Michigan's College Access Blog

Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part One

This blog is the first in a series of five installments written by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer."  The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


Northern Michigan University Will be a Game Changer

By Megan Martin, Jonesville High Schooldecision-day-meganmartin-1

“College.” That’s a word you hear quite a bit as a high school senior. There are so many colleges to consider, majors to choose from, extracurricular groups to select. In all honesty, it’s petrifying. I keep myself going by thinking about all the exciting new experiences and opportunities I am going to have while I am there. I’ll be attending Northern Michigan University in the fall. That was a hard decision for me to elect but when it came down to the basics, no other school felt like home to me. I’ve never been the finest at making friends, I’ve always struggled to fit in but the first time I stepped on Northern’s campus, I knew innovation was going to happen. I hope college is going to be a game changer through the new doors that are going to open with friendships, career opportunities and driven passion for new experiences.

I’m not going to be the first person in my family to attend college. My sister has, my brother has and my mom currently is. I will, however, be the first to leave for college. My sister and brother lived at home while they went to school part time. Even then, I chose not to just go anywhere, I chose a college eight hours away. By choosing a college quite a distance away, I hoped I would find my independence and branch out in new way that I can’t here in my hometown. When you hear all those stories from college students about this and that, how they went here and there, it opens your mind to possibilities. I hope to travel to Marquette and be the college student telling my stories to my high school friends back home.

While there are all these exciting aspects of leaving for this next step in my life, what if I get sick? My mom can’t drive eight hours to rub my back and give me soup. What about those days I’m too stressed out and need to relax with my best friend? She can’t drive eight hours to take me on a shopping spree. How do I get home for the holidays if the Mackinac Bridge closes for bad weather? I fear missing my dad’s birthday because finals have me so stressed out I forget. I fear missing my brother’s graduation from basic training because it doesn’t work into my schedule. I fear my family moving my things out of my bedroom. Yeah, college is thrilling and I’m sure everything will turn out fine but I fear not knowing what my future holds or how things will work out.

Ice climbing, cross country skiing, kayaking through Lake Superior are just a few of the opportunities I hope to embrace as I shift to Northern. Northern will be a game changer for me and I’m excited for the experiences I’ll be able to share in the years to come.


Posted: April 26, 2016 


Exciting Changes at the MCAN Headquarters

New structure and new faces as we head into our sixth year

Last August I posted a blog about birthdays – MCAN’s fifth birthday as well as the “birth day” of my son Kirby. Kirby has grown a lot since August – he’s more than tripled his birth weight, he crawls everywhere, and has two teeth. MCAN has also grown a lot since August and I’m excited to share some exciting developments from our office in downtown Lansing. In January, MCAN launched a new organizational structure to help streamline our operations and build in more capacity that will enable us to work efficiently and effectively toward Goal 2025.  

As always, MCAN’s strategic approach is guided by our talented and committed 11-person board of directors. We recently welcomed two new board members to replace those who completed their terms. They are: Robert (Bob) Ferrentino, president of Montcalm Community College; and Daniel Mitchell, who serves as an MSU College Advising Corps member in Northern Michigan. I have the pleasure of reporting to the board and they are a consistent source of support to me and the MCAN team.  

MCAN now is organized into four departments, with each department head reporting directly to me.  Three of the four department heads are familiar faces, but check out their brand new titles!


Kirby is a loyal Spartans fan!

 MCAN Staff-Awards-Dinner-2016-2317 800x420

MCAN staff pictured left to right: Connor McLaughlin, Sarah Anthony, Christi Taylor, Jamie Jacobs, Brandy Johnson, Ryan Fewins-Bliss, Bristol Day, and Jacqueline Ruhland.

Capacity Building
This department is led by Jamie Jacobs (Director of Capacity Building). Jamie is tasked with strengthening the abilities of college access professionals and providing them with the tools that they need so that they can be as effective as possible.  Her “buckets” of work include our annual conference, professional development for practitioners, our school counselor postsecondary planning course, and issues related to data, research, and technology. She also will help MCAN explore and execute new opportunities for innovation.  

Community Investment
The Community Investment department is led by Ryan Fewins-Bliss (Deputy Director for Community Investment). This department is by far our largest, which speaks to our deep commitment to Michigan’s community-based college access efforts. Ryan is still our “Chief LCAN Officer” and also oversees our grant-making strategy. Ryan is joined by Christi Taylor, our Director of Statewide Initiatives, who manages our campaigns targeted to high schools like College Application Week and the Reach Higher High School grant program. Ryan and Christi are supported by one of MCAN’s newest teammates, Program Assistant Connor McLaughlin, who is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University. Finally, AdviseMI also lives within the Community Investment department and includes Co-Directors Bristol Day and Jacqueline Ruhland, along with the 40 college advisers (and growing!) they supervise.  

Partnerships and Advocacy
This department will be led by Sarah Anthony (Deputy Director for Partnerships and Advocacy). This will be a major transition for Sarah, who has largely focused her time on the financial and operational management of MCAN during the last several years. She will now focus on managing our advocacy and communication efforts, and building/strengthening partnerships with mission-aligned statewide and national organizations. She will continue to facilitate the Michigan College Access Alliance and Michigan Reach Higher Alliance and serve as a liaison to the Michigan Veterans Education Initiatives and Michigan Promise Zones. She will be an ambassador of Goal 2025 and encourage other organizations across the state to join our movement.  

Operations and Finance
Given our exponential growth over the last year or so, MCAN’s board of directors and I reached the conclusion that we need dedicated, full-time staff to manage MCAN’s internal operations. We are thrilled to announce that we recently hired Ms. Cheryl McPherson as our new Director of Finance and Operations and her first day will be Monday, April 18! Most recently, Cheryl served as Assistant Dean for Finance and Operation at Oakland University’s School of Nursing. She has degrees from Michigan State University and Central Michigan University – which gained the approval of Ryan and Sarah (Fire Up Chips!) as well as Jamie, Christi, Jacque, and Bristol (Go Green!). She brings a wealth of experience in financial management, budgeting, and HR. Cheryl is joined by Operations Assistant Dawn Stemen, who joined MCAN in January.  

As MCAN and Kirby continue to grow, I continually look forward to achieving the next exciting milestone – Kirby is on the verge on saying his first word and Michigan is on the verge of hitting 40 percent degree attainment! I can’t wait to celebrate many more birthdays with BOTH of my growing families in the years to come!  


Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director
Posted: April 13, 2016


Good Luck to Michigan Students Taking the SAT!


The Michigan Department of Education announced last year that all public schools will offer the SAT rather than the ACT as its free college admissions test starting in 2016. Michigan. Michigan has long been an “ACT” state, but with the time, comes change and the college going process is forever changing.

One of the greatest benefits to transitioning to the SAT is the additional resources and opportunities available to students and educators. The College Board provides a number of helpful resources, campaigns and fee-waiver programs, including some specifically targeted at low-income students and students of color. Through the College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy, students can take real, full-length new SAT practice tests from College Board and get personalized SAT practice tailored just for them.    has long been an “ACT” state, but with the time comes change, and the college-going process is forever changing.

Additionally, low-income students can qualify for test fee waivers and to receive packets of customized college information and college application fee waivers. The College Board also dedicates a portion its website to education professionals, providing them with the tools they need to become proficient in test coordinating. These resources will allow school administrators to become familiar with the redesigned SAT and help them design curriculum that will prepare the students to succeed on the exam.

Students can take advantage of another resource at Michigan eLibrary’s LearningExpress. Students can utilize the free LearningExpress Library College Prep Center to take practice tests in preparation for all sections of the SAT test.

Students will also benefit from the ability to send SAT scores to four colleges for free, removing another barrier from the college application process.

We thank the counselors for their outstanding efforts to help prepare students and wish all students good luck as they take the SAT tomorrow!


Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director
Posted: April 11, 2016



Charting a New and Improved Course

 MCAN10 Constellation Graphic FINAL-Labels Page 1

Above: The Constituent-Sea graphic shows the relationship between a developing LCAN and its constituents.

Below: The Network Navigator graphic represents the relationship between leadership team and staff activities, organizations' individual activities, and collaborative action, as they relate to the LCAN.


Lessons We Have Learned 

In February, Michigan College Access Network proudly introduced the second edition of Charting the Course: A community’s guide for increasing educational attainment through the lens of collective impact. This updated version of the publication was developed from MCAN’s experience of working to build local college access networks in partnership with more than 50 communities from throughout the state of Michigan and multiple communities from across the country. Since Charting the Course was first published in 2013, MCAN has fine-tuned its recommended LCAN development process. We are eager to share this information with our partners, funders and local networks; following are highlights of the changes. 

Revision of the 10 Steps
The second edition of Charting the Course still contains the 10-step process for building a network. However, the order, descriptions, and names for some of those steps have changed. As MCAN assessed how LCANs were implementing the steps, it became clear that there was some deviation from the recommended process. We discovered that most networks were deviating from the steps in the same way, and realized there must be something to learn from.

The 10 steps are now ordered in a way that is more representative of the network-building process. MCAN also has learned more about best practices for building networks, which caused some significant changes in how we describe each step. Once the changes were made, a better-fitting name for the step was often necessary. With that in mind, the 10 steps now better reflect the process that is described, and each step builds upon the foundation laid by previous steps.

National Examples 
Charting the Course: Second Edition is intended for a national audience. Like the first edition, much of the information draws upon the experience of building LCANs in Michigan. However, the information and resources are useful to communities throughout the country. New to this edition, the samples and templates include documents from organizations based not only in Michigan, but also other states. Our good friends at Lumina Foundation, who funded both the first and second editions, connected MCAN to many collaboratives through their Community Partnership for Attainment grant program. MCAN has been serving as a coach for nine of their 75 grantee communities, and is a technical assistance partner to the entire national cohort.

New and Improved Graphics 
The latest edition of Charting the Course contains new and improved graphics, which help to more effectively illustrate the examples and concepts that are discussed. We think readers will especially enjoy the new and improved K-12 Pipeline graphic, the phases of constituent-sea development, and the Network Navigator graphic. Additionally, the book utilizes a vibrant color scheme and clearly displays the symbols that represent the five conditions of collective impact. These reoccurring colors and symbols help guide readers through the content and make the key themes easier to identify.

We hope you enjoy the second edition of Charting the Course as much as we do. Be sure to download a free copy!


Ryan webAuthor: Ryan Fewins-Bliss
Posted: March 30, 2016

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