Michigan's College Access Blog

Navigating Challenges and Sharing Insight at the Maritime Academy

Local College Access Networks (LCANs) are community-based college access alliances supported by a team of community and education leaders representing K-12, higher education, the nonprofit sector, government, business and philanthropy. These networks are committed to building a college-going culture and dramatically increasing college readiness, participation and completion rates within their community. Each year, they attend Maritime Academy, where they undergo a rigorous three-day comprehensive training in order to strengthen their college access strategy.

Melissa Miller serves as the LCAN Coordinator for the WE CAN! Newaygo County and attended Advanced Maritime.

Seeking to impact large-scale social challenges necessitates a different type of thinking and contribution from key stakeholders in order to shift mindsets, change hearts and grow cultures aimed to achieve more for those impacted. Collective impact is different because it encompasses a type of synergy around a shared vision and process that rises above collaborative action. However, beginning this endeavor of collective impact is complex work. We as LCAN Coordinators so eagerly want to solve these intricate issues of today and tomorrow efficiently, effectively and sustainably. Yet the truth is this work is multi-faceted, ambiguous, takes time but in the end is completely worth it. If a silver bullet existed to solve every community’s educational and economic needs, then we would not continue to hear the weighted concerns of caring families, or every sector ranging from private, public and non-profit. The fact is, higher education access and attainment impacts all of us. 

Thankfully, organizations like the Michigan College Access Network strive to develop and strengthen local strategies to impact the Big Goal of educational attainment. Through the development of local college access networks, MCAN is committing to growing collective impact in local communities across Michigan. Serving as an LCAN Coordinator for WE CAN! Newaygo County, I have had the privilege to learn and appreciate the complexity of collective impact and feel the growing pains of progress as well as witness the triumphs of collective action. It is easy, as a new coordinator, to feel overwhelmed by the answers you do not have or isolated by the challenges you face as you rally around community stakeholders. However, it is imperative to remember to take a deep breath and realize that collective impact is not about you having to have all the answers. Collective action on system changes and opportunities takes time to understand, cultivate, and grow. Remember that you are a key part of the system that is coming together intentionally to ignite and push the educational movement in your community for a reason. Everyone has a part to contribute and as a new LCAN Coordinator, your role is to help those around you stay focused on the process and the goals of the network.

That is the beauty of the support garnered from MCAN. They intimately understand the challenges faced by LCAN Coordinators striving to have system-level changes in their communities and they step up to walk alongside you to ensure you feel supported. The Maritime Academy is a strong example of that intentional support that continues to prove the value of shared time together with colleagues. MCAN brings in subject experts to grow your understanding of collective impact and cultivate a culture of learning. During the three-day training, MCAN staff can’t help but share their authentic care and enthusiasm about your growth and development as a partner in the college access movement. By attending the Advanced Maritime Academy, it became clear to me that interacting with other LCAN colleagues offered a space to listen to one another, engage in constructive problem solving and provided an opportunity to celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Even though every community revolves around a localized strategy, LCAN colleagues are able to provide wise insights on lessons learned from their communities, share applicable resources and examples to aid forward movement, and serve as a helpful sounding board for navigating both challenges and opportunities. For these reasons, I am thankful to have participated in the Advanced Maritime Academy because I truly believe that being a part of this larger movement and group of strong leaders has helped me to better serve Newaygo County.


Author: Melissa Miller, WE CAN! Newaygo County Student Advancement Consultant
Posted: Sept. 18, 2018


My Experience at Maritime Academy

Local College Access Networks (LCANs) are community-based college access alliances supported by a team of community and education leaders representing K-12, higher education, the nonprofit sector, government, business, and philanthropy. These networks are committed to building a college-going culture and dramatically increasing college readiness, participation, and completion rates within their community. Each year, they attend Maritime Academy, where they undergo a rigorous three day comprehensive training, in order to strengthen their college access strategy.

Ann Konarski serves as the LCAN Coordinator for the Lapeer County Access Network and attended Advanced Maritime.

Advanced Maritime allowed me time to really immerse myself in the nuances of Collective Impact. So often, in our daily network routines, we look at the big picture and the next immediate move. The Academy lets us stop to really take every idea word-for-word and recognize the small picture, without the time constraints of our network tasks.  I love that I have time to really connect with my colleagues, learn who they are, what they’re doing in their own network while also looking at the minutia of best practices. Sometimes it’s all in the details!

Here in Lapeer County, we are focusing on Leadership Team development, engagement, and sustainability. Our group spent the entire Maritime Academy concentrating on the benchmarks including, where we currently are and where we want to head.  The exactness of language and plethora of examples really identified to me the path we need to walk with all our network partners and leaders.

As with my initial Maritime Academy, I left feeling terrifically energized and ready to tackle anything.  This training really puts me “in the zone.” It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s power-packed with great information. The intensity of three full days is such a great jump start to the next chapter our network is working toward.  Just when I feel inadequacies in my coordinating efforts, I learn and feel and see how great our network is really doing.  This is enhanced because of the care and passion of MCAN leaders and all my LCAN peers.

Thanks so much for allowing all of us to be who we are, in our individual geographic locations, and yet make us feel and know we are part of this big picture. This entire group of people cares so greatly about their students, community, and the state.  It’s impressive to witness the drive and passion associated with these networks and coordinated efforts and initiatives.  It is teamwork at its finest. Lapeer County is working hard and is very appreciative!


Author: Ann Konarski, Lapeer County CAN! Coordinator
Posted: Sept. 10, 2018


College Adviser to Admissions Counselor

Dan Mitchell is a current board member for the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) and recently completed his service as a Michigan State University College Advising Corps adviser in Alanson and Pellston Public Schools in northern Michigan. Currently, he is an Admission Counselor at Northern Michigan University. 

1. Tell us about your experience as a college adviser.  What was the biggest lesson you learned through this experience?

When I went to Michigan State University as an 18-year-old, I assumed that every other student there came from a background nearly identical to mine. Even though my experiences with student government and serving as a Resident Assistant broadened my horizons and introduced me to diverse people, I still maintained the idea that every other student’s college-going process was just like mine. It wasn’t until I started my work at   as a college adviser that I realized how aloof I was in that sense. Through my formal training and through talking to teachers and staff members at the schools, I quickly developed a new framework of what college is, how certain barriers to college exist for different people, and that college can open doors not just for individuals, but for families, communities, and even states. What I’ve learned as a college adviser is that everyone’s trajectory to and through college looks different. Working in the field of higher education now, I know it will make me a better counselor and educator to see each student’s unique set of experiences as a strength.

2. What is your advice for incoming future advisers?

For incoming advisers, my biggest advice is to remember the importance of the personal connections you make with students, high school staff, community members, and even college representatives. I know college access groups need to pay attention to informative data and numbers: Goal 2025 and “moving the needle” are branded into my brain. However, it is important to remember that behind every dataset or individual percentile is a student, their family and their future. The statistics and the stories need to go hand in hand. A high FAFSA completion rate looks good to donors and can earn an adviser a nice plaque, but it also means that more families will have less of a financial burden when pursuing higher education. Personal connections are also important when it comes to delivering information to students, which is why I tried to incorporate fun, memorable, and interactive components to all of my student presentations. I want my students to have the image of my face photo-shopped on Iron Man’s body stuck in their brain forever as a reminder that when they go to college, they need to assemble a College Success Team, just like Tony Stark had the Avengers. Personal connections matter and I am so grateful to be working in an Admissions Office where personal attention to every prospective student is a core value.

3. Tell us how your experiences have shaped your choice to stay in the college access field?

I have always loved school and education. I was the kid that cried on the last day of school for years. When I was seven, I said that I wanted to be the president of Harvard. I have joked that I want to be a student the rest of my life, but that does not pay the bills, so my goal is to stay in higher education working with college students in whatever capacity I can be helpful and impactful. I enjoy being an educator: teaching biology labs at Northern Michigan University is exciting and rewarding, but I see my role as an Admissions Counselor as an educational role, as well. The best part of my job is that I get to help students and their families realize what’s possible. There are more opportunities available to you in college than at any other time in your life. In both my College Adviser and Admissions Counselor roles, it is important that I help people take action toward those possibilities, while trying to remove stress and obstacles.

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 you would like to recommend someone to us, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's strategy assistant for external engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org. 


Author: Dan Mitchell, Northern Michigan University Admissions Counselor, MCAN Board Member
Posted: Sept. 5, 2018

Are there Invisible Students on Your Campus?

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, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's strategy assistant for external engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org.

Signs of homelessness on college campuses can be easy to miss. Students sleeping in library reading nooks, vehicles in student parking lots that rarely change location, backpacks bulging with a student’s possessions, youth bringing plastic baggies to events serving food (to collect leftovers)…  

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied with physiological sensations of hunger.

Homelessness means that a person is without a place to live, often residing in a shelter, an automobile, an abandoned building or outside, while housing insecurity includes a broader set of challenges such as the inability to pay rent or utilities or the need to move frequently.

All these challenges affect students, and the results this year suggest that it is more common to endure them during college than to have all of one’s needs met.


Housing and food insecurity are not new issues on college campuses. The Wisconsin Hope Lab, a research group focusing on issues of postsecondary student equity, found in its 2018 “Still Hungry and Homeless in College” survey of 43,000 students, at 66 institutions, that 36 percent of four-year college students were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey, with that figure being 42 percent for community college students. Similarly, 36 percent of university students said they were housing insecure and 9 percent said they were homeless, while 46 percent of community college students cited housing insecurity and 12 percent said they were homeless.

As the State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), my work focuses on supporting public schools in removing barriers to education for pre-K through 12th grade students, who are experiencing homelessness in order to enhance school success, and to help them reach beyond to postsecondary education. We do this through 34 regional McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Grants, encompassing all counties and intermediate school districts in the state, and nearly 98 percent of all public school districts.  Regional coordinators work with school district Homeless Liaisons to identify students experiencing homelessness, provide school supplies, transportation, help with obtaining school, health and other important records, academic support and tutoring, school meals and snacks, clothing, shoes, under and outer wear, school uniforms, counseling and referrals for many more community services to meet the family’s and students’ unique needs.  Every public school district is required to designate a staff member to identify and serve students experiencing homelessness. 

Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College in Denvers, MA, told the Education Dive, 

“Addressing those emergency needs beyond tuition and fee support is what we are going to have to do to make sure our students enroll and complete.”

“This is going to impact our workforce over time. This is not a charitable thing; it’s an economic thing.”

After high school graduation (or GED completion), however, there is no such mandate for postsecondary institutions to designate staff to support such students. Fourteen State Education Agencies (SEAs) - including Michigan - have developed Higher Education Networks, consisting of Single Points of Contact (SPOCS) - leaders in the financial aid offices at postsecondary institutions, to identify and support college students experiencing hunger and homelessness. These programs provide training and resources for SPOCs to increase the educational attainment of the most vulnerable college students.






What can YOU do to support these vulnerable students on your campus?

  1. Observe and collect data – Develop and distribute a survey for all students to learn the extent of food and housing insecurity among your students and on your campus. Check the WI HOPE Lab’s annotated list of these studies for examples.
  2. Develop a resource network – Identify an appropriate staff member to serve as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for your institution and/or campuses. Join the SEA’s Higher Education Network for Homeless and Foster Youth. Work with the SEA’s Homeless Education Coordinator to identify state, regional and local resources for food and housing support.
  3. Request training for faculty and staff about the extent of the problem, the impact of these issues on students, and ways to support students experiencing these struggles. This is available through the SEA’s State Homeless Education Coordinator and national organizations. (See Resource List at end of this article.)
  4. Start with the EASY STEPS – Start a food pantry on campus with donations from administrators, faculty, and staff. Make campus housing available during the semester and holiday breaks for students in need (not just international or out of state students). Make community resources and contact broadly available on campus. Strengthen relationships with student organizations.
  5. Destigmatize requests for help – Review campus, student and building policies and procedures to determine if any pose barriers to students who are experiencing food or housing insecurity. Communicate publicly across campus, online and through staff and faculty of the incidence of such issues on your campus, the availability of the resources and how students can access them and refer others to them.

Resources on Hunger and Homelessness for Postsecondary Insitutions 

Did You Know?


Author: Pam Kies-Lowe, State Coordinator for Homeless Education
Michigan Department of Education, Office of Educational Supports
Posted: Aug. 23, 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