Episode 10: Pillars of Impact

Featured Guest


Jordan Kijewski

College Advising Corps Adviser,
University of Virginia

Victoria Thach

College Advising Corps Adviser,
University of Michigan


Nicole Hurd: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Knowledge for College podcast. I have a huge treat for you today. We’ve got two incredible advisers—one serving in Virginia, the other serving in Michigan—here to talk about the work and to give our students and all of us some advice during this critical time of year. We’re getting close to Decision Day, and we want to make sure that everybody makes some good decisions about their postsecondary plans.

Jordan, do you want to go first and introduce yourself to everybody?

Jordan Kijewski: Sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Jordan Kijewski and I’m a second-year adviser with the Virginia College Advising Corps, and I’m currently serving at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia.

Nicole Hurd:  Awesome. And Victoria?

Victoria Thach:  Hi, my name is Victoria. I’m over at J.W. Sexton in Lansing and I serve with the University of Michigan College Advising Corps, and I’m a second year.

Nicole Hurd:  Awesome. Thank you both for spending some time with us. I almost said, “Go Blue,” Victoria. I can’t control myself. I’m actually rocking some good Michigan yellow right now.

But just to talk to you both about the work. Let’s also talk about… I want to just throw out some gratitude. Gratitude I think is one of our values here at College Advising Corps. We always want to make sure that we show our gratitude for each other and for those that believe in us. You’re both in schools that are supported by the Panda Cares Foundation, and I’ve actually had the absolute joy of meeting the Cherng Family. Andrew and Peggy Cherng are two of the best entrepreneurs in our country. They have an amazing family, and they have an amazing staff. And they’ve got these amazing restaurants all over the country and part of their commitment is to really give back and making sure every student hears “I believe in you.” And so, we’re so aligned with our values and they actually support both of your schools. Incredibly excited to have you here. Want to give them a shout out.

One of the things I love about Panda Cares and about our partnership with them is they care very deeply about postsecondary kind of access and success, but they also care about character. And when I think about the two of you and what you’ve done and what you are doing, it shows a lot of character. So, if you don’t mind getting a little bit personal, Jordan, you want to talk a little about why are you an adviser?

Jordan Kijewski:  Yeah. I became an adviser because I knew throughout college that I wanted to take a break before going to grad school, and I’m interested in sort of this common thread of giving back to the community in any way that I can. I have always known that I’ve wanted to work in equity in some capacity and I’m really interested in education policy, so this position was sort of the perfect job to check all of those boxes and feel like I’m doing some work that’s worthwhile and meaningful and valuable to a community while also getting the experience that would help me out later in school and in my life.

Nicole Hurd:  Jordan, I’m so glad you pointed that out because I do think diversity, equity, and inclusion work is character work. Part of doing this work is making sure there’s more seats at the table and more ways to lift people up. I think it’s just a beautiful part of your commitment to this work.

Victoria, you want to talk about why did you become a CAC adviser?

Victoria Thach:  Yeah. I am in full circle right now. I serve currently at the school that I attended. I absolutely loved my adviser during high school. She was kind of like my rock. She was always there for me. She was one of the first people that I messaged when I became an adviser. And I was just like, “Hey, guess what. Guess where I’m at right now,” and she was so shook about it. I think education is something that has carried me throughout my time, secondary but also postsecondary when I attended the University of Michigan. Going from a school like J.W. Sexton to going to the University of Michigan was kind of like a shock for me. And being able to work with students who were in a similar place and who are literally sitting in the seats that I was sitting back when I was in high school was something that I really wanted to do afterwards.

And surprisingly enough, I didn’t know. I thought it was just a coincidence that all the advisers that came from our high school was from U of M. And I was like, oh my gosh, what is this? And then I had a whole conversation with somebody about it and they were just like, “Oh no, it’s a whole thing.” And I was just like, I want to be a part of this journey. And then I became an adviser.

Nicole Hurd:  It’s so great. It’s so great that you’re coming back full circle. It’s very exciting to think about the ways you can give back to community in different phases of your life. You can be a student, you can go off to a great university, and then you can come back and give back in such a powerful and beautiful way.

I think a huge part of our partnership with the University of Michigan, with the University of Virginia, with all our partner universities, and with our partners like Panda is to think about impact. Let’s talk about impact for a second, because I know both of you would not be where you are if you weren’t thinking about how you can make a difference.

Jordan, when I say “impact,” what comes to mind for you?

Jordan Kijewski:  I think when I hear the word “impact,” I think about a butterfly effect and sort of how every interaction that we have with the student and our work has the potential to have a long-term impact on their lives and a long-term impact on the community of my school and my site and the culture of that community. Each student who fills out a FAFSA or each student who gets an acceptance that they might not have been expecting is shaping the whole community as a whole and making the community a better place and more inclusive place and inspiring others around them. So, I am grateful to have a teeny tiny part of that, but also look at the larger impact of each day of the work we do.

Nicole Hurd:  Jordan, I love the way you’re talking about that because it occurs to me, I love to talk about all the advisers, all of our students, our communities are sparks, and our job is to kind of make them into fireworks. But I love the butterfly analogy. I think it’s awesome. I do think butterflies are signs of growth too. They’re signs of evolution. And I think the joy of doing this work is being a witness to that. And yes, you might have a small part in it, but a huge part of the work is just being there and how hard it’s been to be there during this virtual time, but still the two of you are showing up in such beautiful ways. So grateful for both of you.

Victoria, when I say “impact,” what comes to your mind?

Victoria Thach:  I think very similar to Jordan, I think about the little things. I think there are times, especially during this COVID space where I feel like us as advisers, we’re doing a lot of work. And I feel like in the moment it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything, but I think once the moments are adding up, the little things are adding up, it does create larger impact. And I think about that with my students last year especially. We started off the school year strong in person, all of that kind of stuff, and then COVID hit, and it was hard afterwards. Some of those students I didn’t get my final goodbyes with. All of that kind of stuff. But then even going on to my second year, I’ve had students still reach out to me from last year being like, “I know you’re not my adviser anymore.” And I’m just like, “I’m always your adviser either way. It doesn’t matter with that.” But I think seeing that, coming into again full circle, is kind of mind-blowing to see the little things that can be pushing forward for bigger things.

Nicole Hurd:  I love that. I think all of us are trying, especially in this pandemic, to just have those little successes. But you’re right. Those little successes start to show into big successes. I think we’re now in the time of year where hopefully we’re all feeling some big successes, but we’re also probably feeling some big disappointments because it’s college-acceptance season. We’re getting ready for Decision Day and I’m sure some of your students are hearing some really exciting news. But some of them have probably had their heart broken perhaps by a college.

What are you saying to your students right now about getting ready for this kind of postsecondary journey and maybe some of the yeses and noes that have been in their lives? Victoria, you want to go first? How are your students fairing in this college-decision process?

Victoria Thach:  Yeah. I think it’s hard, especially with COVID right now, just because I’ve recognized that even some students who want to go off and go to really big schools and all of this kind of stuff, that might not be possible because they’re nervous and scared of what’s going to happen within the next year or so, whether that’s going to be in person, whether that’s going to be online, and seeing what the best decision is for them. I always tell students that I am here to help and facilitate that decision, but it’s ultimately their moves. I like to reassure them that no matter where they go, they will always end up doing really amazing things and kind of reminding that no matter where you go, no matter where you start, whether that be a community college, whether that be a four-year, whether that be trade or tech or whatever, just letting them know that no matter what pathway they choose, they’re going to do big things and that I will always be there to back them up and support them.

Nicole Hurd:  Thank you for sharing that, Victoria. It’s so important for them to hear that this is a journey and it can have multiple chapters and none of us live a linear life. Most of us have a very non-linear life. But the important thing is that they know their agency and their power in all that. That they can shine in all sorts of different places.

Jordan, how are your students doing? What kind of advice are you giving them right now?

Jordan Kijewski:  Yeah, I totally agree with everything Victoria just said and my advice has sort of been similar. I think the pandemic has in a way sort of amplified the challenges that they already were facing previously. Access is really hard, and there’ve been so many questions that have popped up. And I think my students have seen a pretty significant shift of students who were thinking about four-year schools now thinking about other options. But I think as an adviser, it’s our job to remind them that they can still achieve. Their end goal doesn’t have to shift. Their dreams don’t have to change. The path might change, but they can still have the impact they want to have. They can still get to the school they’re dreaming about and achieve what they want to achieve and have set out to achieve, because they’re still going to be doing the work, they’re still going to be waking up every day and moving a little bit closer to that dream, no matter what the path to get there looks like. So, I think as an adviser I’ve been trying to help them plan for whatever happens, both when they’re in high school and when they get into that next step after they graduate, and just helping them visualize it for themselves and understand how to still make the final goal possible.

Nicole Hurd:  Jordan, I think it’s so powerful and I’m sure your students are so grateful for that advice because it’s important advice. I think all of us again have certain ideas in our head about how things are going to work in this pandemic. If it’s anything, it’s shown us all the need to actually be able to pivot and to realize that there’s more than one way to get to your goal, but also that we need to just take care of each other and keep supporting each other during this really difficult time.

I think one of the things I’m hearing from both of you is that plans are changing for a lot of students. I know this is a bit of a difficult question, but I think it’s important because we might have somebody in this orbit that might be listening to this. If you’re a parent, if you’re somebody that’s caring for students, if you’re a college president, what do caring adults… I think about, especially somebody who’s a college president right now, they might be making decisions. What do they need to know that students need to know right now? I think you both have a really interesting view about what would you do? Or what would you tell colleges and universities, whether it’s a community college or a four-year school? How best can they help students? How best can they show up right now?

Victoria, do you have any thoughts about that?

Victoria Thach:  I think the most important thing, especially at like a higher-ed institution or in terms of supporting students in that manner, I feel as though just being… I think it was kind of like the mantra that I had for myself, especially entering this COVID space, is it’s just not only being kind to others but also being kind to ourselves. And that’s kind of similar to what I tell my students all the time, is that it’s okay to be kind. In this time, be kind to yourself, especially when you have things coming at you. And then looking at that from the perspective of higher education is that it’s allowing the students to have a grace period, especially when we have our first-generation or low-income students or underrepresented students who already have so many things kind of against them, just being kind to them and allowing them to have that grace period and to have a bit of extension of that period as needed and understanding their circumstances because some of these kids right now are… I have a lot of students who, yes, we’ve been online all this year, but because we’re online, they’re going to work to support their families because maybe one family member is not working because of COVID or something like that. So being able to really be kind to the students. And I try to fill them with as much love and kindness as I can and especially reminding to themselves to be kind to themselves. And I think a lot of outside force from that could give our students a lot more grace.

Nicole Hurd:  Victoria, I love that phrase. Give everybody a grace period. I do think it’s really intimidating to call a college or a university or a community college and say, “I don’t have enough financial aid. Can you help me?” or “My financial situation has changed, and can you help me?” It takes a lot of courage to kind of be vulnerable to these big schools. And I do think those schools have an obligation to actually—exactly what you said—be kind. We’re not talking about processing widgets and gadgets. We’re talking about people and how you show up for people and how you have that kind of service orientation. I think we’re all here to serve, and how does that service orientation actually flow through these institutions is a really important question to ask right now. So, thank you for that. I’m going to use that grace period. That’s a very nice way of putting it.

Jordan, anything you’re thinking about in terms of just how to be brave and how to be courageous? But also, some advice… The person that answers the phone at the financial aid office or the person that is in the admissions office, and you want to appeal the decision. What would you say to those people right now?

Jordan Kijewski:  I think the biggest thing that I was thinking about was to the extent that they can, staying as transparent as they can, because I think especially right now when the whole world is changing every day, no one really expects any one person or one institution to have all the answers and to be able to say definitively, this is what next year will look like or this is what your situation will be next year or in the fall or whenever. But for so many of these, especially incoming students who don’t know what college is like normally, they are sort of double-blind now because they don’t really know what to expect going into college, but now especially in the COVID landscape, are maybe feeling more insecure or more confused. So I think just remaining transparent and giving students as much information as they can, with a note that things might change and they’ll be willing to work with students if things change, but allowing students and their families to plan early on in advance so that they feel prepared and making sure they know what resources are available to help and support them throughout the journey I think would make a difference in a lot of my students’ lives and I’m sure students across the country.

Nicole Hurd:  Jordan, as you say that, I’m taking both your and Victoria’s ideas and putting them together and going to amplify by saying, clarity is kind. Clarity is really kind. I think sometimes we think clarity might be harsh or clarity is stressful, but clarity is actually really kind. We need to know as much as we can know. And we know that sometimes decisions have to be reversed, but I do think you’re counseled to be clear and to give as much information as you can is a form of kindness. None of us like to be in the dark about when’s school going to start? Is it going to be virtual or not? What is my financial aid package? What’s going to happen? I think again, nobody has a crystal ball, but I do think clarity is a form of kindness. So, thank you for teasing that out.

As we get ready to wrap up, I guess the other thing is again, I know you’re both second-year advisers. Do you want to talk a little bit about where your journey is going next? Jordan, you want to share where you think you might be headed?

Jordan Kijewski:  Yeah. So, I’m really excited. I’m heading back to Charlottesville for law school at UVA in the fall and I could not be more excited to, one, be back in Charlottesville, and two, just sort of take the next step on this journey that I’ve been planning for and working for, for a really long time.

Nicole Hurd:  Congratulations, Jordan. We’ll all be rooting for you.

And Victoria, do you know what you’re doing next?

Victoria Thach:  Yeah. I just wanted to say first, congratulations, Jordan. That’s super exciting.

My current plan is that I was going to go to grad school, but I had to—similarly to our students—I had to take my own step back and be like, do I have the capacity to go back to grad school right now, especially in the COVID period? So, I decided to hop off that train and I’m currently looking for jobs right now, preferably in the higher-education space. I’ve been applying to all over. I am not particularly stuck to Michigan, but I’m looking all over right now. Haven’t heard too many things back, but I’m just kind of grinding through I guess.

Nicole Hurd:  I’m so excited for both of you. Jordan, so excited to have you go to law school. And Victoria, I think again back to clarity and being kind to yourself, giving yourself the space to think about your next steps before you go to graduate school. Congratulations on knowing yourself well enough to make that step back. We’ll get this podcast out so people can know that they can hire Victoria and that she’s awesome.

I think one of the reasons why I wanted both of you here today is again, part of the College Advising Corps is to make sure that all these students that we’ve been talking about have the opportunity to really have the postsecondary experience they’ve earned. But as you both know, part of the College Advising Corps experience is really to propel our advisers into being the next generation of leaders, and I think both of you reflect that beautifully. Leadership to me is understanding systems, and I think both of you have talked about how you’re navigating systems right now. And that it’s also passion, and I think everybody is seeing the passion that’s coming from both of you. So, just want to thank you both for coming today. Thank you both for the light and the love that you’re radiating. And thank you for showing up for students in a really difficult time.

And also, just want to call out again, we wouldn’t be in Richmond, we wouldn’t be in Virginia, we wouldn’t be in Michigan, we wouldn’t be in Lansing, we wouldn’t be in all these places across the country if it wasn’t for our friends at Panda Cares Foundation. So, thank you to them. I hope that they all see this and say, “Oh my goodness. We’re making a huge difference in the community.” Because they are. I hope that other people watch this who might not be in the Panda Family and say, “I want to join in and help make sure that students get people like Jordan and Victoria in their lives.” So, thank you both for just representing the entire Corps so beautifully. Wishing you both well. Wishing your students well as we get ready for Decision Day. And just know, I believe in you both very much so thank you.

Victoria Thach:  Thank you for having us.

Jordan Kijewski:  Yeah.

Nicole Hurd:  All right. Well, that wraps for this episode of the Knowledge for College podcast. I’m Nicole Hurd, the founder and CEO. Thank you for allowing us to spend some time with these two amazing advisers and thank you for believing in us and our students. Until next time.