Those who have just finished their own college experiences are some of the best to guide slightly younger peers to higher education.
This idea undergirds the mission of the Virginia College Advising Corps, through which recent University of Virginia graduates – and, for the first time, graduates of UVA’s College at Wise – will spend the next year guiding high school students toward college.
Twenty-two graduates from this year and last make up the corps. They will spend the next academic year in Virginia high school counseling offices, working with 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.
“Over a six-year period, our partner high schools saw an average increase in their college matriculation rate of 9.7 percentage points,” said Joy Pugh, director of the Virginia College Advising Corps. “This is an exceptional outcome and amounts to thousands of Virginians going on to post-secondary education who wouldn’t have without the support and assistance of a College Adviser.”
The program started 11 years ago at the University of Virginia and has since expanded to a nationwide effort. More than 100 UVA graduates have spread across the commonwealth to assist Virginia high school students in their higher education decisions. The advisers make a two-year commitment to the program.
“I can’t say enough about the college advisers,” Pugh said. “The dedication that they have to their students, and to serving these communities, is inspiring. Every time I see the group, each adviser has a new story about how he or she has helped a student get over a hurdle that likely would have stopped that student in his or her educational journey.”
Many advisers can identify closely with the students they are mentoring.
Allyson Clement of Ararat, who has been placed in Bassett High School in Henry County, applied to the Virginia College Advising Corps because a college adviser helped her with the college decision-making process while she was a student in Patrick County High School.
“She was so helpful with applications that I saw the true value in the position. Little did I know the real extent of the job for a college adviser,” Clement said. “I wanted to be a VCAC adviser in order to improve the college rate of school districts like mine. Additionally, I feel that being a college adviser will help me make decisions regarding my professional future.”
The advisers help the high school students explore multiple higher education options, not just UVA.
“Every student deserves the opportunity to access higher education,” Pugh said. “There are many paths available – a four-year school, two-year school, certificate programs, trade schools, etc. – but executing the steps to make that plan a reality is essential. We work with each individual student to determine the best path for them, taking into account academic match, cost of attendance and many other factors. And then we ensure that each step is completed, whether it is taking the SAT or ACT, filling out college applications, submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or anything else necessary for that student’s success.”
Lindsey Rosenthal of Richmond, who will work at Patrick County High School, wants to help the students make up their own minds.
“I’m a big fan of the near-peer model, because I think it will get students thinking in the collaborative mindset that will often be expected of them in college,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t expect to do everything for them, because that won’t aptly prepare them for the independence they’ll need to employ after high school. But I do expect to work alongside students, helping them research, ask the right questions and do a bit of soul-searching to figure out what’s best for them. At the end of the day, I won’t have the answers to that, but I’m excited to give students the direction they need to figure it out for themselves.”
The corps’ newest advisers are:
- Cassandra Blackwell of Big Stone Gap, a biology graduate from UVA’s College at Wise, who will work at Central High School in Wise County.
- Allyson Clement of Ararat, who graduated from UVA this year with a degree in government and has been placed at Bassett High School in Henry County.
- Katelyn Hebel of Richmond, who graduated from UVA with degrees in English and religious studies and will work at Nelson County High School.
- Lindsey Rosenthal of Richmond, a UVA linguistics graduate with a minor in French, who will work at Patrick County High School.
- Lyons Sanchezconcha of Sterling, who graduated from UVA with a degree in Spanish and will work at Huguenot High School in Richmond.
- Sass Sloce of Norton, who graduated from UVA’s College at Wise with a major in sociology and a minor in business and will work at John I. Burton High School in Norton.
- Laura Widener of Richmond, who graduated from UVA with a distinguished major in women, gender and sexuality with a concentration in gender studies and will work at Charlottesville High School.
- Donnell Wright of Chicago, who graduated from UVA with a degree in sociology and will work at Armstrong High School in Richmond.
- Robin Yeh of Yorktown, who graduated from UVA with a degree in media studies, will work at George Washington High School in Danville.
This year’s returning advisers, all UVA graduates, are:
- Taylor Dowd of Pittsburgh, who graduated with a double major in anthropology and history and will return to the Magna Vista High School in Henry County.
- Sabrey Garling of Leesburg, who graduated with an English degree and will return to Fluvanna County High School.
- Carly Gordon of Fairfax, who graduated with a double major in Spanish and psychology, plus a global sustainability minor, and will return to William Monroe High School in Greene County.
- Shanice Hardy of Suffolk, who graduated with a degree in women, gender and sexuality and will return to Dan River and Tunstall high schools in Pittsylvania County.
- Samantha Karp of New Canaan, Connecticut, who graduated with a double major in psychology and women, gender and sexuality, with a minor in bioethics, and will return to T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.
- Julie Kusnerik of Mechanicsville, who graduated with a double major in women, gender and sexuality and sociology and will return to Orange County High School.
- Kaitlin LaGrasta of Laurel, Maryland, who graduated with a double major in anthropology and Spanish and a minor in art history and will return to Louisa County High School.
- Stephannie Tamayo of Bassett, who graduated with a degree in Spanish and has taken a position at Amelia County High School.
- Sarahbeth Vernon of Richmond, who graduated with a double major in media studies and French and will return to Rappahannock and Washington & Lee high schools in Richmond and Westmoreland counties.
- Kelia Washington of Tullahoma, Tennessee, who graduated with a degree in cognitive science with a minor in global studies in education and will return to Chatham and Gretna high schools in Pittsylvania County.
- Colin Williams of Stafford, who graduated with a government and African & African-American studies double major, with a minor in history, will return to Martinsville High School.
- Kiana Williams of Virginia Beach, who graduated with a double major in anthropology and women, gender and sexuality, with a concentration in media and film studies, and will return to Buckingham County High School.
- Nia Wilson of Richmond, who graduated with a double major in foreign affairs and East Asian studies and will return to Northumberland High School in Heathsville and Lancaster High School in Lancaster.