Michigan's College Access Blog

Giving Thanks

The holiday season is officially upon us. November – and Thanksgiving in particular – is a time that reminds us what we're thankful for. I thought I would take advantage of our new blog to share just what I'm thankful for at MCAN. Lisa King, our blog editor, tells me there's a word count limit so I'll have to pick just a few of the things that bring me excitement and joy every day as the Executive Director of MCAN. Are you ready? In no particular order, I am thankful for...

SunDevil1. Being a Sun Devil – I'm thankful for my experience as a first-generation college student at Arizona State University. Not only did it change the educational path for my younger siblings, but also it led me to the amazing career I have today. #forkem

2. Local College Access Networks – Our LCANs are the driving force behind our efforts to reach Goal 2025. The LCANs engage local leaders and are shifting the college-going culture in communities across the state.

3. The "Cloud" – While you may find this amusing and I've had my fair share of battles with Google Calendar, I do have to be thankful for technology that allows me and my staff stay connected and engaged while traveling the state of Michigan and the country.

4. MCAN Board of Directors – They are a constant source of guidance and support for me. Although I may be a relatively young executive director, the MCAN Board provides the necessary encouragement to be bold when we should and have shaped me into the leader I am today. They continue to push me to be better all in pursuit of expanding opportunities to Michigan's young people.

5. Cupcakes, specifically Whipped Bakery in Lansing – sampling cupcakes is an all-time favorite activity at the MCAN office and there's nothing like a lemon meringue or red velvet cupcake to get the creative juices flowing at MCAN. Stop by our office during a staff meeting and there's sure to be sugary snacks on the table – that's a promise.

Wedding MCANstaff6. MCAN Staff – Where would I be without our fearless staff? Probably stuck in an airport, phoneless, with a diet coke in hand. But seriously, they are my lifeblood. It's hard to believe MCAN is nearing its fifth birthday. When I look back at all we've accomplished, I know I have my amazing staff to thank for taking our ideas and turning them into a reality. Their passion motivates me and excites me to think just how the college access landscape will look in another five years.

Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: November 24, 2014

College is a Mind and Body Experience - Part 2

What's the difference between a cognitive and sensory response? In Part 1 we discussed the difference between stress and trauma and the many ways students manage stress. If you read Part 1, you most likely only engaged the cognitive or thinking parts of yourself as you sought to understand the contents of this blog. As you continue reading, shift part of your attention to the physical position of your body, noticing any discomfort or pressure points that are holding you in the current posture. As you continue reading, can you adjust your posture in ways to relieve pressure or discomfort? Next, continue reading and turn your attention to your breathing. Are your breaths full and easy? Finally, notice any physical sensations present in response to reading this blog. Is your brow furled as you think through the content? Do you feel a physical release with any "Aha" moments of understanding?

mindbodyexperienceblogSensory or body-based responses to the regular stresses of college involve paying attention to physical sensations and responding in immediate and simple ways to relieve strain and pressure in the moment. A student who completes the financial aid application will have achieved a significant accomplishment on the journey to college. However, by taking a few extra minutes at key points in the application process to attend to any physical buildup of strain or pressure generated by the process gives students the opportunity to physically adjust their bodies and breathing to release any extra tension, and not store it.

College is ultimately a mind and body experience, and most of the college experience is an exercise of conditioning the mind. Attention to the body, and particularly how stress is felt and stored, is critical to achieve balance and well-being for students. There are many ways for students to respond to the pressures and strains of stress that show up in their bodies. Those working in direct service with students can encourage students to find that balance through quiet activities such as a walk in nature or feeling the rhythm in music or through more physical movement such as running, biking and swimming. By turning the mind's attention to one's physical body, each person will know what activity or action is optimal for them in that moment. All students have the capacity to develop the habit of attending to the physical sensations in their body and breath, and to make adjustments that bring greater physical ease in the moment. Student who exercise this habit regularly, will not only experience greater success at cognitive tasks, but will also enjoy more fully the wide range of opportunities along the college journey. As you help students prepare for the steps to college, consider helping them prepare for the full mind and body experience.

Want to learn more? Watch the recorded webinar, College Is...a Mind and Body Experience from September 23, 2014.

Guest Author: Yvonne Unrau, Ph.D. Professor of Social Work and Director of the Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University

Posted: November 20, 2014

College is a Mind and Body Experience - Part 1

Now that Michigan College Application Week is over, students will move to financial aid planning and selecting where they will go to college. This process can be stressful for students, which can adversely impact one's well-being. Stress is a state of strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. If unattended, stress pressures will worsen and eventually compromise a student's abilities in a multitude of ways. For example, stress can impact students in how they think (e.g., memory problems, constant worrying, poor decision-making), how they feel (e.g., overwhelmed, irritable, depressed), how they act (e.g., drastic changes to eating and sleeping schedules, withdrawing, use of substances to cope), and how they experience their bodies (e.g., aches and pains, frequent colds).

If you work directly with students as a high school counselor or college adviser, take a moment to think about your students and how they have experienced stress in the past.

While the steps of college application, financial aid planning and preparing for college enrollment are similar for all students, the pressures associated with each of these steps will result in unequal and higher levels of stress response depending upon a student's individual circumstances. Students living with trauma are more likely to feel heightened levels of stress during any step of the college application. This includes but is not limited to: students who have experienced or currently are experiencing homelessness, are veterans with PTSD, grew up in extreme poverty, are navigating college applications without the guidance of a trusted adult who has known them for many years, and students whose childhood was marked by abuse and neglect and placement in foster care.

The link between stress and trauma is best understood as a continuum of functioning. At one end of the continuum is "healthy and normal" functioning where individuals express normal mood fluctuations and maintain normal levels of activity and routine. At the other end of the continuum is "severe and persistent functional impairment" where a student experiences panic attacks, excessive fatigue, or suicidal thoughts; and, often have a history that includes a clinical mental health diagnosis. While the number of students at the severe end of the stress-trauma continuum is small, the lessons we can learn from them about how students respond to stress are great.


Earlier I stated that stress is a state of strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Trauma, in turn, is the case of people's bodies getting stuck in a physiological stress response. In other words, stress and trauma both are sensory or bodily experiences. While Bessel van der Kolk, noted psychiatrist and researcher in the area of post-traumatic stress, points out the conventional treatment for traumatic stress is "talk therapy," or cognitive approaches, a more direct response to help students process a stress response is a sensory or bodily-based approach.

How do we help students process stress in this way? Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss the difference between a cognitive and sensory response.

Yvonne casual 399x600Guest Author: Yvonne Unrau, Ph.D. Professor of Social Work and Director of the Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University

Posted: November 18, 2014

Community Collaboration: DCAN Secures Community Partnership for Attainment Grant

LCAN Spotlight: Detroit College Access Network

You've heard of Goal 2025, but did you know there are now 75 communities across the country working strategically with Lumina Foundation to develop goals and action plans to drive their community toward increased postsecondary attainment? This summer Detroit was selected to join the cities in Lumina Foundation's Community Partnership for Attainment. The Detroit College Access Network is leading the efforts and most recently received access to a $170,000 allocation over a 2.5 year period tied to the achievement of their goals.

LuminaVideoLumina's strategy is designed to help communities and regions dramatically increase the number of local residents with postsecondary credentials. The collaborative effort connects participating cities with significant technical and planning assistance, data tools, flexible funding, and the ability to customize attainment plans that will best suit each community's needs and the well-being of its residents. 

The Detroit College Access Network (DCAN) focuses on serving all high school students in Detroit, with a concerted effort on low-income students, first-generation college going students, African American males, and Latino students. The purpose of DCAN's collaboration is to increase postsecondary attainment among low-income students of color in Detroit high schools by promoting a college-going culture that removes aspirational, academic and financial barriers; by aiding students in the transition from high school to college to ensure that they successfully enroll in high quality postsecondary institutions; and by working with postsecondary institutions to ensure that they persist and graduate.

Lumina's goal for this work is to mobilize all sectors in a community to improve postsecondary attainment. Communities, including Detroit, partner with Lumina and national thought leaders through 2016 to establish attainment goals.

DCAN's goal is to see at least a 5% increase in the local college enrollment rate from 49% to 54% by 2016. It will be accomplished by improving the citywide college access environment for students and counselors by improving and aligning resources for navigating the college-going process. Over the next two years, the number and the level of trainings for counselors advising students on college in the city will also be increased. Due to this and other citywide strategies, students will become more aware of and prepared for the pre-college steps necessary to be on postsecondary pathways starting in the middle school grades.

"It is our intention that Lumina's support will bolster the great work already being done in our Partnership cities, improving results there and showing cities across the country just how transformational education can be for communities' social, economic and civic strength," said Haley Glover, strategy director at Lumina Foundation overseeing this work.

To learn more about the Detroit College Access Network please contact Ashley Johnson at ajohnson(a)excellentschoolsdetroit.org or visit http://moveed.org/partner/detroitcollegenetwork/.

To learn more about Lumina Foundation's Community Partnership for Attainment Grant visit www.luminafoundation.org/grants/community_partnership.html

Lisa King headshot 2013Author: Lisa King, public relations consultant for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: November 12, 2014

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