Meet Tosha Lewis, SFSB’s Dynamic Program Director

Tosha Lewis was named director of programs and evaluation at the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara in October 2016. A tireless advocate for expanding access to college, she has more than 15 years’ experience in education outreach. Most recently, Tosha served as vice president of retention and data management at the DC College Access Program, an organization dedicated to helping Washington-area students enter and graduate from college. She began her career in academic operations and student support services at Strayer University, and went on to manage retention and academic services at the international education firm Resource Development International. Tosha earned bachelor’s degrees in sociology and African-American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an MBA at Strayer University. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in data analytics engineering at George Mason University.

Where are you from originally? Harrisonburg, a small town in Virginia. The population when I graduated from high school was about 37,000, so I’m very fond of small cities like Santa Barbara.

Did you always plan on a career in education outreach? While in college, I always thought I would become a university professor. It was only after graduating that I knew I wanted to work in college access. A co-worker was hired to work in admissions at our alma mater, and that sparked my interest in helping high school students pursue their dreams of college.

What other professional paths did you consider? When I was in high school, I was interested in becoming an astronomer. During my junior year, one of my teachers, Mrs. Strickland, arranged for me to shadow an astronomy professor at the local university. I can still remember capturing images of solar flares and becoming familiar with telescopes. While my interest in astronomy waned over time, I’ll never forget the experience or Mrs. Strickland.

What do you like best about your job? From an early age, I was fortunate to have teachers who believed in me. My mom always set an expectation that I go to college, even if the pathway was not clearly defined. While I don’t get to work directly with students in my current role, my favorite part of working in college access is making personal connections with students and helping them navigate to and through college.

What is your most memorable encounter with a student and/or parents? One that stands out occurred as I was helping a father and his son identify scholarship options. After we met, the father returned to my office to express concern that his status as an undocumented immigrant might negatively affect his son’s ability to focus on academics. That experience has stayed with me over the years, inspiring me to be more considerate of others’ challenges and appreciate the importance of empathy and perspective.

What’s your favorite food? I just love good food. My grandmothers and aunt are all great cooks, so I’m a pretty tough food critic. I have a few favorite places in Santa Barbara for a quick bite – Jeannine’s, South Coast Deli, and Los Agaves. For special occasions, I’ve really enjoyed Toma, The Lark, and The Stonehouse.

How do you define success, in your job and generally? Over the years, I’ve learned not to measure my success by my financial well-being or in comparison to my friends from college. For over half his life, my dad was an entrepreneur, and he always defined himself by his work and success. While I take great pride in my work and it’s incredibly important to me, I define my success by my measure as a daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, and friend.