Michigan's College Access Blog

Stepping Outside Social Work: A Year of College Advising

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.

Mara Casado is a first-year adviser who just completed her first year of service at Hastings High School.

As a graduate of Calvin College with a bachelor’s degree in social work, I was looking for a job that would allow me to gain meaningful skills and experiences before starting graduate school and begining my career as a social worker. I came across the AdviseMI AmeriCorps position and knew that dedicating myself to serving my community through supporting students in their college readiness efforts would be a valuable experience. My role as an adviser is to increase the number of high school students who start and complete postsecondary education. On a day-to-day basis, I get to meet with individual seniors to help them craft their post-high school plans, apply to colleges, complete the FAFSA, fill out scholarship applications, and help them understand the crazy-confusing college world. I also plan college-related events, give presentations for each grade, and support the counselors in various ways.

As my service year comes to a close, naturally, I’m feeling quite reflective and slightly sentimental. In the last 10 months, I have developed a lot of skills and learned a wide variety of new things and met so many amazing advisers, counselors, teachers, and other advocates for college access. I have been blown away by the dedication and passion of the staff at my school and the work being done by organizations like the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) to increase access to higher education for low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color. I have been equally amazed by the students I work with every day, who, despite sometimes needing to be gently nagged multiple times to complete the FAFSA, are also incredibly smart, kind, and determined, and are breaking down many barriers to get to college - and I am honored to have even a small role in their journey to success.

Through my service, I have learned two big lessons. First, effective collaboration. Each workplace environment is different, and our school sites are no exception. I’m at a school where collaboration is expected and I receive supervision for most of my tasks, but other advisers may be at schools where they’re working more independently on tasks without much supervision. There are pros and cons to each, and while I am grateful for the amount of support I receive from teachers and staff, I did need to learn very quickly that timely communication, building relationships, and flexibility were all a key part of success in my role. Second, the importance of knowing a student’s story. Once upon a time, I was a social work major. I spent much of my undergraduate career learning about the impact of a person’s environment on their psychological, social, and emotional wellbeing. I knew the importance of a person’s environment, but I developed a deeper understanding of this in my role as an adviser. Each day I am reminded that a student’s home environment can seriously affect their behavior, academic performance, self-esteem, and even their motivation to consider college. Recognizing this and giving students both the space to focus on their pressing needs at home, and the encouragement they need to pursue their plans for after high school, plays a pivotal part in my relationships with students.

Through this journey, I have also encountered some challenges. The biggest challenge has been learning patience. I’m someone who loves seeing immediate results, and although I do see the immediate results of students getting scholarships or college acceptances, it took time to see the results of a growing college-going culture in my school. Building this culture is not a quick process and there is often community pushback on our efforts to promote college for all students. This stems from a lack of understanding of what college is and what it isn’t, but my supervisor and I have worked to push the recognition that college is not just a four-year university. There are many paths to earning a postsecondary credential. We are seeing slow, but positive changes. So we keep pushing. Because the work we do at an individual and school-level is the foundation of the work that’s done at the state-level, and we need people at all levels to “get things done” for college access.

Author: Mara Casado
Posted: June 18, 2019



My Experience at the Rural College Access and Success Summit

Ashley Justice is a Program Manager & School Liaison for the Capital Area College Access Network, which is a Local College Access Network (LCAN) in the Lansing area

At the end of April, I was able to attend the Rural College Access and Success Summit in Lexington, Kentucky. I went to Kentucky looking for best practices and inspiration to bring back to our rural communities in Ingham and Eaton counties as part of CapCAN’s College Attainment for Rural Students initiative. What I found was a large community of dedicated, rural practitioners passionate about their own rural communities, and I learned so much from them.

The summit was kicked off by a plenary with the former Education Secretary, Dr. John B. King Jr. Currently, Secretary King is the CEO of the Education Trust. Secretary King spoke about having the necessary moral courage to fight and advocate for our students to have opportunities, and the necessity of mentors, especially for our rural students who are more likely to come from a low-income family and to be the first in their families to go to college. With 20% of the public school population classified as rural, King stated “America cannot succeed without the success of rural America.” This was a great way to kick off the conference, and to remind the practitioners of the importance of our work, not just for our communities, but for our country as a whole.

During the first breakout, Sarah Beesley from Concord University spoke about some of the barriers that she faces working with rural West Virginian students. One of the barriers that stood out to me was the overall lack of confidence among rural students in their abilities to succeed in college. Many of these students came from areas where they didn’t interact with adults who hold a college degree outside of doctors and teachers. They didn’t have role models and mentors who had similar backgrounds or experiences to support them. Their strongest support network was their peer network. However, many of these peer support networks dwindled as fewer and fewer students progressed in their college education, often dropping out after their first or second year. Another major barrier that Beesley spoke about was the harm of the stereotypes of rural students. It’s a stereotype that we see a lot in the mediathat people who live in rural areas are ignorant and poor. Rural students don’t see many positive examples of themselves in colleges to counteract these views. It creates a situation where the rural students either do not go or are not comfortable on college campuses resulting in dropping out of college.

A common theme throughout the sessions was around how to better engage parents in the college going process. A speaker out of rural California created a Parent Advisory Committee, which allowed for a group of trained parents to educate and engage other parents in the college-going process. The parents were trained to hold their own meetings with other parents to better inform them about the college-going culture and help dispel the myths surrounding it.  

Another prominent theme was how to better engage rural communities. Presenters talked about bringing in mentors to work with students while students were enrolled in both high school and college. It is important for the students to feel supported by these mentors in their pursuit of a degree. Mentors allow for students to see that they don’t have to choose between remaining part of their rural communities or going to college, as many students feel like they are rejecting their community’s way of life by making the choice to get a college degree. Community support helps rural students feel like they have a place to come back to once they do receive their college degree.

I took much away from the summit. I learned about some best practices occurring in other rural areas of the country. I also connected with the NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group and found some great resources within that. But what I really took away was the sense that CapCAN is now part of a larger movement to assist the rural population of students who have largely been forgotten to navigate the college process. I cannot wait to put all of the things I’ve learned into practice here in the rural communities within Ingham and Eaton counties. Thank you to MCAN for sponsoring my trip down to Lexington, it was truly a life changing experience. 

Author: Ashely Justice
Posted: June 11, 2019

My Experience with the Detroit Promise: 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.

Juanita Janee’ Gool is a first-year adviser who serves at Martin Luther King Jr. Sr. High School in Detroit.

As a social work major at Wayne State University, I completed my field placement with the Detroit Promise. I was able to get the experience of working with freshman first-generation college students. The connections with the students were so surreal because I am a first generation myself and I could remember how I felt during my first year in community college. As a student, I had never heard about the Detroit Promise as a resource. I remember the feeling of not knowing what to do next and when I met with my advisers I found that I didn’t receive real assistance or answers to my questions, and I had no real connection the staff at my institution. Navigating through community college before transferring on my own was a real challenge for me, but dedication, determination, and the driven spirit is what carried me through. Through that experience, I told myself that if I was ever in the position to help someone get through what I been through, I would jump at that chance!

When the opportunity presented itself to work with a familiar population, I knew there would be an instant connection. The Detroit Promise gave me a different deeper nuance. The ability to learn from some of the best Promise Path Coaches, staff, peers, and field liaison helped create who I am today. All of the knowledge from everyone has assisted me in becoming more successful in my current position. During my college internship, I had the experience of serving students at the beginning stages of college. Now I serve them before they even hit those doors and it is really amazing and truly rewarding. Bridging the gap is a part of my purpose in life. Having someone in your life that you can connect with based on relatable experiences helps create a better support bond. I have learned a great deal of knowledge from college, the Detroit Promise and AdviseMI. Everything intertwines, which is great for me and those who I serve.

One of the most valuable things I have learned is networking. Networking and creating working bonds that come together like none other that can really expose and be more effective for those who I serve. The work I do would not be possible without others. My only challenge that I face and will always face is the dismay of not knowing. I seem to be the type of person who wants to know and pencil in a plan for it all. Despite a lack of knowledge, being a team player, adjustable, understanding, and empathetic has helped me conquer every time.

Author: Juanita Janee’ Gool
Posted: May 28, 2019

The Face Behind a Vote

Jimmie Cotter attended the Michigan College Access Network’s 2019 Annual Advocacy Day and had the opportunity to meet with his local legislators to help improve the state of college access in Michigan. 

At the age of 25, I’ve been eligible to vote in the past three midterm elections, yet I only have a .333 midterm batting average to show for it. Truth be told it had never felt so necessary, for many reasons, to exercise this bi-annual civic duty than it did last fall. Relatively unaware of my district’s boundaries, past and direction moving forward, I educated myself enough to feel comfortable participating in this, my very first midterm election. On a rainy November evening with the task completed, I sat back to wonder how the folks I supported with my vote would make the most of it and began an unintentional waiting game of again feeling disengaged.

These are the specific thoughts that ran through my head as I approached an office door reading “Senator Sean McCann”, the very same name that sat beside a box I checked during my first midterm election. As I reviewed my talking points and the legislative priorities most pertinent to my everyday professional life, it was somewhat of a surreal feeling knowing a vote came full circle, and paired with MCAN’s Advocacy Day programming, would give me a direct opportunity to bring some influence at a state level by conversing with a man in office I voted for. Once the cordial greeting and transition into his office overlooking the Capitol was complete, I took the time to share with Senator McCann that about 50% of students in our school are eligible for the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP), and how vital it is our state continues to fund this program. TIP not only makes tuition possible at our local community college, but as many TIP beneficiaries are also Pell eligible, it makes life possible in limiting the many indirect costs that come with college. It’s a lifeline for the postsecondary pursuits of Comstock High School graduates each year. Additionally, I took time to inform Senator McCann that over 30% of the Comstock community has some college experience, but no degree to show for it, and how much impact his support for the Michigan Reconnect Program would have on a single small town residing in his district. As Senator McCann echoed the importance of the information we shared with him, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the young people I work alongside every day at Comstock High School could somehow be positively affected by way of my actions in an arena larger than just the school grounds.

Thirty minutes of undivided attention from a State Senator is a powerful opportunity and is one each participant has when they take part in MCAN’s annual Advocacy Day. Heck, you may even get a chance to talk about the different neighborhoods and best restaurants in the town you share with those you cast your vote for. After all, they’re just everyday people.

Author: Jimmie Cotter
Posted May 21, 2019

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