Michigan's College Access Blog

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

Paving the Road to Equity: A Journey through African American HERstory

Vernon Jordan, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement and an advisor to President Clinton, once said, “You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” My college access journey began far before my own two feet walked the campus of Michigan State University. The pages of my story were written before I had the ability to conceptualize postsecondary education.

I stand on the shoulders of women who come from a rich lineage of beauty in the midst of pain, struggle, and breakthrough. These women embodied strength in the midst of weakness, trials, and barriers that were meant to deter their path, but still, they were able to rise. Their leaves never withered, their flowers forever bloomed, and their labor produced an excess of fruit. These women are Black HERstory.

Trailblazers such as Lucy Sessions, Mary Jane Patterson, and Rebecca Crumpler shifted what college access means for African American women.. Lucy Sessions was the first African American woman to earn a literacy degree in 1850. She defeated odds and began to dismantle chairs of oppression as she received her degree fifteen years before slavery was abolished. Mary Jane Patterson was the first African American woman to earn a Bachelors of Arts in 1862, three years before slavery was abolished. Rebecca Crumpler was the first African American woman to earn a Medical Degree in 1864. Each of these women planted seeds for young women of color to pursue postsecondary education in the midst of one of the most terrifying times in African American History.

African American trailblazers within education that have directly impacted my pursuit of postsecondary education are Marrietta Drew and Rosemary Higgins. Marrietta Drew, also known as Ma Dear, was my maternal grandmother. She was born in Louisiana in 1921. During the time that Ma Dear was of age to complete primary and secondary schooling, the highest level for African American students in her county was middle school. Ma Dear had a love for education that caused her to continue to go back to school even after she fulfilled the requirements that were necessary. She went back to school 2-3 times despite completing schooling because her love for education allowed her to find beauty in learning new information as the curriculums of the school systems evolved. My grandmother’s desire to pursue education but inability to do so due to racial prejudice motivated me to push past barriers and pursue my passion for service, literature, and advocacy.

Rosemary Higgins was my middle school counselor at Ivan Ludington Middle School on the Westside of Detroit. She played a pivotal role in my college access story by providing my family with resources to help me prepare for the high school placement examination for competitive Schools of Choice in Detroit. She also worked with my parents to fill out the application for the Wade McCree Scholarship and the Detroit College Promise Scholarship. Both scholarships paid for tuition for a 2 to 4-year college for students interested in pursuing postsecondary education in Michigan. This opportunity made college more of a reality for me, it held me accountable. I was thankful that my city believed in me enough to invest in my college education.

The stories of the women in my life have continued the trail of perseverance that Lucy Sessions, Mary Jane Patterson and Rebecca Crumpler started. Their desire to create roads where there was no pavement and climb mountains that often appeared to be unbearable has birthed my desire to help other young people fulfill their postsecondary goals as well. As a first-generation college student, I am thankful for the shoulders that I stand on and the brave women that endured so that I could have the opportunity to pursue an education as well. Our mission at Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) is to increase college readiness, participation, and completion in Michigan, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. The women that came before me kept their eyes on their objective, understanding the roads of equity that still needed to be paved for students of all backgrounds to have access to postsecondary education.

Author: Shavonna Green
Posted: Feb. 26, 2019

Black History Month: A Brick in the Foundation of Equity

The spirit of Black History Month has been ingrained in my cultural and academic upbringing since the earliest days of my childhood. I reflect upon those early roads that would lead me to Michigan State University as a second generation student (my mother, Kyle Smith, is an alumnus) while having a clear sense of my identity and culture, and the knowledge to honor those African-Americans before me with the power and courage to forge a path that not only allowed me to attend a university one day but to also be in the position now to advocate for greater equity in the field of education – specifically in the Metro Detroit region that serves as my hometown.

I vividly remember my studies at Bates Academy in Detroit as an elementary student, being introduced to Black History Month through a game show called “Bates Battle” where we formed teams to compete against each other based on trivia about Black pioneers. That incentive to study more about my culture, (albeit for bragging rights) helped reaffirm the desire I had to learn more about its surrounding history. Pairing that with a litany of books, articles, and other resources I could find at my disposal at home, I had an enhanced understanding of the African diaspora even at a young age. It was over time that I’d realized how anomalous that understanding had been compared to some of my friends. By the time I’d made it to MSU, I’d realize just how many Black students grew up learning so little about the efforts and achievements of their ancestors.

Black History Month is centered in the spirit of college access – an initiative ascending from the establishment of Negro College Week, created by historian Carter G. Woodson and intended to be celebrated in the second week of February. It would take 44 years between that announcement in 1926 and the first celebration of Black History Month, proposed by Kent State University in 1970, for a month-long calling of educators instituting, and adhering to, a curriculum centered on Black history.

When we speak to the idea of equity, fairness, and impartiality, providing just a month alone to assert the idea of an integrated curriculum in schools still falls short of that balance. While knowing the road ahead of us, it’s important to note the existence of Black History Month as a precedent aimed to hold entire departments of education accountable on a statewide level, then push them to continue to develop changes that will serve students regardless of their race, creed, gender, identity, or economic status.

Continuing our mission to increase college readiness, participation, and completion in Michigan – particularly in this instance thinking about students of color – it is important to understand the impact of resources that expose students to a more inclusive curriculum from early childhood through high school. That is why we celebrate the spirit of Black History Month every year.

Author: Jahshua Smith
Posted: Feb. 20, 2019

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