Alums, undergrads advise college-bound R.I. students

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010

For many high school students in Rhode Island, going to college seems like a long-lost dream, an unfeasible future. But the National College Advising Corps at Brown aims to make this “mission impossible” possible with the work of undergraduates and recent graduates who serve as college guides in local high schools.

Creating possibilities

“A lot of times, these kids think that college is not for them because they don’t know anyone who has gone,” said Emily Rodriguez ’09, a college guide at Woonsocket High School. “Our main goal is to close that gap.”

Funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and AmeriCorps, the program was established in Rhode Island about three years ago. In a statewide effort to increase access to and vision for higher education, the corps now has a strong presence within 12 chosen schools in six urban districts, said Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center for Public Service.

College guides like Rodriguez are recent college graduates who enroll in the AmeriCorps program, which offers them a full-time position for two years.

Each school gets a recent graduate, usually from Brown or the University of Rhode Island, who works as a liaison with college guidance staff and helps students through every step of the application process, Nozaki explained. At 300:1, the student-to-guidance counselor ratio is huge, he added, so having more people available to assist truly makes a difference.

“We get fantastic guys every year who are effective at the schools and at building relationships with the staff, the kids and their families,” Nozaki said.

‘All about college success’

Helping families understand how to finance higher education is fundamental, said Ralph Johnson, program director for the corps at Brown.

“Just because the cost of college is high does not mean students shouldn’t be going,” Johnson said, adding that the corps offers to help students fill out their financial aid forms.

“Sometimes the families get overwhelmed when they start filing for financial aid,” said Ashley Greene ’09, college guide at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence. “They don’t get why colleges want all that financial information from them.”

Greene added that, as college guides, they also help students register and prepare for standardized tests and build comprehensive resumes.

“It’s exciting work for all of us,” she said. “With a little bit of a push, these kids reach a height of potential that you didn’t realize they had.”

Last year, one of Greene’s students, who spent his entire academic career in the special education program, got into Rhode Island College. “It was very fulfilling,” she said. “It was the school of his choice.”

In an e-mail to The Herald, Nozaki wrote that “by the end of last school year, 91 percent of the students with whom the Guides worked reported actively pursuing college,” showing just how much a little bit of help and advice can do for these students.

As the students succeed and make it to college, Greene said, the corps continues to assist them.

“We are all about college success — it’s not just about getting them in,” she said. “It’s about getting them out with a degree.”

Through a partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island and by staying in touch with the students during the summer, the corps ensures the students receive the necessary support and motivation, Greene added.

An early start

Undergraduates also get involved in the advising corps. About 10 members of the Brown community can work eight to 10 hours a week to expand the outreach that the corps can have.

These “undergraduate access scholars” take on many of the same tasks as college guides and serve as a helping hand on site. “You don’t have to wait to graduate,” Greene said. “It’s a great way to give back.”

Aadon Penny ’11 became an access scholar two years ago. As an undergraduate member of the corps, he comes back to Providence two weeks before winter break ends to fully devote himself to the students. This period also allows him to immerse himself in the school and to have more one-on-one meetings.

“What we do is beneficial all around,” Penny said. “My job validates itself at the end of the year when students come up to me and say, ‘Thank you, Aadon.’

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