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As the first college graduates in their families, Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt know all about the transformative power of higher education for women.
That's why the two of them are on a mission to make a difference in the lives of young women around the globe through their non-profit organization, She's the First. Founded by Tibbetts in 2009 when both women were in their early twenties, She's the First engages students in the United States to sponsor education for girls in low-income countries to help them become the first in their families to graduate from a secondary school.
As part of the "Summer of Secrets" series, the duo shared their secrets to success and the drive behind their mission with TODAY special correspondent Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY Thursday.
"I see a lot my fire in them,'' Brandt said about the students in the program. "Almost by default if you're going to be the first person in your family in your community, to achieve these really audacious goals that these girls have, you have to have that fire. So many of our students really have that fire."
It reminds Tibbetts of what drove her to graduate summa cum laude with a degree in journalism from the The College of New Jersey and Brandt to graduate summa cum laude from Syracuse University with a degree in communications. They also had help along the way, which is what they hope to provide for girls in other countries facing economic hardships.
"Even though my parents didn't go to college, it was an opportunity they wanted my sister and I to have,'' Tibbetts told Hager. "I remember, growing up, my dad, he worked overtime shifts, and they saved up the money. They said I could do whatever I wanted."
Tibbetts launched She's the First while living in New York City and met Brandt through Facebook. They launched the non-profit in 2009 with a YouTube video and have since won a United Nations Global Change award and been on TIME magazine's "30 under 30" list. More importantly, they have changed the lives of hundreds of young women and their communities. There are now 125 "She's the First" clubs at U.S. high schools and colleges that have raised more than $2 million for the scholarships by using social media and selling the organization's signature tie-dyed cupcakes.
"Today, we have 500 scholars all around the world in 10 different countries, and they're going on to do amazing things,'' Brandt said. "Some of them now have even graduated college, which is a step further than than we even aimed to do.
The two women, who live by the mottoes of "It always seems impossible until it's done," and "Learning never stops," have a goal of sponsoring 10,000 years of education by 2020.
"I consider myself successful because I've founded She's the First, and in turn, we've had so many girls get an education and become successful in their own lives, so it's become this huge ripple event of exponential growth,'' Tibbetts said.