of the opportunities that I experienced at Guttman—things like studying abroad, going on an HBCU tour for four days, or even seeing the Rockettes live for the first time—are things that I was able to experience for free.” If it was not for Guttman, and the affordable resources that they offer to their students, Vanessa’s post-graduation plans would likely look much different. “After graduation, I hope to teach English in a Spanish-speaking country,” says Vanessa, acknowledging the impact of Global Guttman on her career ambitions. Currently, she and her team continue to develop their start-up by focusing on the “customer discovery process “What this essentially means,” says Vanessa, “is that we are conducting interviews with different participants in the corporate world to see how EVEN would alleviate the pressure that they report experiencing in their personal and professional lives. Through this process we are also hoping to see how we can make EVEN a better product, as well as a more marketable one.”


When asked what she would tell persons who are considering applying to Guttman, Vanessa left no doubt. “Don’t let the stigma of attending a community college deter you from attending. I would 1,000% recommend Guttman to any student who is even remotely interested in attending.” And for persons who are already students at Guttman? “Don’t be scared to take advantage of the opportunities available. If you’re interested in doing work-study, I highly recommend working with the admission’s team!” One last piece of advice from Vanessa: “Definitely reach out to your peer mentors and advisors—they are the best!”