Though University alum Joilyn Stephenson signed up for the Michigan College Advising Corps to help give Michigan high school students the tools to attend colleges like the University, after a few months working at Pontiac High School, she says the students have had an impact on her as well.

“Some of these students come from a difficult background, but they still have it in their heart to make the most out of their future,” Stephenson wrote in an e-mail interview. “That in itself is amazing.”

Stephenson is one of eight recent University graduates currently working in Michigan public schools to help students from underserved districts apply to and attend college. Each adviser in the program, which the University launched in April, works full-time in a school with traditionally low college matriculation rates.

Christopher Rutherford, College Advising Corps program manager at the Center for Educational Outreach, said the program has four primary goals.

“Those goals are first centered around increasing the number of students that go on to four-year institutions,” Rutherford said. “The second goal is to increase the types of institutions or the range of institutions that those students go on to. The third is to build, to increase, the number of students that finish college, and finally the goal is to create a college-going culture in some of our underserved schools.”

Rutherford said participating University graduates work to create an atmosphere of excitement about college within their assigned schools, as well as help students to attend a university that will be a good fit.

“One of the things we find is that many of the students that are eligible to go to college have misinformation as to how to get there, and often times don’t even apply,” he said. “And then there are students who may apply to say a community college but are capable of attending, say, a four-year institution.”

And according to Stephenson, helping students get the right resources to apply to and attend college has been extremely rewarding.

“It’s normal and expected for a student from an affluent family to go to college, but it really feels great to see someone off to college that came from a family where higher education was never considered an option,” Stephenson wrote.

Rutherford said he believes that students who have just graduated from the University are able to guide and help students in a way that traditional high school counselors cannot.

“We believe in the ‘near peer’ model, that because our students are recent graduates of U of M they are closer in age and ideas to the students they’ll be serving,” Rutherford said. “We’ve found that advisors develop a different rapport with students than the way students look at their teachers, because they aren’t looked at as part of an institution.”

Megan Sims-Fujita, College Corps adviser at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, said that in addition to being in a unique position to talk to students, she has time that normal counselors do not to focus exclusively on college applications.

“I’m here just as an additional resource and my sole purpose is to help kids go to college,” Sims-Fujita said. “So, it’s nice, because I don’t have a lot of the other tedious responsibilities of scheduling and things. I’m really here to talk about college.”

In addition to one-on-one advising, Fujita said she works on building a “college-going culture” at Loy Norrix.

“That can be really big or it can be really little,” Fujita said. “It can be hanging a poster about a college on the wall, which is really easy, or it can be planning a college night or meeting with parents.”

College Corps advisers are selected through an application and interview process that allows high school administrators to interact directly with and select an adviser, and vice versa, to ensure that the adviser will fit in the school community.

“It’s kind of almost like a dating game-type format,” Rutherford said. “The school gets to pick who they think would be the best fit for their school, and the advisers also get to pick what school they think they want to go to.”

Rutherford said program officials reviewed relative matriculation rates and general outreach efforts at interested schools before inviting them to join the program.

“Primarily the process involved just sending out a letter to a number of different schools, just based on the college-going rates from those schools. Then we looked at other things like demographics, Title I, those types of things,” Rutherford said. “Obviously there were more that responded then we could serve, however what we did is that we went to those that responded first and responded the fastest.”

Rutherford added that the College Advising Corps is growing, and that he hopes seniors will consider participating in the program.

“We were initially planning to have up to 18 advisers within three years, and now we will have 24 advisers, 24 communities around the state, in the next three years,” Rutherford said. “This year we are going to add eight more advisers for the fall of 2011. So we’re hoping that students will look for our notices to apply and will consider us as an option along with other options such as Teach For America and Americorps.”

The University’s College Advising Corps program is part of the National College Advising Corps, which is headquartered at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and includes programs at 12 other universities. The University of Michigan’s program is funded partly through the national offices, partly through the University and partly through the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

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