Adviser at John Tyler High School (Tyler, TX)
The majority of my students are first-generation, and even if they want to go to college, they have no clue what even the first step is.
A big part of our job is to be able to build a relationship with our students and be able to earn their trust.
Clara Ramirez, herself a success story, contributed to a number of triumphs during her time as an adviser with College Advising Corps. The first in her family to go to college, Clara graduated from TCU, then immediately decided to give back. As an adviser with TCU College Advising Corps, she was placed at John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. With a student body that is 60% Hispanic and 40% African-American, a majority from families in which no one had attended college, Clara was set to help numerous students like herself. She noted, “The majority of my students are first-generation, and even if they want to go to college, they have no clue what even the first step is.”
By making an effort to introduce herself to students and offer guidance, she quickly became an integral part of the school community. Indeed, students were often reluctant to talk with teachers due to high teacher turnover. Real relationships were rare. Clara was undeterred and immediately built a reputation as someone who understood the challenges students at Tyler faced. “A big part of our job is to be able to build a relationship with our students and be able to earn their trust,” Clara notes. Further, Clara gained the trust of her students’ parents. “The Hispanic parents…want to make sure their kids are going to college, but they don’t speak English. I’m so glad that I’m bilingual. I’ve been able to communicate with parents and share my own story, and, that way, they trust me.”
Yet, toward the end of her first year at Tyler, she received word that she would be placed at a different high school the next year. As Clara informed her students that she would not be returning, her students, bonded by the relationships she had built, fought to keep her at Tyler. Clara’s students wrote letters to the staff and the principal, citing the impact that Clara was having in their college aspirations. Clara recalls, “It was really touching because some of my seniors [have siblings] who are underclassmen, and they wrote letters saying that they wanted me back so that I could help their brother, sister, or cousins apply to college, just like I had helped them.”
The letters worked, and Clara returned to Tyler for a second year. As her students fought for her, she fought for them. Clara recounts the story of an undocumented student who came to see her almost every day. Clara worked with him to explore his options for college. To his great excitement and surprise, he was accepted to college and offered scholarships. During the last week of school, the student approached Clara and said, “Ms. Ramirez, had you not gone into my classroom the first semester, I probably would not be going anywhere. I would just be working at McDonald’s.”Share This
Adviser at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia (2012 - 2014)
I think there’re so many different ways to reach students, but every school is different…[Y]ou really have to know your population and what will get them motivated and interested in going to college.
[Lawrence] was so effective that in his second year, the high number of students wanting to meet with him forced the school to move his office to a space where he could address large groups of students at once.
The first thing people notice about Lawrence Harris is his infectious smile matched with a humble approachability. Yet, while his personality leads to impactful relationships with his students, Lawrence’s path to College Advising Corps was a success story worth sharing.
Born in New York, Lawrence was raised in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. While his parents struggled to make ends meet and later divorced, Lawrence, with the help of mentors and counselors, graduated near the top of his high school class in Hoover, Alabama. He then matriculated to the University of Georgia.
His freshman year at UGA, however, was hard, daunting, and stressful. Struggling academically, Lawrence transferred to Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida. Yet, a month after arriving, his grandmother asked him to leave her house, unwilling to wait for Lawrence to obtain a job while he attended college. Finding his belongings strewn across the front lawn, Lawrence took up residence in a homeless shelter until he found work. After that year, he returned to UGA, where he graduated with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Spanish.
As his senior year drew to a close, mentors referred Lawrence to UGA College Advising Corps. He recalls, “There was no doubt in my mind that this was the position I wanted. I would have the chance to give back to a school and community similar to the one I was raised in. I felt a personal desire to ensure that students pursue higher education at an institution that is their best-fit and best match.”
“The number of students whose lives I touched every day and the smiles I saw walking out of my office with confidence knowing that there is an option for them is simply indescribable…[I]t didn’t hit me that I was making a difference until a senior assembly, [when the head counselor said], ‘You can visit our college adviser, Mr. Harris, and all of the seniors stood up, applauding and screaming. After the assembly, the principal and the counselors said they had never seen the students so excited about a staff member and that if I ever doubted I was making a difference, I just needed to think back to that moment – and I do.”
Lawrence’s success as an adviser was, in part, due to his ability to draw on his own experiences to connect with his students. “Life could have been different if I’d had somebody to sit down and talk to about college and taking the SAT… Not having that support when I was in high school influenced my job every day because I saw students that were in the same situation [I was in]. I felt a lot of what my students [felt]. I had students who come to me who have never heard of some [colleges], hadn’t heard of the SAT or ACT, or didn’t know how to access applications, and they reminded me of me.”
Finding power in his own journey, Lawrence opened up with his students so they feel comfortable confiding their fears in him. Thinking, “If I had me when I was in high school, the places that I could have gone,” energized him to perform his job well every day. Lawrence helped hundreds of students navigate the college admissions process. Indeed, he was so effective that in his second year, the high number of students wanting to meet with him forced the school to move his office to a space where he could address large groups of students at once. “The best feeling for me was when a student came up to me smiling and he’s showing me [test scores] or saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Harris, I got in.’ I love it. I think there’s so many different ways to reach students, but every school is different, so you really have to know your population and what will get them motivated and interested in going to college.”
Lawrence’s story gets better. In the spring of 2014, Lawrence was selected to accompany College Advising Corps CEO and Founder, Dr. Nicole Hurd, to a summit on college access hosted by the White House. At the event, President Obama recognized Lawrence and commended him for his work in college access. Not long after that, he met the President and the First Lady. After this unforgettable experience, Lawrence then met the Vice Dean and Director of Admissions at Penn who encouraged Lawrence to apply to graduate school at Penn. He earned his master’s in Higher Education Administration from the Graduate School of Education at Penn in the spring of 2015. He currently is the Director of the Athens Community Career Center.Share This
Adviser at Bassett High School (Bassett, VA)
I was deeply impacted by this program, so I know first-hand that it is beneficial to those students who need support.
I strongly believe that Virginia College Advising Corps can help students in need.
Erica Elder, an African-American, first-generation college graduate, serves as a college adviser at her high school alma mater. The school is located near Martinsville, VA, the city with the highest unemployment rate in Virginia. Most of her peers did not consider attending college because they were worried about affordability and were overwhelmed by the college-going process as first-generation college students.
As a high school student, Erica had a strong desire to attend the University of Virginia but feared that her GPA, SAT, and ACT scores were too low. Despite her fears, Erica continued to meet with her College Advising Corps adviser, Ethan Jorgensen-Earp, at least once a week so he could help her with college applications and answer her questions about attending college. He reassured her that she had a good chance of attending college. Erica said, “He told me that I needed to be confident in what I had to offer as a student and as a person. As a college adviser, Mr. Jorgensen was really patient, understanding, reliable, and tried his best to relate to students at my school. He would go out of his way and answer any question for students, even if the question would require a lot of his time. His compassion for wanting to help students at my school was really inspiring.”
With this help and her own hard work and determination, Erica was accepted into the highly competitive University of Virginia. Already feeling a sense of wanting to assist others on their educational journey, Erica interned for the Summer Transition Program, an academic opportunity for a select group of rising first-year students that provides them with support throughout their first year at UVA. She spoke with students about time management, college life, and financial aid. Erica recalls, “The students had many questions. Once I told them that I was in the Summer Transition Program my first year, they felt more comfortable around me because they knew that I could relate to them.”
After graduating with a degree in English Literature, Erica could think of no better next step than to serve in Virginia College Advising Corps. Erica shares, “Now that I have the opportunity to be a college adviser, I am very happy to give back to my own community. I strongly believe that Virginia College Advising Corps can help students in need. I was deeply impacted by this program, so I know first-hand that it is beneficial to those students who need support.”Share This
Adviser at Travis High School (Austin, TX)
Since the first day a teacher guided Marisol into Lucy Alejos’ room introducing her as “a young woman who has to go to college,” there was not a day Lucy did not see her in her office.
Lucy was furious, furious that Marisol was not rewarded for her hard work. But Lucy was furious with a cause and a goal.
Since the first day a teacher guided Marisol into Lucy Alejos’ room introducing her as “a young woman who has to go to college,” there was not a day Lucy did not seen her in her office. The first semester was positive and productive. Marisol worked diligently on her essays, revising them over and over again to Lucy’s fanatical English major specifications. Marisol submitted multiple college applications and applied for every scholarship Lucy handed to her. Marisol was accepted to every prestigious university she applied to.
But during the financial aid season, everything went awry. Marisol is undocumented. Email after email, fax after fax, document translation after document translation – she pushed through, hoping that eventually she would receive a financial aid package. Eventually, she received $600 from her first choice school. That’s it. No loans. No other grants. $600 total. She had been so strong, so determined, and, after all her hard work, she was in Lucy’s office crying that her mother had suggested that she return to Ecuador because she could not afford school in the U.S. Lucy was furious, furious that Marisol was not rewarded for her hard work. But Lucy was furious with a cause and a goal. With Lucy’s guidance, Marisol applied for every local Austin scholarship. Lucy advocated for her on scholarship committees, and teachers sent out emails fundraising money for her.
Originally the end of the story was there, with her scholarships totaling $5,000 and her tuition reduced by the university. But during Travis High School’s Decision Day, one of Lucy’s coworkers told her that several teachers were going to present the funds they raised for Marisol. At the event, they spoke of how her story had inspired them to take action. They then revealed an $8,000 check. Lucy cried, as Marisol’s face was hidden within the hugs she gave each teacher that contributed. With their community behind her, Marisol now has two years of tuition covered.Share This