Adviser Service Shapes Goals and Aspirations

College Advising Corps (CAC) advisers change the lives of hundreds of thousands of students each year. Advisers, who are recent college graduates, also go through a life-changing experience themselves.

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Christine Shanaberger

Advisers begin their service by attending a rigorous summer training program. After training, they are placed in high schools full-time. Once established in their high school, advisers must creatively and entrepreneurially foster a college-going culture. Often times, advisers become experts, mentors, champions, and guides. They achieve success for their students by collaborating with teachers, administrators, and existing high school counseling staff.

As a result of this experience, advisers learn new skills that enable them to pursue a variety of career paths upon the conclusion of their two-year service with CAC. Many alumni are inspired by their experience to pursue a career in college advising, college admissions, or higher education administration. One example is Christine Shanaberger, a Pennsylvania College Advising Corps adviser from 2008-2010, currently the Director of Foundation Relations at Willamette University in Oregon, and a member of CAC’s Alumni Council. In the below interview, Christine outlines how her CAC experience shaped her career goals.

Why does college access resonate with you?

Neither of my parents had earned a bachelor’s degree, so I had to figure out how to navigate the college search and application process by myself. I spent a lot of time in high school poring through online guides, observing my college-going friends, and pestering my teachers to review application essays. So although it took joining CAC for me to learn that college access was a field of work, scholarship, and advocacy, I had been living college access for years. This desire to make a quality education available to students from all backgrounds is at the heart of my work in higher education fundraising and communications.

Why did you decide to be a CAC adviser?

I loved my time in college and wanted to be a professor, so after completing my BA at Franklin & Marshall College, I enrolled in a doctoral program at Syracuse University. After completing my MA, I made the tough decision to withdraw from graduate school — most immediately because I had to begin chipping away at student loans (I borrowed far more than is advisable for my undergraduate degree), but also because my academic interests had changed.

I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to serve others, so I applied for nonprofit jobs and came upon CAC by chance. I feel so fortunate to have been selected to serve as an adviser. Higher education and college access have become such an important part of my life, identity, and passion, and I hope to remain connected to this work throughout my career.

How did your time with the Corps impact your career goals? What are some of the key skills you were able to develop during your time with the Corps that are helping you in your current role at Willamette University?
First, my time with CAC allowed me think differently about education as a system, and solidified my passion for making a college education available to anyone who seeks it. As a first-generation student, I knew my own experience, but my time as an adviser made me think more holistically about the K-12 structure and how this feeds (or doesn’t feed) students into postsecondary options that set them up for varying degress of success. Even though I am no longer directly involved in college access work, I collaborate with campus faculty, staff, and leadership to think about academic and co-curricular intiatives, institutional fundraising, and assessment. My perspective from CAC informs my work every single day. Prior to my current role, I worked for a college communications office and wrote website content and executive-level communications for their president, so my work in CAC helped there, too.

Second, being an adviser exposed me to so many careers in education — from K-12 teachers and administrators, to admissions and financial aid officers, to institutional assessment and fundraising professionals (and now, many of the advisers are getting to meet education policymakers, too — which is incredible!). Helping students think about their futures also taught me about other professions, how education for various fields differed, and even how people talk about their work. This gave me a clearer picture of what opportunities existed for me after CAC. It also forced me to start thinking about my own professional values and goals, and how I would translate my experience as a student and an adviser into tangible skills that I could carry into my own career.

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Christine with her student Jamie Banks after she graduated from Shippensburg University.

What was one of your most rewarding experiences with CAC?
I would have to say it was working with Jamie Banks from Juniata High School. Jamie and her family had moved 11 times during her K-12 education, and her schedule had been assembled to help her meet graduation requirements — not to realistically prepare her for college. When Jamie and I started talking about applications, she brought me an 11-page, hand-written essay for review. Her positive attitude and tenacity paid off, and Jamie graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Shippensburg University in 2013. It was incredible to celebrate with her and her family, and I am so honored to have been part of her college journey.

What advice would you give to current advisers on how they can get the most from their experience as a CAC adviser?
Try new things and take on more responsibility. I can pretty confidently say that I would have never considered a career in grant writing if it weren’t for CAC. Even though your role is technically an “entry-level” position, you are given so many opportunities to experiment and pilot new ideas. Many of these opportunities manifest themselves in your work with students, but sometimes there are other options to grow, as well. When my program director mentioned a grant application, I was able to say “I would like to try that,” and he let me take on a project that not only helped my program, but that also launched me into an awesome career.

As a member of CAC’s Alumni Council, I should also mention that we’re working hard to develop some exciting new alumni programs that continue the experience for advisers! Stay tuned for opportunities to connect with other current and past advisers, to network with professionals in various fields, and to learn how to create powerful and compelling resumes and cover letters for your work after the CAC.