UVA Selects Advisers to Help Virginia High School Students Attain College Education

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September 21, 2021

Recent college graduates, members of the Virginia College Advising Corps, have spread out across Virginia to advise high school students.

Members of the corps, encompassing recent graduates of the University of Virginia, UVA’s College at Wise and several other schools, will spend the next year guiding high school students toward higher education.

VCAC members, working in the counseling offices of 53 Virginia high schools, advise students who might otherwise not think about higher education. The advisers help students navigate financial aid questions, arrange college visits and assist with college preparation.

Graduates apply to be advisers for a variety of reasons. Several of the advisers were themselves first-generation college students, such as Mi’Nesha Hairston of Bassett, a 2021 psychology graduate from Old Dominion University, who is a first-year adviser at Martinsville High School.

“I applied for this position because as a first-generation college student, I realized how complex the transition from high school to college can be,” Hairston said. “A solid foundational understanding of the application process, applying for scholarships and transitioning to college can make a big difference and take stress off the students. I believe I can help provide this understanding.”

Jayme Salyers of St. Paul, a 2021 social sciences graduate from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, is a first-year adviser at Central High School in Wise County, the school she attended from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

“I applied because I did not have a college adviser in high school and I felt like my college experience suffered greatly because of my lack of resources,” Salyers said. “I want to be the person for others that I needed when I was younger. Especially as a first-generation, low-income student, I needed more resources, like many students across the commonwealth do.”

Others applied because of the influence that earlier advisers had on their academic careers.

“My advisers played such a crucial role during my transition into college,” said Shaunye Burton of Capron, a 2021 UVA graduate and a first-year adviser at John Marshall High School in Richmond. “It has always been an aspiration of mine to reciprocate the support, time and effort they invested into me. VCAC allows me to fulfill a promise I made to myself more than six years ago that grants me the satisfaction of guiding others in order to repay those who helped guide me.”

As a high school student, Burton was unsure of his future, working at a local restaurant, playing football and completing a variety of admissions tests.

“I applied to 30-plus schools,” Burton said. “I wanted to have options. Without the help of my college advisers, I would not have been able to make the decision to come to UVA. Since then, I have always wanted to pass forward the support and assistance they showed me.”

Second-year advisers who are returning to their schools are drawing on their first-year experiences.

“Being a college adviser means I’m that go-to person whenever a student has questions about higher education,” said Juli Abbott of Roanoke, a 2019 UVA sociology graduate who is returning to Patrick County High School. “It means being there to listen and support the student in whatever path he or she wants to take. Being a low-income, first-generation college student navigating through the college process was difficult at times and I enjoy being able to use my experiences to help students who may face the same challenges.”

Lailah Said of Alexandria, a 2020 UVA foreign affairs and African-American and African studies graduate and a second-year adviser at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, said an adviser’s responsibility extends beyond the student.

“Being a college adviser means wearing multiple hats for your students, their families and your coworkers and being open and grounded enough to understand that there are endless paths and methods to get people to the same end-goal,” she said.

The pandemic challenged advisers to be innovative in staying in contact with their students virtually and through social media.

“The pandemic presented multifaceted challenges in public education and we were not immune to those effects,” said Joy Pugh, executive director of the Virginia College Advising Corps.

“Despite serving all of last year in a mix of hybrid and virtual settings, VCAC advisers held almost 15,000 advising sessions, assisted students and families to submit over 4,000 Free Applications for Federal Student Aid, and guided students to secure almost $30,000,000 in institutional aid and scholarships. More than any other year in our program’s history, the mentoring of a VCAC adviser undoubtedly made the difference in postsecondary matriculation becoming a reality for thousands of first-generation students and those from low-income and underserved backgrounds.”

The program started 16 years ago at the University of Virginia and has since expanded to a national non-profit that includes 19 states. This year in Virginia, the 48 college advisers will serve 53 high schools. Forty-seven advisers are in place and Pugh expects the final adviser to be hired by December. Since the program began, more than 170 college graduates have spread across the commonwealth to assist high school students in their postsecondary decisions. The advisers make a two-year commitment to the program.

“The effectiveness of VCAC is rooted in the extraordinary people who become advisers,” Pugh said. “Their commitment to educational equity is genuine and deeply-held. Advisers bring creativity, energy, and an ability to ‘meet students where they are’ because of their near-peer status. This propels life-changing outcomes year after year.”

This year’s College Advisers are:

  • Juli Abbott of Roanoke, a 2019 sociology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Patrick County High School.
  • Tenisha Alston of Suffolk, a 2021 media studies and women, gender and sexuality studies graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Charles City High School in Charles City County.
  • Rodrigo Amestegui of Alexandria, a 2021 media and culture graduate from Randolph College, is a first-year adviser at Staunton City High School. 
  • Vanessa Argueta of Martinsville, a 2021 youth and social innovation graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Gretna High School in Pittsylvania County.
  • Ludi Avagyan of Nelson County, a 2021 psychology graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Louisa County High School.
  • Christen Lloyd (Barco) of Norfolk, a 2017 psychology graduate from University of Mary Washington, is a third-year adviser at Orange County High School.
  • Justin Barker of Big Stone Gap, a 2021 communication/public relations graduate from Radford University, is a first-year adviser at Union High School in Wise County, a school from which he graduated.
  • Lee Bernstein of Carlisle, Massachusetts, a 2020 double major in economics and politics and a minor in education policy from the Williams School at Washington and Lee University, is a second-year adviser at the Rappahannock County High School.
  • Leah Brooks of Chatham, a 2019 youth and social innovation and psychology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Dan River High School.
  • Shaunye Burton of Capron, a 2020 anthropology graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at John Marshall High School in Richmond.
  • Madison Coleman of Bowling Green, a 2020 government and secondary education graduate of the College of William & Mary, is a second-year adviser at Amelia County High School.
  • Peyton Curry of Midlothian, a 2020 health and behavioral studies graduate from James Madison University, is a first-year adviser at Prince Edward County High School in Farmville.
  • Michelle De La Cruz Santos of Harrisonburg, a 2020 criminal justice graduate from Roanoke College, is a second-year adviser at George Washington High School in Danville.
  • Anna Du of Fredericksburg, a 2021 international relations and Chinese language and literature graduate from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, is a second-year adviser at Harrisonburg High School.
  • Madison Gillespie of Milford, a 2020 psychology graduate of University of Mary Washington, is a first-year adviser at Caroline County Public Schools, which she attended.
  • Harley Gonsalves of Pukalani, Hawaii, a 2020 international relations and public relations and French graduate from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, is a second-year adviser at Sussex Central High School.
  • Cameron Goodman of Poquoson, a 2020 African-American and African studies graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Bassett High School in Henry County.
  • Janeen Graves-Frazier of Newport News, a 2020 African-American and African studies graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Northumberland High School in Heathville and Lancaster High School in Lancaster.
  • Mi’Nesha Hairston of Bassett, a 2021 psychology graduate from Old Dominion University, is a first-year adviser at Martinsville High School.
  • Matthew Hale of Mechanicsville, a 2021 interdisciplinary media studies graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Washington & Lee High School in Montross and Rappahannock High School in Warsaw.
  • Harley Hess of Honaker, a 2020 communications studies graduate from UVA Wise, is a second-year adviser at Chatham High School.
  • Breydon Horton of Camden, Tennessee, a 2021 Vanderbilt University graduate with a master’s degree in higher education administration, is a first-year adviser at Nelson County High School.
  • Shalita Kenney of Greene County, a 2021 criminology graduate from George Mason University, is a first-year adviser at Alexandria City High School. Kenney graduated from William Monroe High School, which was served by an adviser while she was a student there.
  • Melody Lipford of Pennington Gap, a 2019 English graduate from Emory and Henry College, is a second-year adviser at John I. Burton High School in Norton City and Eastside High School in Coeburn.

  • Camryn Lutz of Charlottesville, a 2021 psychology graduate from James Madison University, is a first-year adviser at Madison County High School.
  • Ceilidh MacRae of Nelson County, a Spanish graduate with a Russian minor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is a first-year adviser at Culpeper County High School.
  • Eliza MacKnight of Charlottesville, a 2021 James Madison University psychology graduate, is a first-year adviser at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte Court House.
  • Stephanie McCoy of Virginia Beach, a 2020 French and world cultural studies graduate from Old Dominion University, is a first-year adviser at Cumberland High School.
  • Arturo Martinez of Charlottesville, a 2019 anthropology graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Allegheny High School.
  • Quentin Milligan of Florence, South Carolina, a 2021 public policy and leadership graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at William Monroe High School in Stanardsville.
  • Boatemaa Nyarko of Manassas, a 2021 health sciences graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, is a first-year adviser at Huguenot High School in Richmond.
  • Kalea Obermeyer of Manassas, a 2020 youth and social innovation graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Charlottesville High School.
  • Matt Peterson of Virginia Beach, a 2021 American studies graduate from UVA, is a first-year adviser at Liberty High School in Fauquier County.
  • Lydia Prillaman of Martinsville, a 2020 psychology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Magna Vista High School in Henry County.
  • Sadie Rosenfeld of Middletown, Maryland, a 2021 communication studies graduate from James Madison University, is a first-year adviser at Waynesboro High School.
  • Kate Rusnak of Chester, a 2020 psychology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Fauquier High School.
  • Lailah Said of Alexandria, a 2020 foreign affairs and African-American and African studies graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg.
  • Jayme Salyers of St. Paul, a 2021 social sciences graduate from UVA Wise, is a first-year adviser at Central High School in Wise County, which she attended.
  • Skye Scott of Charlottesville, a 2020 English graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Buckingham County High School.
  • Blair Smith of South Riding, a 2021 Spanish and politics graduate of UVA, is a first-year adviser at Galileo High School in Danville and Tunstall High School in Pittsylvania County.
  • Abigail Snider of Richmond, a 2020 communication sciences and disorders graduate of UVA, is a second-year adviser at Fluvanna County High School.
  • Samantha Strauss of Centreville, a 2019 psychology graduate from James Madison University, is a second-year adviser at King and Queen Central in King and Queen Court House and Essex High School in Tappahannock.
  • Tatiana Tate of Woodbridge, a 2021 sport and recreation management graduate of James Madison University, is a first-year adviser at Eastern View High School in Culpeper County.
  • Julia Trachtenberg of Midlothian, a 2020 psychology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Dinwiddie High School.
  • Abby Wallen, of Bowie, Maryland, a 2021 public policy & administration graduate of James Madison University, is a first-year adviser at Amherst County High School.
  • Trei Young of Richmond, a 2020 politics and foreign affairs graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Armstrong High School, from which she graduated and which was served by an adviser.
  • Adriana Zehr of Centreville, a 2020 psychology graduate from UVA, is a second-year adviser at Kettle Run High School in Nokesville.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications