College Advisers: Professional Bearers of Good News

As seniors have walked out of the school for the last time as students, the building gets muggy and underclassmen look to make it through the last 3.5 days of school, my first year of service is nearly complete. As I reflect, there is so much that could be talked about. I could talk about the heartfelt individual stories from some of the greatest young people I know. I could talk about the struggles and inevitable disappointments that have to be endured throughout a successful year. I could even talk about college applications, FAFSA, scholarships and other instances of best practice. But sometimes succeeding in this role is simpler than that. You don’t always have to know the most, or say the most. Just be solid for your kids. Just be there.

I’ve found in this role that you can share college information until you are blue in the face. You can host college rep visits and scholarship nights. You can keep and contextualize data to identify trends. You can stay up for hours on end thinking about the next form of best practice. But these actions may not always persist in the minds of those we work for, our students, who’s concentration and energy are often divided into many different aspects of their lives. I am not saying that it isn’t important to be the source of a wealth of knowledge for our students when they need it, for it is. In fact it is vital. What I’m saying is that a successful college adviser is more than that college knowledge. They are simply a good person. One who students can relate to, and can trust. A person that when a student thinks about achieving a task at hand, like taking the leap to college, they are not overwhelmed by the often times existing barriers, but relieved to know that when their time comes to act they have somebody who they are comfortable with to help them along the way.

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Kids are funny, that is no secret. Many are not aware of the significance the next few years will hold in the context of life. Others may be aware, but opt to block out the inevitable truth in place of continuing their carefree attitudes to preserve dwindling years of childhood. And unfortunately for many of our students in the schools we serve, they have grown accustom to the fatalistic outlook that has been instilled through the hardships of low-income and underrepresented communities. In order to spark the hope and opportunity that college provides, they first must know that it is possible and achievable. They must hear and learn that they themselves are capable, and we must be those professional bearers of good news. Students must feel the love before you teach them the match and fit model to discover which school is best for them. They must first trust you before they buy into the importance of sacrificing 30 minutes with their parent’s tax information while filling out the FAFSA. And they must first feel your genuine appreciation and motivation before they put down the deposit, thus solidifying their enrollment at an institution of higher education in the fall. Before you make a change, you must first make an impact.

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Of course we would not be the advisers we are without the lessons we learn from opportunities like training, Summit and Professional Development Sessions. We would not be the advisers we are without asking questions and getting answers from those who lead the charge in accessible higher education. And we would not be the adviser we are unless we share this crucial information with our students who will go on to apply this knowledge and change the trajectory of their lives. But it is impossible to be that adviser if we first do not pass the grace period of proving ourselves to these young people, and ensuring that our love is felt.

So keep fighting the good fight. Keep impacting the countless lives you do everyday. And above all just keep loving, with grace and humility.

Why taking a low-paying job after college paid off

As my service comes to a close, I have been reflecting on my choices that have led me here, and the choices that are propelling me into grad school next year. Namely the choice to take a lower paying position in order to be a College Adviser. It’s a decision that I have not regretted one bit.

Before I go further, when I say low paying, I am still able to pay rent on a small apartment that I live in by myself, and I am able to pay my bills. It has been manageable, but I have definitely not been able to save much towards any type of retirement or future plans. But it has been worth it.

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When I accepted this position, I was excited to get into schools and gain experience working with older students around college. I would not have been able to do this without my supervisors. What I did not realize was that these supervisors were also mentoring me into being a young professional. They were the first people I called whenever issues came up or I needed advice. They helped me to troubleshoot problems so I could handle them on my own. These skills that they taught me are going to be invaluable as I progress in my own career.

While I had the support of supervisors, I was also given a level of autonomy that is rarely seen in a job for someone fresh out of college. I had a set list of tasks and events to do, but often there were days and weeks where I was not working towards one of these requirements, so it was on me to fill these gaps and create events and projects to do. I was allowed to be creative and to try new things at Waverly, and if it didn’t work, I tried something else. Even though I had two supervisors at MSU, and a site supervisor here in my building, they were often too busy to check in everyday and since I was the first adviser in my school, I had to set the tone and create the culture around the College Adviser.

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This job has given the advisers an incredible amount of opportunities that very few people would have the chance to do shortly after college. Last year I had the chance to interact with different state legislators about the role of the College Adviser and the importance of college for our students. This year, alongside another adviser, Daniel Mitchell, I had the opportunity to present at three large conferences, we even had the chance to present at the CollegeBoard conference in New York City. Before this position, I’ve never attended a conference, let alone present at one. Recently, I also the opportunity to speak with Brandy Johnson from MCAN on WKAR, our local NPR station. It was an awesome chance to talk about how great my position is and to talk with others about college access at Waverly High School. Many of my colleagues in MSUCAC have also had unique opportunities. Daniel Mitchell has been appointed as a member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN). Many of our advisers have had the chance to coach sports teams and get involved in other ways at the school, which has allowed them to get to know their communities and schools better. One of our Advisers will be going abroad next year to teach English, and many others have found meaningful jobs after their year or two of service with the Advising Corps.

One of the big reasons I took this position was for the ability to make an impact. My passions in life have always been around serving others and education for all. This position combined these passions and have let me make an impact. In my time at Waverly, I have met with over 500 seniors and helped them find the right match and fit post secondary path. Having the opportunity to work one on one with students and watch them as they get into their dream schools has only validated my passions, and made me want to make a bigger impact beyond the corps.

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Finally, this position has allowed me the time and opportunities to reflect on what I want to do, and has helped me to be able to afford grad school through the education award. This job has instilled a sense of confidence and pride in the work that I have done, and has given me many experiences to draw from when I’m in grad school. I’m so thankful for this position. Even though this position may not have paid a whole lot, the experiences and lessons from this position will carry me far in my career.

End of Year Tears

 

T-minus 16 days until my term as a college adviser terminates. What a ride this has been! The Class of 2016 brought many challenges and many victories.

Pictures speak louder than words… Here are several of our graduating seniors being celebrated at Decision Day on April 29, 2016 at Yale High School!

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It has been an honor getting to know these fine young people and this community.

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The Top 10 Things MSUCAC Has Given Me

As advisers we have to learn to communicate effectively with our target audience (teenagers). This blog is (mostly) geared toward future advisers, so I’m using that approach and going with what twenty-somethings understand best: listicles. In true BuzzFeed fashion…

TOP TEN THINGS MSUCAC HAS GIVEN ME:

  1. Direction and a passion (finally…) – We all hope to help our students find their passion and develop their goals. Yet we don’t always realize that at the same time we’re developing our own. I didn’t come into this job straight from college. I had been working in a different field and MSUCAC was a complete career change for me. Yet the past two years have confirmed that I made the right move and solidified my passion for working in higher education.

 

  1. Opportunity – To directly impact young people at a crucial time in their lives. To truly make a difference in the life of another person. To alter the trajectory of an entire family. To influence not only the immediate future, but make ripples that will effect change long after I am gone.

 

  1. Smart, funny, inspiring friends – I have made lifelong friends through MSUCAC. I am not a sentimental person (I’m a green/gold, after all) so referring to people as lifelong friends is significant. For incoming advisers – make sure to bond with your fellow advisers. Honestly, you learn the bulk of your job from them. My MSUCAC friends are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known, and I am a better person for having known them. They’ve also provided much needed comedic relief and emotional support along the way, the value of which cannot be understated.

 

  1. Stress – The first fall of this position was the most stressful time of my entire life, and that is not an exaggeration. The stress has not stopped – I still find myself waking up in the middle of the night and immediately frantically wondering if I’ve missed the latest ACT registration deadline. Yet what has changed is my ability to handle that stress. I’m better at knowing when to say no. I’m better at knowing when to ask for help. I’m better at accepting that not everything will be done perfectly.

 

  1. Perspective – I am a champion of the traditional four-year residential university experience. Moving away from home, making new friends, exploring new ideas and interests, learning about the world, growing as a young adult, finding yourself– I truly believe this is one of the most beneficial experiences a young person can have. And while I want everyone to have this experience, my time as a college adviser has taught me that this path is not the goal of every student – and that is OKAY. My path was the best path for me; that doesn’t mean it is the best path for I may have known that coming into this position, but may have not truly believe it. Yet embracing that truth has made me a better adviser.

 

  1. Confidence – I have no problem chatting up the president of the local community college, challenging my principal’s perspective on higher education, telling a student they’re being ridiculous, presenting in front of 100 fellow advisers from around the country, applying to “reach” graduate programs, cold-calling parents, explaining why yes, college is in fact for everyone, or admitting that I make no money and that’s just fine and dandy, thank you. You must have confidence to do this job.

 

  1. Respect for today’s youth – As a Millennial (hello, I’m writing this in listicle form), I’m used to my entire generation being told we’re awful, a disgrace, ruining the world, etc. And I admit that I’ve looked at Generation Z and had the “my generation wasn’t that lazy” moment. Yet I’ve had many more moments where my students have impressed me and taught me serious lessons. These kids are financially savvy. They grew up in the midst of the Great Recession and are therefore keenly aware of the importance of financial security. While that sometimes manifests in a severe aversion to debt, it also manifests in the understanding that getting some sort of postsecondary education is crucial. They do get it, they just want to go about it in a different way than my generation – mainly, debt free.

 

  1. An appreciation for K12 educators – My mom was a teacher, so I thought I knew everything about what being a teacher meant. I knew they have to stay at school late, grade papers in the evening, put in hours over the summer. And all those things are true – but it is much. more. There is so much happening behind the scenes. New initiatives and priorities handed down by administrators, constantly getting pulled out of class for meetings, constantly having your students pulled out of class for meetings (my bad…), having to learn new technology – these are just some of the challenges teachers face in addition to simply teaching their students. And don’t even get me started on counselors and how overworked they are. It’s fitting that this week is Teacher Appreciation Week – it should really be every day.

 

  1. Fun – Capac High School’s prom is this weekend and I cannot wait. Most people roll their eyes and feel sorry for me when I tell them I’m chaperoning prom – and then can’t believe it when I tell them I volunteered. It’s fun to be back in high school! I’m not one of those “high school was the best time of my life” folks, come on, but it was a ton of fun. I get to enjoy the best parts of high school without the homework and soccer practice five days a week. Friday lunches with the front office staff, judging homecoming activities, chaperoning dances, watching band performances, attending the musical, cheering on the basketball team. Because we are only in our schools for two years, we’re allowed to fully enjoy these quintessential high school moments without the boredom or jadedness of long-time staff members. Take advantage!

 

  1. SO MANY TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS – Multi-tasking skills, decision-making skills, event planning skills, collaboration skills, communication skills, presentation skills, marketing skills, problem-solving skills. College advisers wear an infinite number of hats, and with each hat we put on, we build skills. I’ve never felt more confident interviewing for a job because I know that I have the skills to succeed at anything thrown my way.

 

Exploring the Rural Way of Life and Humility

If you had asked me, this time last year, if I wanted to move back to a rural area, I would have laughed in your face. I sit here, a year later, in a small town in northern Michigan in a high school with less than 240 students, surrounded by woods and farmland.

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My name is Andrew Jason and I’m a 1st year, college adviser at Hesperia High School in Hesperia, Michigan.

I’m originally from a small town about an hour away from where I currently serve. It was certainly not an expected choice of mine, to come back to rural West Michigan. The whole time in college, I assumed I would stay in Lansing, or move to another city, like Chicago or New York.

To many, living and serving in a rural area may not sound appealing. As a young, recent college graduate, typically you want to continue to be around people your age, and to be right in the center of the hustle and bustle of a large city, starting on a lucrative career pathway. Lots of my friends and peers from MSU graduated and moved to Chicago, New York, or Detroit. The nearest “large” city (Muskegon) to me is 45 minutes away.

Our entire district is in one building that is smaller than many high schools. Elementary, middle, and high school are all connected, not that far off from school houses in the past. This means that this school is the center of most of the community activity in Hesperia, everyone knows everyone and is connected to each other for better or for worse.

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Living here, I live at a much different pace than what I did in college. Life is slower around here, we take our time out here. Time is spent recounting a weekend filled with a fishing trip or a good hunt. I’m not spending my time going out, eating interesting food, or going to interesting events. I don’t have internet in my home, so I mostly find ways to be outside or read more than I did in college.

Admittedly, there are not that many people my age out here, and I do look, sometimes enviously, at my friends social media feeds of their lives in exciting places, and I sometimes wish I could live closer to them and see them more. But one important thing I have learned, among the many, after taking this position is that practicing humility is important. Our founder and CEO of the National College Advising Corps, Dr. Nicole Hurd, tells us that advisers should practice two things before all else, grace and humility.

These are humble surroundings, and they have caused me to reflect more on humility and what it means to serve here. When I was making my decision to come back to a rural area to serve high school students, I kept thinking about how confused I was my senior year of high school, and the culture shock of going to a university that was so far removed from my experience in high school. I still have younger siblings in school who will eventually be making decisions about post-secondary pathways for themselves. There’s a lot of emotion behind the fact that when that time comes, I will be there to help them. That I have set a tone and example for them, a pathway that they can now see for themselves. My brother will be applying to colleges and filling out his FAFSA this fall. I plan on taking him on college visits, ensuring he makes a choice that best fits who he is as a person and his goals for the future.

I’m so proud of being able to be there for my siblings, but why should my family be the only ones who benefit from the help of having someone there to guide them? If I can be an older sibling example for other students, students who, like I was, are unsure of how to take the next step, unsure of what they need to do with no clear guides or examples, then I want to be that example.

This is about service, and it isn’t hip, trendy, or well-paying, but it is tremendously important. More important than me and what I want. This is about opportunity for students in low-income areas and creating a pathway for them that will give them a better life for themselves and their family.

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Mr. Jason with Freshman at Hesperia High School

It is a humbling but welcome experience, to relive that high school space of uncertainty. It is humbling to hear my student’s stories and help them process what it is they want out of life, their concerns and misgivings.

I don’t always know what’s best for my students, I repeat often that I am no expert. But by accepting the fact, but trusting we can find a way forward, we create our solutions together. I certainly couldn’t predict how much I would gain from coming back to a rural area, but it has been such a powerful experience that I know has benefited me, and I know that many of the students that we all serve in the Advising Corps, are also benefiting just as much from all of our decisions to stay humble and to serve.

The Other Side of Advising

I first heard about the advising corps about two or three years ago through friends who served as advisers. Although at the time I was interested in applying, by the time I was graduating I had forgotten about it…until I happened to be in student services one day and saw a poster. I can remember leaving that day and applying because the previous advisers spoke so highly about their time. The difference between their time and mine, however, is this year advisers have been exposed to a completely different side of college access.

One thing that I realized back in November is how selfless we advisers are. Anytime we are asked about our service, more often than not we speak about our students and how great they are. Most of the previous blogs have been testimonies about experiences we have had with our students and I feel that shows how much we do this for the sake of the ones we serve. It didn’t cross my mind, though, that we do need to take time to think about ourselves until Dr. Joanne Marciano urged Arshele, Ashley and myself to take advantage of speaking about ourselves and what we hope to accomplish separate from our students during a conference in South Carolina. It was then that I realized this position offered an entirely different experience I never even knew I would be getting.

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Ms. Jasmine Baker, Ms. Arshele Tyus and Ms. Ashley Robinson (lower right) speaking together at “A Dream Deffered” 

This year the Corps has made sure to give us opportunities to present best practices in conferences to colleagues in the higher education field. Out of the approximately thirty-five advisers I believe half of us have presented at various conferences throughout the country since October. I had the honor of presenting at a College Board Conference and the experience was phenomenal! Being able to share best practices for our event, Detroit College Night, and have seasoned colleagues respond saying they are going to use what we presented in their events was definitely a blessing.

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Often times I get asked what I do and where I’m traveling next because we have been given the opportunity to attend various conferences and I love explaining what I do. This side of advising is icing on the cake. I presented at a conference once before taking this service position but my time this year has definitely solidified my passion for this field. I feel that these opportunities prepare us for our time after service and allow us to use our skill-sets from our various majors outside of our schools. I’m not sure of other service positions that afford these same experiences.

Springing Forward

On the first day of Spring, Ms. KT Secord (First-Year College Adviser, Boyne City and East Jordan High Schools) and I embarked on a twenty-mile bike ride from Petoskey to Harbor Springs and back. Bicycles had to be loaded and transported, tires had to be pumped full of air following the slow gas-leak of winter, and gloves had to be purchased at a gas station along the way because a chill was definitely biting at every extremity. The Little Traverse Wheelway wasn’t even properly cleaned entirely: parts of the pavement were buried in gravel, sand, pinecones, or slowly-melting glaciers of snow.

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Despite the obstacles, KT were able to stand outside Harbor Springs High School and look out over Harbor Springs, the Little Traverse Bay (aka Lake Michigan), and the town of Petoskey in the background. Harbor and Petoskey are only ten miles away by road and sidewalk, but I remarked to KT that while looking at one town from the other across the bay, that distance seems simultaneously too short and too long.

I feel the same way about the end of the year. By my count, there are 46 school days left. At Pellston, the seniors have a paper in the hallway that says 64 total days left and I wonder whether Alanson’s countdown reads the same. Regardless of the actual time remaining, it feels both too much time and not enough. Personally, I’m ready for having my tonsils removed over Spring Break, summer vacation in Petoskey, and starting a new chapter in the fall with grad school or a new a job. I know my seniors are in the same boat: so many have spent their entire lives confined to Northern Michigan that they can’t wait to branch out and call somewhere else home for a few years.

We are all excited for the next step, but there are still so many components left of the current step. I’m currently working on a presentations covering “After the FAFSA,” including practicing analyzing financial aid award letters, some of which will probably not even be delivered to students until after we both are out of school; “Decision Day,” one of MCAN’s triad of college access events in which students will be publicly recognized in front of their peers for their commitment to higher education, but only if they complete my laundry list of Decision Day Actions (think housing sign up, orientation/enrollment deposits, arranging for final transcripts to be sent or dual enrollment credits); and “Pillars of Success,” which Ashley Justice (Second-Year College Adviser at Waverly High School) and I have presented two-soon-to-be-four times, and which I will be modifying and delivering to my students for a final discussion about the transition to college.

Those are the three major topics for the seniors for the rest of the year. Again, it seems like so little, and yet, so much. It’s been a privilege to get to know this class for the last two years and it will be bittersweet watching them cross the stage and graduate in a few short months.

Then there are the juniors: several of them are disappointed that I won’t be around next year and have started making requests of the “next Mr. Mitchell,” “or miss Mitchell,” I point out. The hiring process has begun for next year and I’m excited to meet with potential advisers and start passing down tidbits I’ve picked up from this experience. If it comes down to it, we will decide the next Alanson-Pellston adviser based on who can keep up with these students’ demands for cookies. I’ve set a dangerous precedent regarding baked goods.

On a serious note with the juniors, I am looking forward to taking them as far as I can in the college-going process before the next adviser takes over at the end of the school year. I think the discussions about “what are you thinking about for after high school?” are some of the most fun and interesting conversations you have as a college adviser. It’s a chance to hear students rave about what they’re passionate about, what opportunities they want to seek out, and what possibilities they envision for their future. We also have a slate of college trips lined up for the rest of the year: later today Pellston is going to North Central Michigan College. Future trips include Northern Michigan University, Lake Superior State University, Northwestern Michigan College, Saginaw Valley State University, Baker College of Cadillac, and hopefully Alma College as well. In fact, I’m going to wrap this up because our bus leaves in less than two hours and I am missing a substantial number of permission slips thanks to a snow day last week. A snow day in spring: not a fan of the snow, but I’ll take the sleeping in. Summer vacation can’t come soon enough! Actually, there’s a lot to do still: maybe it can.