Michigan's College Access Blog

Adviser Spotlight: Simone Dixon

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. Simone Dixon is a second-year adviser exiting the program, who served at Old Redford Academy.

1.  What is your college going story, and how did it lead you to this position? 

My college going story isn’t easy, but it’s pretty simple. I’ve always loved to learn and going to college wasn’t a question of if, but where. However, the universe had different plans in store for me and my family. Like most students across the country, I didn’t have access to a dedicated individual whose sole job was college advising. I planned on attending Saginaw Valley State University; however, I didn’t have a completed FAFSA. By the time I completed the financial aid form, there just wasn’t any money left. Therefore, I wasn’t able to attend. Like most people who loved knowledge, I made the only logical choice I could and attended Washtenaw Community College. From there I eventually transferred to Eastern Michigan University and finally had the “real” college experience I often hear my students speak of. I joined clubs, organizations and even held an on campus job for three years in a department that helped me find my passion and a job with AdviseMI. It was because of the network I created and their dedication to students’ growth that I first learned of AdviseMI and secured the position that would leave time to not only serve as an adviser in the city that is my second home, but also in my dad's former high school.

 2.   What was the biggest lesson you took from your time as an adviser?

The best thing I learned is to just be my authentic self and to own up to our shortcomings. High school students have a raw sense of honesty and will just tell it like it is. Often when I would ask students why they wouldn’t come see me or keep our appointments I would hear “You’re cool and all Ms.D but there's ALWAYS someone else in your office doing something and I just feel like you're too busy to really focus on me.” What I heard is “you need to have a better system of engaging with me because I feel overwhelmed when you multi-task and can’t put all your focus into me.” So I did what I do best; I owned up to my shortcomings and apologized. I had to admit that I couldn’t do it all and I didn’t have too. I was, in fact, the “cool” person in the building and all I had to do was slow down and take a minute to regroup and the world wouldn’t stop spinning.

 3.   Describe an initiative or program you spearheaded during your years of service.

The best thing I created was a student office aide position. This position generates a lot of paperwork and administrative tasks. In exchange for community service hours, I recruited three reliable and trustworthy students to file and organize paperwork, stuff envelopes, make copies and bulletin boards as well as volunteer at my school events by greeting parents and staffing the welcome desk. I did this because unlike my high school experience, my students don’t have access to opportunities to serve as an aide or assistant in the office or throughout the building for credit. This program not only has with my capacity but provided students with office experience in preparation for college and/or the workforce.

4.   What opportunities, if any, has this experience offered you now that you are completing your service? What are you plans now that this term has ended?

AdviseMI recognizes their advisers as the emerging leaders in the college access field. I have had multiple opportunities to contribute my voice, thoughts, time, means and talent to this organization through committee and conference presentations, as well as to serve as a mentor to incoming college advisers. From here, I will finish my master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University while still employed as a college adviser in my district. After that my plan is to pursue a PhD program out of state and to change the world because I know I am destined for greatness and this was only the beginning.

To learn more about AdviseMI visit http://www.micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives/advisemi.


Author: Simone Dixon, AdviseMI Adviser Alum
Posted: July 31, 2018

Expanding Early College in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

MCAN features people and partners in the community who are doing exceptional work in the college access field. If you would like to be considered for a spotlight feature or learn more about our features, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's Strategy Assistant for External Engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org.

Last August, I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA, where I worked to promote a college-going culture and college success in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. My experience growing up, going to college, and working in different areas of the Upper Peninsula made me a good fit for the job. I understood the culture, and had just graduated from Northern Michigan University. Therefore, I knew the challenges of getting into, being successful, and staying in college.

A significant part of my work over the past year was dedicated to launching a new program called the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP) Early College Program. It is a partnership between all of the high schools in Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac counties and Lake Superior State University (LSSU). This program allows area students to earn a high school diploma, and college credits, leading up to an associate's degree from LSSU tuition free!

How this works is students in 9th grade take their normal high school course load. If a student has an interest in the Early College program they take a one credit university seminar course during 10th grade, and complete an application to be eligible for the program. If accepted they will take a combination of college and high school classes in 11th and 12th grade. And at grade 13, students will complete their high school graduation requirement with one math or math related course and the remaining classes will be on LSSU's campus. This additional year of high school gives students more time to transition to post-secondary opportunities, but also cuts a year off of a traditional associate’s degree saving students money and time.

My main goal for the year was to create awareness and support of the Early College. I started off by creating resources like brochures, FAQ sheets, presentations, and a logo to begin building our public identity. In addition to those resources I established an online presence that people could use to learn more about what the program is, and what we were accomplishing. A big part of the success of the marketing came from my work with a group of LSSU students. Ralf Wilhelms, a Marketing professor at the college, allowed his students to work on marketing the program as their senior project.

In an effort to better connect with the communities, I went out to the schools and talked with students, parents, and administrators. Our Early College Coordinator, Geralyn Narkiewicz and I reached out to all of the area high schools with eligible students. In turn we were invited to open houses, parent-teacher conferences, and question and answer sessions to talk more directly with the communities. It was eye opening to see how informed students were about how beneficial the program could be for their futures.

Since the planning phases of the Early College, it has been centered on students who can really benefit from the program. Low income, first generation, and underrepresented groups are the focus, but anyone who is eligible can apply and be accepted into the program. The EUP Early College is a way to remove financial barriers that students may have and change the perception of who can earn a college degree.

All of the hard work that was done this year has culminated in our first cohort of 34 students from 7 different schools in the EUP. Over the past few months, we’ve also received word of increased interest in the program for next year’s group of students. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!


Author: Chelsea Hart, Early College Liaison, Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District
Michigan Nonprofit Association AmeriCorps VISTA Program
Posted: July 24, 2018 

Adviser Spotlight: Ashley Popp

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. Ashley Popp is a second year adviser exiting the program who served at Alpena High School and ACES Academy.

1. What is your college going story, and how did it lead you to this position?

I was fortunate enough to have the support of my parents through the college admissions and financial aid process. I visited Central Michigan University and Michigan State University prior to applying to college. Ultimately, I chose to attend Central Michigan University because of the merit-based scholarships they offered me, the location of the campus, and the opportunity I had to play clarinet in the Chippewa Marching Band!

At CMU, I was able to explore my passion for service through the Honors Program and the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. I participated in four alternative breaks and served as a mentor through the Lunch Buddies program. I also tutored first-year chemistry students for two years, worked as a Supplemental Instruction leader, and lead group fitness classes on campus. My time at Central Michigan University was life-changing for me, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to learn and grow through the experiences I had and the people I met at CMU!

When I learned about AdviseMI, I was excited to help students get to college so they could have a similar life-changing experience, like I’d had at CMU. Affordability and location were the most important factors when I was deciding which college to attend. I liked that I would be helping students determine which college was the right fit for them. I was also excited to learn and experience life in a new place, so I made the move to Alpena!

2. What was the biggest lesson you took from your time as an adviser?

During my time as an adviser, I helped many students and families through the college admissions and financial aid process. In time, I expect they will forget exactly what I said or what form I helped them complete. Instead, I hope they remember that I cared about them, treated them with kindness and respect, supported their decisions, and encouraged them when they felt stressed or overwhelmed.

I’ve always liked the quote widely attributed to Maya Angelou that reads, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I will never forget those who have been there for me on my own personal journey and I hope the students I’ve served have felt supported and encouraged during our conversations. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to positively impact the lives of students and families in Alpena.

3. Describe an initiative or program you spearheaded during your years of service.

During my first year of service at Alpena High School, I facilitated College Application Week as it had been facilitated in previous years. Seniors had the opportunity to complete admissions applications for the entire day on Wednesday with optional sessions during lunch periods on Thursday and Friday. During my second year of service, I wanted to offer seniors more opportunities to complete applications and begin the FAFSA during the school day with help from myself, their counselor, and Alpena Community College staff.  I communicated MCAN’s shift to Michigan College Month to the Alpena High School counseling team and proposed a two-week schedule of opportunities for seniors, including four days of application and FAFSA workshops.

Although seniors were assigned a specific time based on their last name, they could attend any time and attend multiple sessions. Students had the option to complete and receive help with completing college applications, sending their transcript to colleges, creating an FSA ID, and starting the FAFSA. Many students attended multiple workshop sessions, and those that attended more than one typically submitted at least one application, created their FSA ID, and often started the FAFSA.

4. What opportunities, if any, has this experience offered you now that you are completing your service?  What are you plans now that this term has ended?

My experience serving with AdviseMI has taught me how to respectfully enter a community and build professional relationships with students, parents, administrators, and community members. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with students and families similar and very different from my own. Through these interactions, I have gained a different perspective about life and the challenges many people face, specifically ways poverty and trauma impacts students’ lives, goals, and academic success.

My experience serving with AdviseMI has also provided me with many professional connections, including my colleagues at Alpena Public Schools, fellow AdviseMI advisers, admissions and financial aid staff at Alpena Community College, four-year universities across the state, and MCAN staff. I am incredibly thankful to have developed strong relationships with professionals in the K-12, higher education, and non-profit sectors as I determine my next step professionally. I plan to move to the Ann Arbor area to be closer to family and friends.

To learn more about AdviseMI visit http://www.micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives/advisemi.


Author: Ashley Popp, AdviseMI Adviser Alum
Posted: July 16, 2018

MCAN Legislative Recap

We at MCAN are committed to providing our college access community with comprehensive legislative updates to ensure that they are immersed and well informed on all legislative news that pertains to college access. With the adjournment of this session several large changes will be implemented in relation to college access. Governor Snyder signed a variety of bills that will contribute to the funding of the Marshall Plan for Talent, a $100 million workforce training plan designed to address Michigan's talent crisis. In addition, a package of career readiness bills were also signed, that will expand career opportunities for Michigan residents. Finally, the Governor signed his final Fiscal Year Budget for 2019 into law.

The Marshall Plan for Talent

The Marshall Plan for Talent invests $100M in an effort to improve the state’s talent pool by training citizens for high-demand career fields, providing educational supports, expanding career exploration opportunities, and supporting innovative teachers and curriculum. High-demand fields include professional trades, manufacturing, engineering, information technology, computer science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, mobility, health care, and business. MCAN is particularly eager about these components of the Marshall Plan:

  • Talent Pledge Scholarship Program: Appropriates $20M for scholarships/stipends to help low-income individuals with the cost of obtaining an associate degree or certificate in a high-demand field. For those pursuing a one-year certificate, individuals qualify for a $750 scholarship and $250 stipend. For those pursuing a two-year degree, individuals qualify each year for two years for a $500 scholarship and a $250 stipend. Scholarship recipients must be between 16 and 45, file the FAFSA, be enrolled full-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and meet income requirements. This program also invests $2.44M for grants to colleges to provide coaches to students who receive these scholarships.

  • Workforce Certificate Incentives: Appropriates $2.3M for grants, stipends, and bonuses to incentivize students to earn an in-demand workforce certificate while still in high school. If a high school student completes an in-demand workforce certificate, the state will award a total of $500, including $250 to the school district and $250 to the student.

  • Career Navigators: Allocates $10.5M for competitive grants to districts to hire new staff for career counseling activities, such as robust EDP creation, identifying work-based learning opportunities, and identifying career exploration activities. The grant will support the position for three years, and the district must commit to retain the position for at least an additional two years. Schools cannot supplant resources currently utilized for career counseling. To apply for funding for a Career Navigator, districts must apply as a “Talent Consortium”, which is a partnership between K12, higher education, and employers.

  • MI Bright Future Expansion: Allocates $4M for the expansion of MI Bright Future, a web-based career exploration platform.

Career Readiness

The legislature passed a package of bills related to career readiness designed to fund multiple initiatives to help strengthen Michigan’s talent in the workforce. MCAN supports several aspects of this package, such as:

  • SB684: Requires that EDPs include information about career pathways and opportunities, and that students review and revise their EDPs each year.

  • SB685: Requires that School Improvement Plans demonstrate that students have access to practical career training/experience and counseling on career opportunities.

  • HB5139: Requires school districts to incorporate a career development program into their curriculum. Instructs the Michigan Department of Education in consultation with the Department of Talent and Economic Development to develop, adopt, and share a model program of instruction.

  • HB5141/HB5142: Allows schools to engage non-certificated, non-endorsed teachers to teach in an industrial technology education or CTE program. Prohibits the state from reducing state aid payments to schools that hire these non-certificated, non-endorsed teachers.

  • HB5145: Allows educators to use time spent engaging with employers or tech centers to count toward certificate renewal in the form of state continuing education clock hours or professional development.

Fiscal Year Budget for 2019 

The Fiscal Year Budget for 2019 is inclusive of several key aspects as they relate to college access, including;

  • A 2 percent increase for operational funding of public universities and a 1 percent operational increase for community colleges. In order for a university to qualify for increased funding, the university must restrain tuition increases by no more than 3.8 percent or $490 (whichever is greater).

  • A $3M state appropriation for support the Michigan College Access Network. This will mark the seventh consecutive year of state funds for MCAN. The appropriation provides vital funding for many of our college access programs and services, including LCAN grant funding, AdviseMI, Innovative Program Grants, Michigan College Month, and Michigan College Cash Campaign.

  • Increased funding for student financial aid, including a $6M increase to the Michigan Competitive Scholarship Program (a 22.8 percent increase) and a $6M increase to the Tuition Incentive Program (a 10.3 percent increase). The Tuition Grant program maintains existing funding levels but the maximum award for the Tuition Grant program will increase from $2,000 to $2,400. Additionally, the state will set aside an additional $1.5 million in captured property tax for Michigan Promise Zones.

  • Increased funding to support Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing fees for low-income students, from $750,000 to $1M. Funds may also be used for College-Level Examination Program fees.

MCAN has worked hard to be an advocate for adequate funding for higher education and increased financial aid for Michigan students. We look forward to partnering with the state to ensure that we have a well-educated and well trained workforce.

For more information on MCAN’s advocacy strategy, please visit www.micollegeaccess.org/advocacy.


Author: Brandy Johnson, Executive Director
Posted: July 11, 2018  

Michigan College Access Network | 200 N Washington Square, Suite 210, Lansing, MI 48933 (map) | (517) 316-1713 Contact Us | Site Map | Terms and Privacy