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First-generation college student returns home after college to help others make it there

Brittany Hall is a second-year adviser who serves at Clintondale High School. She returned to Macomb County to help students pursue postsecondary education. Brittany is a first-generation college student. November 8th is First Generation College Student Celebration organized by the Center for First-Generation Student Success and celebrated by MCAN.

I didn’t have a single dime saved to pursue my postsecondary education when I graduated from high school.

As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know how to prepare or what to expect, and my first year in school was rough. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the transition of living away from home. I felt lost at times. I felt like an imposter, and often thought I didn’t deserve to be in college.

But as I found my footing, I realized I loved higher education and it has truly shaped who I am today.

I immersed myself in every leadership opportunity possible at Oakland University and took advantage of all of the conferences, research and networking OU had to offer. I connected with staff who were integral in my process of finding my voice and leading me to where I am today. I loved my experience so much, I went back for my Master’s Degree in Higher Educational Leadership, and plan to get my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

I have a passion for education.

Which is why, when I heard of a program called AdviseMI focused on serving “traditionally underserved students” – students like me, who were first-generation, or low income or students of color – I knew it was the perfect fit.

Every day I advise high school students on how to get to, pay for and stay in college. I help them explore postsecondary education and the options available to them. I help them navigate applications and FAFSA and deadlines and decisions.

But most of all, I help them see their potential.

I will never forget the student who walked into my classroom on one of the first days of school and introduced himself. I was so nervous students wouldn’t come see me – that they wouldn’t understand what a college adviser was, they wouldn’t know my role is to support their academic advisers and teachers and specialize in guiding them through the college application process.

But this student – he got it. We met regularly, and he often brought friends in to explore their options. Yet over and over, he told me no college would ever take him. That he wasn’t worthy of going to school. Despite the constant smile on his face, he struggled academically and he believed he wasn’t smart enough for college classes.

It broke my heart, because that was the exact opposite of what I saw sitting in front of me. I pushed him to fill out applications. We set goals to raise his GPA, and he exceeded those goals. I have never seen so much dedication and determination.

He ended up being accepted into his first choice school, and recently let me know how much he loves his classes.

On day one as a college adviser, I put “You are college material… never doubt that” on my wall in big letters. Many of the students who tell me they aren’t college material have internalized failures that are rarely their fault and are complex and deep. They truly believe they don’t deserve to go to college.

As an AdviseMI adviser, I help my students navigate the process of getting to college, yes. But my real job is to tell them they are college material if they believe they are. It’s to tell them I believe they are college material and they deserve any postsecondary education they want.

My job is to be there alongside them as they navigate the process of finding the perfect school match and fit, and making sure they know I will do whatever it takes to get them where they want to be.

Because I understand what it’s like to think you don’t deserve college. And because I know firsthand the power of moving past that falsehood and finding your future – and self – on campus and beyond.

Author: Brittany Hall
Posted: Friday November 8, 2019

The Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS) joins MCAN and the Journal of College Access

The Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success was launched in January 2018 in partial response to recommendations made in The State of School Counseling: Revisiting the Path Forward Report, which called for the development of a national research center focused on strengthening postsecondary advising and counseling practices in K-12 and Higher Ed.

The Center is focused on increasing equitable and accessible pathways to postsecondary success by creating an aligned outcome driven system, guided by student and parent voices, to disseminate new knowledge and discovery of college and career readiness and persistence models, while simultaneously connecting this new knowledge to K- 12 and higher education policy formation. Through strategic partnerships, the Center is engaged in multi-disciplinary approaches to improve equitable student postsecondary opportunity. The CPRS advisory board is comprised of well-respected national scholars, practitioners, and leaders who all promote strategies to increase equitable postsecondary preparation, access and completion.

CPRS objectives and goals include:

  • Identifying a common set of practitioner competencies needed to effectively guide and support students on their postsecondary path. 
  • Ensuring that every student has access to high quality postsecondary advising and counseling support
  • Elevating parent and student voices to better understand the support structures they desire as they traverse the postsecondary path
  • Dissecting school and community-based factors that influence and contribute to the current gaps and barriers for postsecondary attainment
  • Identifying and dismantling school-based systems, policies, and practices that hinder equitable postsecondary opportunities
  • Reimagining, reframing, and conducting interdisciplinary research to unpack effective counseling practices that support equitable student postsecondary exploration, and planning
  • Publishing practitioner, family, and student friendly reports to disseminate knowledge, provide tools and increase exposure to foster replication of evidence based practices

Recently, CPRS partnered with MCAN and the Journal of College Access.  This exciting new partnership provides a mechanism and opportunity to encourage the publication and dissemination of rigorous postsecondary research that will impact counseling and advising practices across the country. Through the elevation of parent and student voices, coupled with the publication of rigorous research, we look forward to working with MCAN to illuminate the counseling and advising practices necessary to create the systems needed to insure equitable postsecondary opportunities for all.

Everyone is invited to submit to the Journal.  Click here for more information on submission types.  Submissions are accepted every day of the year.

Author: Laura Owen
Posted: October 29, 2019

Hometown Advantage: An Adviser’s Reflection

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college.

Jacquelynn Deneau is a second-year adviser who serves at Addison High School.

Two years ago, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Social Work and was faced with deciding my next steps. As I sat to reflect on what direction I wanted to point myself, I felt a strong desire to go back to my rural roots and return home to serve with AdviseMI. My first year as a College Adviser offered me the opportunity to work in a local community while building a strong knowledge of advising students in their path to postsecondary attainment. I am now in my second year of service, and I am back in my hometown walking familiar halls as the school’s first College Adviser.  

As College Advisers, we hit the ground running every year. Many schools do not start until after Labor Day, giving us just three weeks to plan one of our biggest events of the year, Michigan College Month. This is an exciting time for high school seniors as they plan their futures. We plan events and meet with students to talk about college applications, college affordability, the SAT, their future career paths, and their educational journey. October is really the kick-off that helps to set the tone for the year. 

As a hometown College Adviser, I felt I had home-field advantage and it made a major difference in my planning process. I already knew I had support from staff and the community and had an idea of who I could lean on as college access champions. While some days I still wish there were three more of me, having community members volunteer has been an asset in planning that has allowed me to expand my efforts. Whether it’s assisting with an event or chaperoning a field trip, the volunteerism of community members is priceless in engaging students. There are also times when I need to offer something to motivate students to attend in the first place, which typically comes in the form of food and prizes. Serving in a rural community means it can be challenging to find resources for incentives. However, the community is always there to pitch in when they can, and it only takes an email to get a few trays of brownies. One of the most engaging pieces to Michigan College Month for me is long-term career planning. This is where every student feels they can participate, even if they are not sure which route is the best fit for them. This requires support from community members who can talk to students about their college and career experiences, as well as opportunities to job shadow. I am in a great position to be able to spark these connections as a hometown College Adviser.

Of course, there were things that I worried about as I returned to the community in a position they have never worked with before. I have had to learn to shift from having a voice in the school as a former student to participating as a young professional. I also find myself spending more time looking for the new college and career access resources and learning of all of the exciting things that are happening in the area. I had to realize that, just like the students I work with now, I didn’t always pay attention to all that my community had to offer when I was a student. This proves to be especially prevalent with my students and Michigan College Month activities. I find myself working harder to advertise and incentivize to make sure that the students I work with are paying attention and don’t wonder why they didn’t know about resources later on.  

While it is still just the start of the year, I am excited to be back in my hometown and to see how I can serve students who are facing some of the same challenges myself and other community members faced in our own postsecondary planning. Michigan College Month has proved to me that myself and our students have a community dedicated to the success of graduates after high school, and I am excited to continue supporting these connections within my community. 

Author: Jacquelynn Deneau
Posted: March 26, 2019


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