About Joanna Severino
Joanna Severino (@joanna_severino) is the Founder & President of PREPSKILLS and the US College Expo. Joanna has been an educator for over 25 years, helping students to excel in achieving important milestones in education. For many Canadian families, applying to private schools and US colleges can be daunting.
PREPSKILLS helps navigate this process by giving families the tools, resources and connections to maximize opportunities. Joanna created the US College Expo in Canada and PrepConnect events to help families explore their educational pathways. Education is really about resourcefulness.
As a certified teacher and passionate mom-preneur, Joanna is always looking for ways to ensure that students connect with these opportunities and get the valuable information they need to make informed decisions about education.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend, Joanna. Joanna Severino is the founder and CEO of prep skills and the US college expo. She helps students prepare for their SATs SSATs, any of their standardized tests that they might need to get into a school in the US or a specific program here in Canada.
Sam Demma (01:00):
She also, I mentioned runs the US college expo, which helps to connect US admissions reps with students who are interested in going to their schools in the states. She’s been in education for over 20 years. She’s a powerhouse. She is a mother of her sons and she just, she never runs out of energy. As someone described it, she is a trailblazer and I hope you enjoy this interview and get something valuable from it. I’ll see you on the other side. Joanna, thank you so much for coming on to the High Performing Educators podcast. It seems like forever ago, I was sitting in your workshop with my dad, prepping for my SAT to hopefully get a scholarship back when I was just a young man and you’ve continued that work ever since then. And recently we’ve reconnected. I’m curious to know, and I’m sure everyone listening is as well. Who are you? I’d love you to share a little bit about yourself and what got you into the work that you do with youth today.
Joanna Severino (01:56):
Thanks Sam. Thanks for having me and I, and I remember, I think I, I tossed a stress toy at you. It was a soccer ball, wasn’t it?
Sam Demma (02:06):
Still have it!
Joanna Severino (02:08):
Love it. Hope you’re using it. My name’s Joanna Severino and I’m the founder and president of prep skills and the US college expo. So I’ve been an educator for over 25 years and a mother of three incredible boys; ages 14, 11, and eight. And really what we’re here to do is help students through their transformative years essentially, and support them as they embark on their journey through the middle and high school years.
Sam Demma (02:43):
That’s awesome. What prompted you to do the work that you do? Was there an experience you had, if you could go back to 25 years, I’m asking you to go back a long time. what prompted you to get involved in this sort of work with youth?
Joanna Severino (02:58):
Well, really, I, I, I was an educator and, and loved it. And from a very young age, I had this entrepreneurial spirit. My, my father passed when I was 11 and my mother was left to raise four children on her own, through social assistance. And, and we really built resilience and confidence through that process. But what I did know is that education was really key to recreating essentially my narrative and that’s really what I wanted to do. And so as an educator, when I graduated and then became a teacher, was super passionate about that. However, I felt like I could do more, more globally as an educator and found myself thinking about that a lot and then life threw me a curve ball. So really it was my experience with cancer and having gone through chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant, that that was really the launchpad to creating prep skills today.
Sam Demma (03:34):
Wow. That’s, that’s crazy. I didn’t know that about you, so I appreciate you sharing. And I’m certain, there’s so many educators listening who have gone through tough challenges, just like the ones you all outline, and I’m hoping they’re, they’re hearing what comes up after you get through it, especially if someone’s going through the same sort of challenge right now, and speaking of challenges and getting through them right now. So many educators, so many schools, so many companies are faced with the instrumental challenge, which is COVID having to very quick pivot and shift and do things virtually. I know you’ve done a great job with the virtual prep skills connect event, where I showed the little stress ball live and you’re doing the expo virtually, you’re doing school tours virtually. How have you overcome the challenges of COVID and what was that experience like for you in education?
Joanna Severino (05:02):
Well, I think we’re still overcoming challenges on a, on a daily basis minute by minute. And really, I think what’s important is, is taking action. Action is super important and not worrying so much about perfection. I’ve I’ve been known as the trailblazer in the space. And so I tend to pave the way for, for a lot of people in a, in a lot of innovative things that occur in education, it was a pleasure actually to hear from a few of the educators that reached out to us before the prep connect. And they said, can we join and just watch and learn from what you due? And, and sort of referenced me as being the best in, in the space, which was a wonderful compliment, but really, I, I think rooted from my childhood and my resilience and, you know, having lost my father at a young age surviving cancer I’m, I’m pretty resilient and, and love to turn no to yeses. So I think that’s really what drives me. It’s, it’s sort of like, what’s the worst that could happen. Let’s go. And I think that’s an important mindset to have during COVID, especially.
Sam Demma (06:20):
No, that’s amazing. And you did a great job with the virtual event. I was there, I CEED. And I’m curious to know what do you think? Awesome. Thank you. what do you think are some unique, unique ways to engage people during COVID? You know, if you, if you could put the mindset on of an educator, maybe more classical that works in a school, and they’re struggling a little bit right now, you know, what can we do to help these young people during this time?
Joanna Severino (06:47):
Well, you know, I think we underestimate these, these students and they are resourceful and resilient. And, and I think this online world is, is more familiar to them than it is to us. Mm. So getting them involved in really activities, such as the ones that we’re hosting, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer virtually. Your program is fantastic. Sam, you know, top performing students to really engage and connect online. And they’re, they’re very familiar with this world. So I, I don’t know, you know, outside of there being challenges, especially through the early stages with mental health and, and really being and lockdown at home, I think that this is actually progressing in a positive way where students are now back at school, back with the structure, back with their peers and teachers. And, and I see that with my own boys. So I, I think, I think we’re moving in a good direction.
Sam Demma (07:58):
And you’re somewhat who radiates joy. You radiate hope, even through tough times, you have this positive mindset and mentality, and it’s so evident even if people are listening to this right now, what gives you hope to keep going to trail blaze away, as you said, even when everyone else might be stopping or hesitating?
Joanna Severino (08:18):
Well, I think life experience and a mindset. And you know, I, I, I really attach myself to the symbolism of a butterfly mm-hmm and a butterfly in a cocoon that then transforms into this lovely butterfly the, the caterpillar to the butterfly scenario is something that I revisit a lot of days of my life . And so looking at the, that transformation and seeing it as every ending has a new beginning, and there’s a reason why this is happening. And how do you overcome obstacles? How do you strengthen your core? These are all important things that I think we need to do and reflect on. And what can you personally control? Because there’s so many UN outside of yourself and you really shouldn’t be worried about those things. Mm. You know, what is it about you that you can really tap into your core strengths and be able to, to support your growth, your mindset, and then through that process, you can help others. So it really begin with you.
Sam Demma (09:36):
I love that. And the focus on the core strength is so important. And I know from working with you and, and watching you do your amazing work, one of your core strengths is helping young people prepare for post-secondary education for getting into the schools, their dream schools. We talked about Kevin who went to UCLA and, and I believe it was Sam who went to Haga and had a great experience at boarding school. You know, can you share an experience of a young person who’s been directly impacted by your work, maybe when they came to you, they were uncertain. They were unclear. They didn’t know where they were going. Didn’t know how to do what they needed to do to get to where they wanted to go. And through your work, you had a tremendous impact hacked on them, not only with their schooling, but maybe even their mentality or their mental health. And if you wanna share a, a touching story, you can also change the name for the sake of privacy totally up to you.
Joanna Severino (10:27):
Well, there, there’s so many stories and, and that’s really what I love about what I do. And because I’m a trailblazer and I keep moving, how I, I know that I’m leaving a footprint and I know that there are people that are being supported and helped. I, I have to admit I don’t always stop and, you know, analyze the, the situation. Yeah. Until later when someone tells me that. So, and so has been impacted by whether it was a, a war, a statement I made or has successfully been admitted to, you know, their, their school of choice. Just this week. I discovered that one of our students from many years ago must be probably at least 10 years. And he’s currently studying at brown university. And I remember him, I thought, oh, wow, that’s amazing. I’m getting older. but there’s no stories because what happens is you don’t know what you don’t know.
Joanna Severino (11:26):
And, and really success is a group project. So I found myself dealing with students and parents who are maybe limiting themselves mm-hmm . And I remember a situation where a parent came in and she wanted her son to apply to a particular school. And I asked her why. And at that point, the sticker price in terms of tuition was a little lower than some of the other school choices. And I said, so you’re not considering these other schools. And she said, no, I couldn’t afford it. That’s, that’s just completely out of our realm. And I said, well, did you know about this and this and this, these financial opportunities that you could take advantage of? And she said, no, I, I didn’t know about that. So we embarked on this journey together. He obviously ended his reach in terms of school options.
Joanna Severino (12:15):
And then he was admitted to all the schools and offered financial support at all of them. And guess what? He ended up at a school that was different from the initial choice that he had when he and his mother came to me. And I think that’s so awesome. And he’s since graduated and loved the experience, and that was the right fit for him. So I I’m really here to crush obstacles for parents and, and families, if they, if they’re concerned. I, I wanna be able to help there are so many incredible stories. A family that, that came into the city recently was during COVID and was looking for a school. And and really, it seemed like an impossibility, like how can you possibly get into a school for September and it’s June? And I love those challenges. . So there, I went and I, I went door knocking for, for the family and lo and behold it happened. And so we were able to get them into a school. So that that’s really, what I love to do is I, I really love to, to create things that don’t exist and to create opportunities that don’t exist and support families in that way.
Sam Demma (13:33):
I wanna highlight the fact that you said you hadn’t seen this young person for 10 years, and the first story you just shared, or maybe 10 years had gone by, and you vividly remember who the person was. And now they’re at their dream school at Browns college. That’s so cool, because I think so often in education or in any service based business, sometimes you don’t realize the impact of your contribution until a decade down the road. When they write you a handwritten note, or you see them standing on some podium, delivering a talk, and it’s such a, oh my gosh moment where you realize your impact has been, has been realized through that person’s life and their activity, these, and any educator who’s listening. I want you to take Joanna’s story as a, a reminder to yourself that maybe you’re not seeing the impact of your teaching or your perseverance right now, but maybe 10 years down the road, like she did, you’ll have a crazy experience where someone reaches back out to you and tells you how much it meant to you that you, you kept pushing through and, and you kept going Joanna you’re someone who has worked with so many schools has worked with so many organizers and events and planned a dozen different opportunities, hundreds by now for young people, you’ve hired dozens of speakers.
Sam Demma (14:52):
I’m curious to know how do you choose who to bring onto your stages and, and who to work with because you brought on Mike Weaver, former NHL player, Jillian apps, Olympian, you know, what, what makes a good presenter and how do you choose someone to put in front of young minds?
Joanna Severino (15:08):
Well, first, you know, as I said, I really love a great challenge. And so, you know, oftentimes we look to these, these individuals, and we think that it’s almost impossible to connect with them, right? Mm-Hmm oh, former NHL player Olympian. We had Dr Chopra from Harvard medical school, like all of these great, great inspirational speakers. And it becomes a little bit like, you know, how, how do we engage? How do we interact with them? And I, as I said, love to create opportunities that don’t exist. And so, you know, I, I find ways to connect and make sure that it’s of value to these speaker, the individual, and a value to the families that we serve. And so, you know, the, the speakers that we selected for, for example, the us college expo primarily graduated from a us college, their Canadians. And so we wanted them to reflect that story, that journey and that inspiration. That’s really how we, we go about selecting our our speakers and you of course have transformed so many students in lives. And, and with your positive, inspirational enthusiasm, we thought Sam Demma is our guy for CE this event. So thank you for doing that.
Sam Demma (16:37):
No, I appreciate it. And I was gonna say, it sounds like it’s a needs basis. You know, if there’s a need in your school, if there’s a need for the event, you find the person who can fill it, which is, sounds like a very logical way to approach the, the conversation, which is awesome. This has been an amazing conversation. I have a couple more questions for you. I’m curious to know what keeps you motivated. So we talked a little bit about what gets you hopeful, and I know you’re very obstacle oriented and you love crushing obstacles and you love creating opportunities. What motivates you to keep going? Is there someone in your life that motivates you? Do you, who do you look up? Who do you get inspiration from?
Joanna Severino (17:16):
Well, it, you know, my father passed when I was 11. I, I didn’t really get a chance to, to know him, but I do know that he, he was an entrepreneur and mm-hmm, he did you know, start a business that that was not successful actually over the course of a 10 year period, apparently in Australia. . So I, you know, I, I don’t know much about that, but I do know that there is this, this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me where I feel like what I do can impact the world globally. And, and that’s what motivates and drives me. So this, this, this spirit that I have and connection with my father, definitely. And then the miraculous transformation through the restoration of my health through cancer and then having these three wonderful boys. So, you know, I have a, a 14, 11 and eight year old, and they drive me every single day, along with my, my great husband, but the, the boys really tell the story. I can see it and live it every single as to what they’re going through, what their needs are, how the world is changing. And and, and, and it’s, it’s really motivating for me to support them. And in turn support all these families that we serve on a daily basis,
Sam Demma (18:44):
If you went on ancestry.com, I’m sure you’re a whole lineage was people that were all entrepreneurs. doing amazing know.
Sam Demma (18:56):
Educators are listening, principals, teachers, parents who wanna apply the same mindset to school. I know a while back, not too long, maybe 20 years, my age , you were once a teacher, how can a teacher or an educator that works in a more formal scenario apply that entrepreneurial mindset? Is it just, you know, doing things that are outrageous and crazy you know, what would you tell an educator in a more classic scenario how they can use an entrepreneurial spirit maybe in their classrooms or schools?
Joanna Severino (19:26):
Well, I was a, a business and computer studies teacher, and so I always bought, brought the world outside, inside mm-hmm . And so it wasn’t traditional textbook type teacher. So with, with the teachers that we serve, I think they’re doing a tremendous job because they actually do reach out to me to prep skills for the support that they need to be able to better serve the student. I mean, the American university admissions process, for example, there are over 4,000 options in the us. It’s, it’s impossible for any one person to really understand that entire system. And so they, through professional development, reach out to us they engage in the counselor day and event. And I think what they’re doing is, is fantastic. And and we see that with, with the students that we serve that foundationally and primarily come from these schools and the teachers are, are supporting them. So they’re the, the real heroes. And I just come in to, you know, to, to sort of, of finesse that and, and support them as they move on to their next stage.
Sam Demma (20:37):
That’s awesome. I love that. And you mentioned educators reach out a lot to wrap this up. I would love for you to share where they can reach you if they wanna bounce ideas around chat with you, connect, use prep skills for some preparation for students, or just to connect with you and chat about some things that you’ve done in your life. Where can they do that?
Joanna Severino (20:56):
They can, they can do that by connecting through prepskills.com or uscollegeexpo.com. And I’d be happy to, to, to meet with them or connect with them and support their process for sure.
Sam Demma (21:12):
Awesome. Joanna, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. It’s been a pleasure and I wish you all the best in the future, and I’ll be watching you behind your car as you trail blaze through this industry. I can’t wait to see what comes up next.
Joanna Severino (21:27):
Thank you, Sam pleasure.
Sam Demma (21:30):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of this show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities and I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joanna Severino
The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education. By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators. You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.