Michigan's College Access Blog

Alumni Feature: Ashleigh Maier

Ashleigh Maier is a former College Adviser who served at Bay City Central High School, Manistee and Brethren High Schools. Ashleigh is currently in her first year at the University of Oregon, working on a master’s degree in nonprofit management.

When I applied for the college advising position, it seemed merely like a job posting that came through my email that I was qualified for. What I didn’t know is that it would lead me in a career direction that I never would have thought of without my two years of service.

I graduated from Alma College in 2016 with a degree in Intercultural and Relational Communication, and I remember meeting with my academic advisor and being told that I should consider graduate school. However, I didn’t want to rush into a degree without fully knowing what skills I wanted to gain, or what I’d like to learn. It was because of my service and my program supervisors with AdviseMI that I discovered a way to apply my passion for social justice with practical work experience within the nonprofit sector. AdviseMI also helped me discover the inequities within education, and what we can do to help reassemble the system in order to create equal opportunity for all students.

I’m currently in my first year at the University of Oregon, working on a master’s degree in nonprofit management, with concurrent graduate certificates in New Media and Culture, as well as Women’s and Gender Studies. Without AdviseMI, I wouldn’t have gained the experience I needed to land a fully funded graduate assistantship in the Dean of Students Office working with the Substance Abuse Prevention & Education (SAPE) team. I was able to apply my experience working with underserved and underrepresented high school students, and my developed passion for getting students to and through college, not only in position interviews, but also within initiatives on campus. Since beginning with the SAPE team in September, I have been able to explore the many intersections that come with students and substance use, and I am hopeful to begin some research on how first-generation students are impacted by substance use on college campuses.

Within the nonprofit management program, I am focusing on marketing and development, with an end goal of working with either a women’s advocacy organization or an education advocacy organization. The road to discovering my true career goals has been nearly as long as my cross-country road trip to Oregon, but I can’t thank AdviseMI and MCAN enough for helping me get here. Although I’ll likely live on the west coast for a while, I’ll always have a soft spot for the great work that’s being done in Michigan, as well as the people who are doing it. AdviseMI not only provided me with practical work experience and the discovery of my true passions, but in addition, lifelong friends and memories to go with them.

Author: Ashleigh Maier
Posted: April 9, 2019


Place Matters.

“When you allow your instincts, passion, and thinking ability to guide you, the world tends to become a place where you make your own rules and do things as per your wishes.”

― Dr. Prem Jagyasi, successful entrepreneur and experienced strategic professional

Talent Hubs are a placed-based strategy designed to “attract and retain talent, including nontraditional college students and people of color while seeking to boost post-high-school learning” (Lumina Foundation, October 2, 2017).  

Passion and thinking mattered on October 29 and 30 as The Lumina Foundation’s traditional student Talent Hub community of practice, The Learning Lab, gathered in the place called Detroit, Michigan.  Community leaders from nine Talent Hubs converged in the Motor City to rewrite the rules and dream about a different future for their own communities.  Detroit has been designated as one of the 24 Talent Hubs in the United States.

Detroit has long been a sense of place, purpose and passion.  Founded in 1701, Detroit is rich in history as French explorers initially settled there.  Learning Lab participants were introduced to Detroit’s history and culture by attending events at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum and Cliff Bell’s.

Attendees toured museum exhibits, including the very real and moving “And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African American History and Culture” exhibit featuring more than 20 galleries.  This exhibit reminded us of our roots and barriers that African Americans have had to overcome.

Cliff Bell’s, a downtown jazz club, was the site of one of the dinners.  Named after John Clifford Bell, Cliff Bell’s was born out of a fight against prohibition.  Today, the site provides dining and entertainment in the heart of the city.  Learning Lab participants also got a “taste” of Detroit through some Faygo Pop Root Beer Floats!

Both settings were reminders of the richness of place, the past and the potential for the future.  The event kicked off with a tribute to the Native American population of Michigan, especially since the site of the event was on original Native American territory. 

This Talent Hub event focused on remediation reform.  Attendees benefited from expertise from Complete College America, Strong Start to Finish, University System of Georgia, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.  Prompted by these notable organizations, event participants had rich discussions about how to address remediation to improve postsecondary attainment.  Each Talent Hub presented on their past successes, current challenges and future aspirations.

Lumina Foundation, in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, bestows the Talent Hub designation, which is “part of a larger effort to ensure 60 percent of working-age adults have college degrees, workforce certificates, or other high-quality credentials by 2025” (Lumina Foundation, October 12, 2017).  Representing Lumina at this event was Dakota Pawlicki, who shared his expertise on community mobilization.

During this event, attendees had the opportunity to meet Caroline Altman-Smith of The Kresge Foundation, which funds Talent Hubs in partnership with Lumina Foundation. The Kresge Foundation, which was founded and is based in metropolitan Detroit, has an overall mission to expand opportunities for low-income people in America’s cities. Kresge’s education-specific grantmaking is focused on helping more low-income students and students of color get into and through college.

The Michigan College Access Network was pleased to showcase Detroit and integrate the setting into the work of the Talent Hubs, which serve as places that matter for significantly accelerating community and regional attainment efforts. 

Convening in Detroit, these Talent Hub community leaders shared their strategies, learned from each other and left inspired to change the places where they live, work and play.  Place matters.  And they are working to make sure that those places evolve and matter even more in the future.

Author: Christopher Tremblay, MCAN director of external engagement
Posted: April 2, 2019


From Student to Service: 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.

Jasmin McGarrah is a first-year adviser who serves at Brethren High school and Casman Alternative Academy.

One of the most important things that I learned during my time in college is that you have to get connected. It is crucial to a student’s success that they feel valued and a part of their new community. As a college freshman, I felt the exact opposite. I did not get along with my roommate and I would travel home every weekend. I encourage my students to give themselves the time to acclimate to their new environment and get involved on campus. Initially, I did not give myself that adjustment period, but once I did, I realized that Central Michigan University (CMU) was exactly where I wanted to be. When we get involved in different groups or go to campus events, we allow ourselves the opportunity to meet new people and become familiar with our surroundings. Being comfortable and confident in where we are helps us have more energy and focus on the other things in our lives. Collegiate studies are hard on their own and it is much easier to manage them when our social lives are stable and secure.

During my initial meetings with students, I have them tell me what they are interested in and then choose an institution and show them the major. I encourage my students to look at the courses that are required in that program and read over the titles. Sometimes, we go into the descriptions and read about individual courses. This gives the students a better idea of what they are getting into and what they will be doing for that major. If they do not like the majority of what they see in the course list, chances are they would not enjoy that program. When they do find a program that they like or are on the fence about, I have them go to another institution’s page and look up their equivalent. This way, the student is able to compare them and see what is special about each program, as well as to demonstrate that each institution offers something a little different. I learned from changing my major, and then later dropping my concentration, that an understanding of one’s program is crucial. The work that we do up front often saves us a lot of time in the long run.

During the last month, I spent a few weeks helping a student create a four-year plan. She has decided that she wants to double major at Northern Michigan University. While I was at CMU, I was required to complete a four-year plan. I highly recommend this because it allows students to be prepared for each semester as well as their entire undergraduate career. There are some courses that are only offered during specific semesters and some are offered every other year. Because I made a four-year plan, I was able to see that I needed to take an extra class per semester my junior year so that I could spend an entire semester abroad. A plan also makes sure that you are on track for graduation and all of your requirements are being met.

Something that I think is overlooked, but valuable, are the services offered to students: from the tutoring services to the counseling center. During my sophomore and junior years, I used the counseling services. I was dealing with a lot in my personal life and it was interfering with my studies. The counseling services offered me the help that I needed. Because I was doing poorly in a couple of my classes, I spoke with my professors about what was going on, and they worked with me so that I would be able to pass my classes and still graduate on time. Institutions know that we are human, and as long as we advocate for ourselves, we can succeed.

I know that my experiences are mine alone and it is absolutely okay for each path to look different than others, but there is no rule book for college. There is no magical guide that gives us all the answers on how to be successful. This is why it is important to pass on the lessons that we have learned so that the next generation has a better start than we had.

Author: Jasmin McGarrah
Posted: March 26, 2019

My First MCAN Conference

This past week I attended and worked my first conference with the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), which is ironic considering I didn’t officially start in my new role as Strategy Assistant until March 11. The 9th annual MCAN conference brought together counselors, scholars, as well as leaders in government, business and local communities. The atmosphere was electric and everyone there was on a mission united by one outcome: make college more accessible for Michigan students! The fact that I was able to be a small part of this is amazing. To say that I was overwhelmed at points during the two-day affair would be an understatement. However, being uncomfortable is the best way to grow and I know that I will do that with MCAN!

The conference started at 8:00am on Monday, March 4. But for the MCAN team, it started at 4pm March 3 with set up. I was thrown right in hanging signs, setting up the registration table and carrying boxes. The MCAN staff treated me like I was an old pro and welcomed my contributions and suggestions as we prepared for the conference to open. 

It is worth mentioning that I am the new Strategy Assistant for High School Innovation, and as such, I was primarily tasked with running the State Continuing Clock Hours (SCECHs) table for counselors attending the conference. On Monday, I also had the opportunity to attend the much anticipated awards ceremony, where MCAN honored education practitioners and advocates who have been leaders in their field. Each award had a nautical theme like the Marina or Flagship Award. Among all the fun and reverie of the awards, there was some sadness. Our fearless leader, Brandy Johnson, announced her resignation as did our logistical and conference planning powerhouse, Lisa King. Though I never worked for Brandy or Lisa, other than for the two days at the conference, it was abundantly clear how much MCAN means to both of them. I truly hope to live up to their expectations and help continue to make MCAN thrive! During the ceremony, I was simply struck not only by the things the award winners had accomplished but also how selfless everyone was. Education can be thankless, but to see so many dedicated individuals was not only inspiring, it was truly humbling.

Day two started just as early as day one, but I am happy to say that working the SCECHs table was much easier. My new boss, and all around amazing person, Jamie was able to turn the captchas off, and we got everyone signed in quickly and off to their sessions. During the downtime between sessions, I really got to know my new coworkers.  For example, I learned Emma and I were at Michigan State University (MSU) at the same time and probably crossed paths. Christopher is a huge fan of musical theatre, rivaling myself in his knowledge of show tunes! Shavonna is currently enrolled at MSU pursuing a degree in Social Work, which is awesome considering I’m an adopted child. I also got to meet some great local leaders in charge of the Local College Access Networks (LCANs) and make some connections to the people on the front lines of MCAN’s mission. It seemed that just as the conference was getting going it was brought to a close with nachos and ice cream to celebrate a wonderful two days. Forty-eight hours is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but these 48 hours were extremely special to me. I began what will be a wonderful career working with MCAN. I came to Lansing scared of what the conference would entail and full of new-hire jitters, but I left feeling energized and truly apart of the MCAN family! It is time to get to work!

Author: Tony Parsons
Posted: March 19, 2019

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