Episode 1: Lift Off

Featured Guest

Ariel Cochrane-Brown, Ph.D.


Donovan Livingston, Ph.D.


Nicole Hurd: [00:00:00] all right. Welcome everybody to our second podcast. And I’m excited. I’ve been trying to figure out what to call this podcast. Right? My first thought was like doctors in the house because they are doctors and they both become doctors in like the last, what, six months. Right. That was like, this is called the podcast.

Sparks that became fireworks, which is what this organization, uh, the college advising Corps that we’re all affiliated is all about because these two were one sparks and now they are fireworks of equity and there are fireworks of diversity and their fireworks of love and life and making the world a better place.

And I can not imagine two better people to be on this podcast. Uh, but I think what we’re going to officially call it to steal Donovan’s, uh, Amazing Harvard commencement speeches. We’re going to call this lift off because this is our first podcast with CAC alumni. So I am happy to welcome Ariel and Donovan to the podcast.

Welcome. Welcome you too.

Donovan Livingston: [00:00:57] That was good to see your family. Good to be back.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:01:00] I’m excited. So

Nicole Hurd: [00:01:02] since everybody’s about to meet some CAC family, um, look, if there’s three reasons why we’re doing this podcast one. Was to radiate light and love and hope in a time where I think we all need it. Uh, the second was to amplify voices and I can’t imagine two better voices to amplify than the two of yours.

Uh, and the third was really to give some practical advice. So that’s what we’re going to do for the next 20 minutes or so. So let’s talk about our stories first. So if you don’t mind, Ariel, you want to go first. Can you tell everybody what was your story that got you to be the regional director and Dr. Cochran Brown.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:01:40] Let’s start off by saying the beginning of this story. Definitely didn’t force out at the end. Um, and the story continues, right. But, um, I am Ariel Cochran Brown grew up in North Carolina and really what kind of sparked the idea of me helping young people fulfill their fullest potential or at least realize it was, I had a little bit of a discouraging conversation with my school counselor, my senior year, that conversation that all seniors have for about 20, 30 minutes about what’s going to happen next.

And, uh, I was very, very, very excited to apply to pretty competitive schools, UNC UNC chapel Hill being one of them. That was my dream school, almost all my life. Um, and my, the scores were not very competitive. And when I mentioned that the tone of the conversation shifted tremendously. So I wasn’t really upset that it happened to me, but I had a feeling that that type of shift was happening with others, the students that were my friends and that, that were first generation college students.

And. Coming from lower socioeconomic status, then I wasn’t and just didn’t have that same support and determination that I had, um, with my family supports and, and just, you know, within myself. And so I told myself that day, someday, I’m going to figure out how to help young people. Realize and actualize their potential.

Um, so fast forward went to UNC chapel Hill enjoyed my time. I was a journalism major concentration in public relations, uh, decided it was a little difficult to maintain my own reputation, let alone a client’s reputation. So I didn’t want to do that for my career. Um, shifted, uh, when I heard about this, uh, organization that was helping.

High schoolers go to college. Uh, so I decided, you know what, maybe I can be the PR girl for higher education. So I applied, got the job, worked in Winston Salem at two high schools for two years in the second year of my service. As an advisor, found myself telling my students a lot. I can get you to college, but I can’t keep you there.

Uh, had a light bulb moment, right. Realized I actually can help students stay in school and persist to degree completion. So towards the end of my stint, as a college advisor, decided I wanted to shift over to higher ed realized that I needed to need a little bit more education. Um, so I landed a spot in the, uh, student affairs program at Clemson.

Uh, so I went on to get my master’s degree in counselor education at Clemson. And while I was there, I still had questions about the idea of retention. So I decided I probably needed to learn how to do the research, to answer the questions that I had. Um, and with that being said, I made the decision to continue my education and go into a doctoral program.

So I applied to a few schools, got into a really good program at NC state, um, and spent, uh, moved back home. In my mid twenties, which was not, you know, the coolest thing you just think to do, you know, hanging out with mom and dad, but it also helped with not collecting more student loans. So I’m very grateful for that.

Um, and spent two and a half years doing all my coursework and comps and stuff like that. And then I decided, you know what? I probably need to get some more full time work experience under my belt before I have a terminal degree. Uh, so I found a job in Atlanta, Georgia that aligned with my research interests.

Moved down there, uh, and finished out my degree. I defended my dissertation back in March. Um, so it’s still a little fresh. And, um, while I was in the process, getting everything together with the final touches to my dissertation, that awesome opportunity was presented to me to come back to where it all started with the college advising Corps, uh, in the capacity of a regional director.

And so I’m so excited. I came back to this. Advising core college advising Corps back in January. Um, it has been a great ride. It’s been awesome. Just reconnecting with some people, dr. Hurd being one. I’m also sharing my experience with current advisors, um, and just being able to, to kind of see the work, continuing how the organization has grown since I was apart a whole decade ago.

Nicole Hurd: [00:05:46] Wow. It’s amazing. How time flies, uh, come back home. Yeah. And then Donovan, why don’t you tell everybody your story?

Donovan Livingston: [00:05:54] Yeah, well, to Ariel’s point in time, certainly does not stand still. When you look back and see in 10 plus years, that you’ve been part of the core, you can only step back and be grateful. And that’s exactly, exactly what I am.

So for me, I had similar conversations with my counselor, um, when I was applying to college, Ariel and I are both products of UNC chapel Hill. Um, my, my sat scores were not competitive at all either. And I think for me, One thing I wanted out of a car experience wants to be able to pursue the things that made me feel like a whole person.

And I found that at Carolina and, um, when I got there, I struggled mightily academically. So, um, I’m not, I know that that story is not necessarily unique to me, but I just didn’t feel that’s prepared, but there were elements of, uh, my experience that made me feel like I was in a place that I belonged. And so.

I, one of the things that really helped me recommit to my academic goals was my participation in a poetry poetry group. So I will start into write poetry, right? Hip hop, and perform, and be comfortable on stage and get getting used to hearing my voice outside of my own head. And I really love that. And I think for me, I’m in those moments where I felt like I was in over my head academically, the poetry really made me feel like, feel grounded.

And so. You know, I kind of went through undergrad. I majored in history. I changed my major, like three times the first week until I found something that I thought I was low key, kind of good at. And so, um, history was it for me, it just felt, felt like a natural fit. Um, and I think. Uh, as I thought about, you know, I saw my friends and like settling into careers and majors that led to these distinct sort of career goals.

Mine were a bit more amorphous and abstract. I just knew, um, when I got to my senior year and reflected on the things I’ve done, the things that brought me the most joy in undergrad were always centered around mentorship. Always send around poetry and performance and hip hop and culture. And you know, when I really thought about what that meant, I didn’t know what that looked like in terms of a career.

But, um, I saw, uh, the college advising Corps, um, was, uh, hiring two new staff members. And I was like, this sounds like something that’s aligned with the things I did as a, as a. Uh, admissions, uh, tour guide as a project uplift counselor and all these other recruitment activities that I did in undergrad. And I was like, you know what, I’m gonna, I’m gonna give this a shot.

And I actually got hired, uh, during finals week. So I was like, kind of pushing it a little bit. Um, but I’m glad it came through that, that, uh, that acceptance letter was right on time. Um, but. I worked in two high schools in Greensboro, North Carolina. Um, and I loved that experience. It changed my life in a lot of ways.

I really, as I was starting to piece together what I wanted to do beyond the core, um, I saw students chasing their dreams and got reinvigorated and. In wanting to continue. Um, my, my, my work as an educator, so like Ariel, um, I found a higher ed administration, a master’s program at Columbia. That was a great fit.

Is country Glen moved up to New York. I’m from Fayetteville. Originally, never saw myself in the big Apple, but, um, made it work. And I loved my time there. And actually, uh, in my time in New York city, uh, The core, expanded it to NYU. And so I actually had a chance to be a part of the inaugural, the cohort of advisors, um, that works for the NYU advising core and at a high school in the Bronx.

And I was off to the races again. And all of that, all of those experiences sort of reminded me how. Important, uh, uh, college access was to, to my role as an editor cater and, um, in each step, I always try to find ways to continue those artistic creative elements that sort of made me feel like a whole person.

So I was still rapping. I was still writing poetry. I was still performing and still trying to find ways. To connect that to students’ college experiences. Like where can you go to find those pieces of yourself that make you feel complete, like a, like a whole person. And so I was still sort of curious, I had questions about how culture and education sort of went together in a, in a meaningful way.

Um, I pursued a second master’s degree from Harvard and learning and teaching to sort of try to find those answers. And I still have more questions, which I guess is a good thing. And so I ended up, uh, returning to North Carolina, um, in pursuing a PhD in educational leadership and cultural foundations and UNC Greensboro.

And, uh, there’s a lot of parallels in our stories, but, um, I had a full circle experience too. So I started with the core in Greensboro and finished my academic career. In Greensboro in sort of that. Or that sort of metaphor of the cyclical nature of the work we do. And it reminded me of just how important it is to always be paying it forward.

If you’re blessed with an opportunity, how can you continue to create opportunities for other, other people that are not just come behind you, but, um, achieve the best version of themselves that they possibly can. And so I’ve always tried to find ways to make culture of matter. In academic context, my dissertation was very much centered around hip hop and higher ed and how that leads to, um, Retention and sort of delve up developing skills that help students feel to feel seen, like they belong at the universities they attained.

So really grateful because advising Corps really planted that seed.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:11:14] Well, Oh, I have to add, um, Donovan was a minority advisor. Was that what it was called? Donovan was my roommate or suite mates and ma. And unofficially, well, my first year

do and be a part of the Carolina community. So that have been definitely, hasn’t been in the mentorship realm for quite some time. Everybody has got this. He’s not new to this. He is true to this.

Donovan Livingston: [00:11:47] Thanks, Ariel. Yeah.

Nicole Hurd: [00:11:50] Well, I love what you’re, what you both are saying. And look at, I’ll throw myself in there, cause I actually am the same in the same exact situation that you two or all three of us had counselors that did not kind of give up, do the, you can do it speech. The, I believe he used speech. You know, I keep saying the foremost important words we ever say to anybody, um, in a professional context, I believe in you, which is basically saying, I love you rational context.

So, you know, none of us got that from our counselor right now. There was something that was missing there. Um, And look at all, three of us had to learn that we are not our scores, right? Like that’s, that’s a profound one. I mean, as we’re doing this podcast, I hope there are both advisors and students and people are not even affiliated with college, advising Corps, listening to this thinking like, Oh my goodness, I am not my score.

Right. Like, that’s, that’s a huge moment for all of us to just like, take that in, because I think we’re told something otherwise all the time. Indeed.

Donovan Livingston: [00:12:44] Absolutely. And I would also add that were not our jobs either. I know for me, um, especially when I graduated, a lot of my identity was tied up into, in being an advisor, which was a huge part of why it felt like it was a huge part of my purpose, right.

My professional and academic purpose. And, you know, when I had, when I really stepped away from that, I had to start to see how all the other pieces of my life also mattered. And just finding that balance, especially right after you graduate of how much energy do I put into this one thing? How much is this one thing to find who I am?

It’s really tough. Um, it’s a really tough transition, but yeah,

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:13:19] fast, you got to grow up fast

Nicole Hurd: [00:13:23] and you got to grow up fast even more when you’re in a pandemic. Right. So I want to pivot a little bit. Uh, to advisors or to, you know, look at, hopefully some teachers are listening right now. Hopefully, hopefully some counselors listening right now.

What would you say to somebody? Cause you’ve done it, who’s going into a school or now going remotely because they might not be in a school or they’re in a hybrid situation. What advice would you give them? I mean, like I said, we’re calling this session lift off because we’re lifting off this podcast, but we’re also lifting off the whole, the class of 2021, which is not going to have a normal experience.

So yeah. So, uh, let’s talk about what it. What advice would you give an advisor or somebody that’s trying to be a caring adult to a student right now? Um,

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:14:02] so, so for me personally, I think it’s really important in the work that we do. And this is something that you can do both in person and virtually is to lead with curiosity.

Uh, we have. A lot of different students that we serve that have a lot going on. And sometimes they just need someone who’s there to hear them out, to understand, and then to kind of go from there, meet them where they are. Right. And so, um, when you get caught up in the day to day and the ripping in the running or whatever, the comparable of that is virtually, um, it can, it can get a little monotonous if you allow it to.

And I only say that if you allow it to right, because as an advisor everyday can be. Completely different day, but leave with curiosity. Don’t assume that just because you see this PA and these test scores that this student is going to be a good fit for this particular school, right? Like have that conversation with, you know, what, what have they thought about already when it comes to their post secondary plans?

What role has their family may be played or not played in that thought process? Um, what is it maybe that they want to do longterm career wise that they think, or what are their passions right now? Cause I mean, it’s really difficult for, you know, like a 16, 17 year old to decide that, I mean, Donovan switched his major three times in the first week of school.

Y’all like, come on. So, you know, it’s something to definitely get the, get the thought running, um, and to see where it goes. But lead with curiosity when you’re having these conversations with yourself. Students. And even with individuals at the schools, like it’s, it’s important to build those relationships and the best way sometimes to build those relationships is just to get to know the people that you’re working with

Nicole Hurd: [00:15:41] or trying to help young people right now.

Donovan Livingston: [00:15:45] Yeah, no curiosity is a fantastic concept. I think in addition, I’d add that, um, uh, Creating a culture of accountability is really important too. Um, it could be a means of empowering students, um, not just to sort of hold one, another accountable to the work of finished moving through the college application process, but empowering them as, as agents in the college application process.

So really encouraging students to pay attention to how colleges and universities are navigating their Colgate protocols. And how are they prioritizing students? Physical mental, emotional social wellbeing, right? Like really, uh, colleges are showing you who they are right now in this moment. Right. And so as a senior about to apply to college, you do have a lot of say in whether or not you submit that application to a particular place and just based on whether or not you see, uh, like the real value of humanity.

Like they didn’t how colleges are responding to students’ needs in this given moment. Um, it’s a scary time and it’s okay to acknowledge that, but also encouraging students to say, um, that we have enough. Um, we have enough agency to hold these institutions accountable to my life mattering or my health mattering, and making sure that that’s at the forefront of all of your conversations is really important.

So. Yeah,

Nicole Hurd: [00:17:01] look it. I, uh, on a personal note, my daughter to start college, well, she started online tomorrow. She’s supposed to go to her dorm for the first time. Uh, in two weeks and I actually stick a swab up her nose yesterday, right? Like this is not how I thought I was gonna have my daughter go to college.

Right. I had to give her COVID test yesterday so that you can be cleared to go, go to school. So we are, we’re not in normal times. Um, and I worry about the students and the advisors and what’s going on right now. So let’s pivot because I promise this podcast also gives some practical advice. Let’s just pivot to students for a second.

You both have worked a lot with students. Like I said, you both radiate this light and love that’s contagious. What one thing would you say to a student right now? Who’s who’s going to be in this class of 2021. Who’s got this disruptive cycle. Um, what would you say to them right now is they enter their senior year?

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:17:49] Mmm. For me, I think, you know, for the students entering into your senior year of high school, it is. So heartbreaking to know that there are going to be some things that you’ve been looking forward to doing for a while. That probably just won’t happen this year. Um, and that are going to be canceled because of this pandemic.

But that does not mean that your future is canceled, right? So you still have the opportunity to apply to college or to plan that next step after high school. And we have people that. Have made it, their, their passion to help you get there. Um, and, and to be a part of that process. And so just remember, even though certain things might be canceled, that doesn’t mean that your future is canceled.

It’s still bright. And I actually had a basketball coach in high school. Whenever somebody would say the sky is the limit, he would turn and say, But why stop there. So I think, you know, keep that in mind, right? So this is called liftoff, right? Why stop at the sky? I mean, I, I reminded myself that time and time again when I was at Carolina and then afterwards and going through grad school, I mean, I had no idea I’d be where I am today.

And a lot of what I’ve accomplished is because. Each time I did something. I’m like, why, why would I stop here? Keep going here. You’ll keep going. So that’s what I would tell students. Keep going, keep pushing. Yeah.

Donovan Livingston: [00:19:06] Yeah. That’s a good coach. You had a good coach area.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:19:08] Yeah, well he was phenomenal. Coach Walker was the best.

Donovan Livingston: [00:19:13] Um, I I’d say, um, uh, document this moment, uh, be creative. Find a way to sort of capture. What it is that gives you life in this moment, even though, as Ariel mentioned, uh, things won’t be, as you necessarily envision them, uh, your whole life up to this point, I think it’s very. Um, critical that students find ways to still find, find a mechanism to share their story.

How are you telling the story of this historical moment? Are you writing a book? Are you taking pictures? Like photographs? Are you recording an album? Right. Like there’s so many ways to express yourself. And I think as students, and I don’t always want to bring this back to. How can this help me get into college?

Right? But if you develop some type of portfolio, right, and you have this like list of things you created in this moment where we’re compelled to keep our distance, we have to wear masks where we have this stay apart. If you have something concrete that you’ve created and poured your heart and soul into in this moment.

Colleges are going to clamor for things like that, because they see how you take a negative situation and turn it into something constructive. So keep that in mind. Think critically about how you’re documenting this historical moment. If it were me, I’d be writing. I’d have an album right now, right now.

Let’s go.

Nicole Hurd: [00:20:31] Well, look, I think, um, you two just did exactly what I wanted this, this podcast to do, which is one radiate. Light love, uh, to amplify. I cannot imagine two better. You all inspire and look it. That’s my advice to students is find people that inspire you and be inspired right now. Right? There is so much power and beauty.

Uh, we are not canceled, right? And so like, let’s continue to inspire each other. And then you gave some practical advice, which I hope students hear you. Um, look it, I keep saying this, uh, aerials for me say this, I think Donovan’s for hearing me say this. It’s probably, how can I end every podcast? Love is not been canceled.

Uh, opportunity is not canceled. So let’s do this right class of 2021, we believe in you. So thank you both for being my first, uh, alumni guests. Thank you for how you show up all the time. I’m sending so much love and until next time, um, again, we’re not canceled. Let’s do this. Let’s lift off.

Donovan Livingston: [00:21:25] Yes. Peace and love family.

Ariel Cochrane-Brown : [00:21:27] We believe in you guys!

Donovan Livingston: [00:21:29] Yeah. Yeah.