Capstone College and Career Advising

Spann’s Children Inspire Her Career Trajectory

August 5th, 2012 by
Capstone College & Career AdvisingDonna Spann came up with the idea for her business when her daughter came asking questions about college.

After 22 years working in management roles for nonprofit organizations, her daughter, Lindsay Luker, was a senior in high school and told her, “I think I need to apply for colleges.”

Walking through the process with her daughter 11 years ago, Ms. Spann learned a lot through trial and error and when talking to other parents, realized there was a need in the community. About 10 years ago, she co-founded College Bound Solutions and worked there for about nine years before starting her own company — Capstone College and Career Advising — in March 2011.

“I kind of walked into this as a parent, not knowing what to do for my daughter,” she said.

Lindsay Luker, 28, is now a doctor of physical therapy and works for Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth while her younger daughter, Chelsea Luker, 24, is in The University of Texas at Tyler Master's Program in Clinical Neuropsychology. 

“I was making them do more than what is required of them,” she said of her children when they were in high school. Like she did with her daughters, Capstone challenges high school students to be more, which is what colleges are looking for, she added.

Capstone works with high school students to help them prepare for college.

When starting the business, Mrs. Spann took the advice she often gives to her students — “There's nothing you can't accomplish if you try to reach for the stars and follow your dreams,” she said.

Ms. Spann, 54, of Tyler, always dreamed of owning a business, but she never thought it would have to do with college advising, she said. She started the business on her own, providing all of the services herself. About 27 students went through the application process with Capstone last year, while others came in for tutorials. She now has 45 students.

“I actually can't believe the growth,” she said. “It's enough to keep a lot of people busy.”


Michael Lujan, owner of Mentoring Minds, which produces learning products used in schools nationwide, said he met Ms. Spann through her helping his 16-year-old daughter who is about to start her junior year in high school. “We wanted the very best for our daughter, college-wise,” he said.
He said he soon found that children are drawn to Ms. Spann.

“The kids kind of gravitate towards her like a magnet,” he said.

Lujan, 52, said Ms. Spann's business intrigued him, and he realized it was another niche in the education industry he felt he could help make an impact with Mentoring Minds.

Lujan was an assistant principal for Douglas Elementary School, and his wife, Lisa, was a banker. The combination led to them starting Mentoring Minds out of their home in 2002. They developed an innovative study aid, designed as a flip chart, that would help elementary teachers and students in Texas better meet new state educational standards. Now, the company is a full educational publisher, producing innovative learning products used in schools across the country, reaching students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

Now because of its partnership with Capstone, Mentoring Minds is serving children from pre-kindergarten to university, Lujan said.

Mentoring Minds and Capstone remain separate companies but partnered June 1 to work together to lend support and resources. He said Ms. Capstone runs her company, as its chief executive officer, with their help.

Ms. Spann is a Longview native and attended Chapel Hill High School. She has served as executive director for Prevent Blindness Texas, East Texas Regional Branch; director of the Children's Miracle Network for Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics; and as community and public relations director for PATH. She has also worked as a secretary at Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic School.

Building Students

Capstone works with high school students in two phases. With freshman and sophomore students, Ms. Spann helps them identify their gifts, talents, strengths and abilities and use them to start building themselves to get ready for the college preparation process. She even starts talking to eighth-grade students about the importance of preparing for college.

Seniors often tell her, “If I had only known as a freshman how important this is,” she said.

When they start as freshmen or sophomores, they can position themselves to be the best candidate for admissions to highly competitive schools. She works with them to identify the areas colleges are looking at in a candidate.

Grades are a big determinant when applying for college, she said. She also encourages them to explore potential careers, taking their academic strengths and assessing those and their passions that would relate to their academic career. She encourages them to attend summer academic camps at colleges, volunteer in their community and do other extracurricular activities. She said colleges look at students who pursue an interest over a length of time.

Ms. Spann said they take all of that information and guide the students in creating an academic and personal resume, which include their GPA, test scores, school information, extracurricular activities and work experience.

With juniors and seniors, Ms. Spann shows them how to market themselves to colleges and universities with strong essays. Tutors can work with them to brainstorm ideas, create an outline and edit the essays, but they do not write it for them, she said. 

“We empower the students,” Ms. Spann said. “We're there to guide them and advise them throughout that process.”

Ms. Spann said she gets calls daily from parents looking to Capstone as a resource and who want better for their children than what they had. “They don't know how to best help their child” and know Capstone can help guide them, she said.

Capstone makes sure the students stay on track, meeting their deadlines. Ms. Spann said it is also a partnership with the students' parents and with the high school counselors, whom they support and try to work with.

Lujan said high school counselors have to deal with thousands of students and Capstone “takes it above and beyond,” giving the students, such as his daughter, the individual attention they really need.

Unique Students

Ms. Spann said she has worked with students from all over East Texas. Capstone offers help in financial aid and college applications, as well as ACT and SAT prep classes, which she said is a big need in the community. They offer smaller class sizes in different formats.

“We understand and believe that every student who comes in our door is unique and different from every other student,” she said. “The way we approach every student is unique.”

Colleges and universities have become very competitive and students need to show they are unique. Ms. Spann said she can recognize the uniqueness in the students.

“I want to see these students achieve their dreams and that’s going to include an education,” Ms. Spann said.

Some of her clients include a high school senior who has spent the summer observing brain surgeries and a junior who has attended an engineering camp. She said it is not only about doing something that will look good on a resume, but whether the student will benefit from it.

Aside from their parents, Ms. Spann said they are the students’ biggest advocate and try to advise them the way they would want others to advise their children.

To help with Capstone’s recent transition and growth, she has brought in Erin Bush because of her experience in advising students on the collegiate level, which she called invaluable to what Capstone does.

Ms. Bush, of Tyler, started her career in individual and personal counseling before working as a career counselor for Georgetown University for two years. She has also worked as a personal training coordinator in the health industry and was a stay-at-home mother before meeting Ms. Spann and realizing she could help in her company, she said.

Ms. Bush said she brings her experience in the decision making process.

Although Ms. Spann and Ms. Bush are Capstone’s only two official employees, since partnering with Mentoring Minds, they now have the use of its support staff, such as its customer service center and its marketing department. Ms. Spann said students come to their offices in one of Mentoring Minds’ buildings on Hightech Drive.

On Aug. 25, Capstone is hosting “The Parent’s Survival Guide to College.” Sessions will be from 8-10 a.m. for parents of freshmen and sophomores and 10 a.m. to noon for parents of juniors and seniors and will include information on how to support your student without doing it for them, what a parent can expect and facilitated panel discussions. Admission is $25 per session and reservations can be made or 903-747-3424.