By Eric Johnson, UNC Office of Scholarships & Student Aid
For the most part, the young advisers of the Carolina College Advising Corps spend their days focused on how to get students to college. They guide North Carolina high schoolers in college searches, SAT signups, and applications for admission and financial aid.
That leaves precious little time for tackling an even more fundamental question: why go to college?
“A lot of the time, when I speak to students and I’m trying to help them plan what they want to do and find out what their interests are, I get blank stares,” said Alex Lucas ‘11, the Advising Corps representative at Dalton L. McMichael High School in Mayodan, North Carolina.
That gels with national research that shows many low-income and first-generation students don’t have a clear sense of how a college degree relates to personal goals or career aspirations.
“I just know that if I can connect them, start a budding interest in some area, I know they’ll push themselves that much harder to complete high school, to attend a community college, or go on to a four-year degree, or aspire to something they never imagined, like a graduate degree,” Lucas said.
And last month, she tackled that challenge in a big way. After nearly a year of planning, Lucas hosted a school-wide symposium on career and college options. The entire student body of McMichael High School, from freshmen to seniors, took part.
The idea was straightforward: give students the chance to learn about the working world directly from school alumni, local businesspeople, and civic leaders from Rockingham County.
“My starting point was finding out what my students were interested in,” Lucas said. “I surveyed the whole school and found the careers that had the highest level of interest, and then began recruiting my professionals.”
To pull off a school-wide event, Lucas had to recruit more than fifty people across a range of career fields, almost all with some connection to the school or the local community. Most traveled to Mayodan to meet with students in person; a few spoke and took questions through internet video chats.
Every student in school had the chance to sign up for multiple sessions, allowing students to match up with speakers who shared their interests.
In one room, a McMichael High alum who now works for Cary-based SAS talked about the perks of a software engineering career. Down the hall, the local sheriff explained why many law enforcement personnel are required to have a college degree. And a Mayodan photographer talked about all of the behind-the-scenes work — from marketing to accounting — required to run a studio.
“We wanted to get people the kids could relate to,” said school principal Duane Whitaker. “People who are in our community, invested in our community.”
The goal, Lucas stressed, was to make the future a little more tangible for students who have a hard time picturing life after high school.
“When you look at the titles of these professional people — like a broadcast journalist or a computer engineer — you think they’re going to be someone big and important that you could never talk to,” Lucas said. “But I want students to see that they’re just a person — a person who was once in high school, just like them. If they follow the educational path they need to follow to be successful, they can get there, too.”
As students hustled between career workshops at the end of the day, that message seemed to be resonating.
“This is awesome!” screamed 11th-grader Lexi Blackard, running up to Lucas during a break. “This is such a great opportunity for everyone. Thank you for caring!”
As the country is tuned in to March Madness basketball, Asheboro High School in Randolph County has tweaked the “madness” to focus on students securing financial aid by completing the FAFSA. Read below for more details on Money March Madness!
Adviser Michael Dyson, principal Dr. Brian Toth, and counselor D’Vera Tune are some of the key players in “Money March Madness.” Below are some of the highlights of the month:
Once a week, counseling staff and school administrators wear “money green” t-shirts to promote Money March Madness
Asheboro High School holds “Money Mondays,” where seniors are invited to stay after school to complete their FAFSA with help. Parents are also invited to attend.
Seniors who turn in their FAFSA confirmation page are entered into a weekly drawing, where they can win gift cards to local restaurants and business, ranging from $20-$25
A FAFSA Help Session on March 24th for families who seek assistance in completing their financial aid application
Finally, Asheboro High School has implemented the Money March Madness Scholarship for the first time this year. Teachers can pay a one-time fee of $15 to wear jeans on each Wednesday in March, and the proceeds will go go a scholarship for a graduating Asheboro High School senior. The scholarship will be awarded to a senior who writes an essay on the importance of college and applying for financial aid through the FAFSA application and scholarships. On days when teachers wear jeans, they are encouraged to wear their Money March Madness t-shirts and discuss the importance of financial aid and FAFSA with their students, including the teacher’s own experience with using financial aid to complete their college education.
Like many of her peers from Purnell Swett High School in Maxton, NC, Euna Victoria Chavis was the first in her family to attend college. “I was like a bumpy piece of wood, in need of sanding. Carolina was my piece of sandpaper–it shaped me into the person I am today.”
Ms. Chavis now works to help other young people realize the dream of going to college. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014 with a degree in psychology, she returned to Purnell Swett as an adviser with the Carolina College Advising Corps. The Corps places recent Carolina graduates in schools across the state to help students find the college that will serve them best.
The Carolina College Advising Corps gathered on Monday with school and community leaders for a Celebration of Education in Robeson County. The event highlighted the work of Ms. Chavis and Jessica Oxendine, the adviser serving Fairmont and South Robeson High Schools. Last year, in partnership with the schools, advisers in the county served 645 seniors, held 1,148 one-on-one meetings, and helped 57% of students submit an application to college.
Three current seniors at Purnell Swett spoke about the impact of Ms. Chavis’s work. “Without her guidance, I would have missed out on scholarship opportunities at my dream school,” said Dylan Brooks. Gabrielle James spoke of Ms. Chavis’s tireless work ethic, and fellow student Joshua Brooks said, “Her warm personality and knowledge of the college admission process have been invaluable not only to me, but to all of my fellow students.”
Legislators and community leaders joined in the celebration, including U.S. Representative Richard Hudson, N.C. Senator Jane W. Smith, N.C. Representative Garland E. Pierce, and Robeson County Schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt. Each spoke in support of the program which is helping deserving young people continue their education.
Also in attendance was Amy Locklear Hertel, Director of UNC’s American Indian Center. “Today exemplifies our service not only to education but to our native communities. Through rich relationships and partnerships designed to support our students, UNC is dedicated to assisting native students across the state.”
The event was hosted by Clyde Leviner, Purnell Swett Principal, and Stephen Farmer, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill. Vice Provost Farmer concluded the event by thanking the advisors for the work they do helping deserving young people take the next best step in their lives and by thanking leaders and community members at Purnell Swett and in Robeson County for giving the University the chance to be of service.
The work of the Carolina College Advising Corps in Robeson County is funded by the generous support of AmeriCorps, the John M. Belk Endowment, and the College Advising Corps. To learn more about the Corps, visit our website.
The Carolina College Advising Corps helps low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students find their way to colleges that will serve them well. By providing well-trained, enthusiastic advisers who are close in circumstance to the students they serve, the program aims to increase college-going rates at partner high schools across North Carolina.
We recruit advisers who are recent graduates of partner colleges/universities. This allows them to more easily develop relationships with students and serve as both peers as well as role models.
Our advisers work in partnership with teachers, counselors and administrators, as an additional staff member whose focus is singularly on improving the school’s college-going culture and ensuring that students apply to and enroll in colleges where they will succeed.
Advisers focus on helping students to identify and apply to post-secondary programs that will best serve them both academically and socially, thus increasing the likelihood that these students will persist to earn their degrees.