College Guides Redirect Lives of Thousands of High Schoolers

October 06, 2010

September 28, 2010 — This year, 21 University of Virginia graduates will influence the lives of thousands of potential college students.

Members of the University's College Guides program, they will be stationed in the guidance offices of 19 high schools and three community colleges in Virginia, helping students who would not ordinarily consider going to college to find their way to higher education.

Last year, College Guides met with more than 16,480 Virginia high school and community college students to discuss college. Of these, 3,457 completed college applications and 2,279 were accepted to a college or university.

"We are pleased with what has been accomplished," said Keith Roots, who directs the program. "Over the last five years, the guides have helped more than 6,000 students find the right college. We are looking forward to helping even more students over the next five years."

The College Guides, which started at U.Va. in 2005 and expanded nationally in 2007, celebrated its fifth anniversary last week with a dinner at Newcomb Hall. Program founder and former faculty member Nicole Hurd, who now operates the program on a national level as executive director of the National College Advising Corps, was the keynote speaker.

"It is so exciting to see what started here in Virginia has not changed," Hurd said. "The heart of this program remains young, passionate recent graduates who are determined to make higher education possible for students who are just like them."

Following the model created at U.Va., the National College Advising Corps currently operates from 14 colleges and universities, serving more than 45,000 students in 13 states.

"As we look to our next five years, it will continue to be great partnerships with counselors, schools, and communities that will allow this work to thrive," Hurd said. "It will also be the vision and commitment of our university partners, like UVa., to produce innovative, creative and public-minded leaders who carry the message that higher education is possible for every student in our nation."

Many guides are the first generations in their families to attend college, which helps them in their mission.

"These young men and women are highly dedicated to helping high school students have a brighter future," Roots said. "Many of these graduates are very similar to the students with whom they are working, having come from similar backgrounds and circumstances."

The program changes the lives of more than high school students. Some guides have changed their own career plans after being in the program and are now working in an educational field.

Tomika Ferguson, a 2007 College of Arts & Sciences graduate in American studies, African American and African studies, had entered college thinking she would become a civil rights or corporate attorney. But working in the College Guides program solidified her move into education.

"I have always been passionate about volunteer work and giving back to my community and knew that I needed a year after college to figure out what I wanted to do with my life," Ferguson said. "The College Guides program allowed me to combine my passion for community service, college access and working with teens."

Ferguson received her master's degree in higher education and student affairs from Indiana University in May and is currently pursuing a doctorate there.

Tiffany Meertins, a 2005 U.Va. graduate, had planned to attend law school, but after a year as a College Guide, returned to U.Va. to get a master's degree in counseling from the Curry School of Education. She then worked in the admissions office at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and is currently assistant director of special cohorts in the office of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

"We have been fortunate to attract some talented individuals," Roots said. "Several have decided to follow career paths in education as a result of their experience as College Guides."

This year's College Guides are:

• Amanda Adams, 23, of Newport News, who will return to Chatham and Gretna high schools. A graduate of the College with a bachelor of arts in sociology, she was the co-founder of the Dining Educators; president of ArgHOOers, a student debate group; a volunteer for Madison House; co-chair of the Admissions Committee for Hoos for Open Access, committee crisis director for Virginia Model United Nations and writer for the Education Equity Committee for the Roosevelt Institution.

• James C. Bishop III, 23, of Halifax, who will return to Dan River and Tunstall high schools. Bishop graduated from the College with degrees in history and sociology and a minor in media studies. While at U.Va., he was involved in First Year Players and Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity.

• Di'Andra L. Coleman, 24, of Louisa, who will return to Louisa County High School. A religious studies graduate from the College, Coleman was a member of the Black Voices Gospel Choir and a Madison House tutor, worked with Madison House Daycare and was an Alternative Spring Break volunteer performing disaster relief in New Orleans.

• India Dillard, 22, of Martinsville, who will return to Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway. An English language and literature major in the College, she was a Ridley Scholar, a member of United Sisters, an organization to prepare young black females for leadership roles in the African-American community, a Madison House volunteer and a member of Black Alumni Weekend Committee.

• Annia Dowell-Wiltshire, 22, of Charlottesville, who will work at Skyline High School in Warren County. A history graduate in the College, she was an Echols Scholar, president and social vice president of Alpha Phi Omega, a Peer Advisor and outreach liaison at the International Studies Office.

• Chelsea Duncan, 22, of Richmond will return to Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway. A psychology and African American studies graduate from the College, she was a University Scholar, a resident adviser and a research assistant.

• Danny Eckstein, 23, of Harrisonburg, who will return to Patrick County High School in Stuart. A Spanish graduate from the College, he was a University Guide, resident adviser, orientation leader and migrant aid tutor.

• Sterling Elmore, 22, of Penn Laird, who will return to Nelson County High School. A government and religious studies graduate from the College, Elmore was in the politics distinguished majors program and was a Honor Committee support counsel; Student Council representative on the legislative affairs committee, Madison House volunteer and a member of the University Democrats.

• Theresa Gentile, 22, of Fredericksburg, who has been assigned to Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria. A government and psychology graduate from the College, she was the St. Baldrick's Foundation co-chair, a member of Alpha Phi Omega Co-ed Community Service Fraternity and a Newcomb Hall student employee.

• Whitney Hawkins, 22, of Waynesboro, who has been placed at Fluvanna County High School. Graduating from the College with a bachelor's in science in environmental sciences, she was a Jefferson Scholar, an Echols Scholar, a Lawn resident, vice president of Alternative Spring Break and president of Alpha Phi Omega.

• Tiffany Hope, 22, of Stafford, who will be working at Armstrong High School in Richmond. A religious studies graduate from the College, she was the choreography co-chair of the University Dance Club; a resident adviser; and a charter member of Hoos for Open Access, a group dedicated to increasing socioeconomic diversity at U.Va. and promoting affordable higher education.

• Keyshanna R. Jones, 23, of Stratford, Conn., who will work at Armstrong High School in Richmond. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in foreign affairs from the College.

• Ethan Jorgensen-Earp, 23, of Salem, who will return to Bassett High School in Bassett. A history graduate of the College, he was a member of Residence Life, the Class of 2009 Trustees and Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He was a committee co-chair on the Madison House Board of Directors, program director at Madison House, director of University Relations for the Student Council and co-chair of the University Peer Support Committee.

• Catherine Ruth Melton, 23, of Tallahassee, Fla., who is assigned to T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. A College graduate in history, with a minor in art history, she held several executive positions in Alpha Phi Omega national co-ed community service fraternity and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

• Liz Menter, 22, of Virginia Beach, who will be working at Orange County High School. A religious studies graduate from the College, she was treasurer of the Alpha Phi Omega co-ed community service fraternity, a family support intern and interpreter services intern at the International Rescue Committee, trainer and public relations committee member of the University Transit Service and an Alternative Spring Break participant.

• Jill Pritzker, 21, of Woodbridge, who will return to Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. She graduated with distinction in three years with degrees in art history and economics from the College. She was a volunteer at the University Art Museum, and a contributor to the Oculus, the Cavalier Daily and several literary publications. She received a grant for an independent student arts project in creative writing.

• Reshaud Rich, 23, of Norfolk, who will work at Charlottesville High School. A sociology graduate of the College, he is co-founder of Financial Literacy for Youth.

• Danielle G. Riffe, 22, of Bluefield, W.Va., who will return to Patrick Henry and Holston high schools in Washington County. Riffe is a history graduate of the College.

• Nitika Sethi, 22, of Oakton, who will be working at William Monroe High School in Greene County. A Spanish and foreign affairs graduate of the College, she was the social chair of U.Va. Art Museum docents and a founder of College Access for Everyone at Charlottesville High School.

• Crystal St. Bernard, 22, of Arima, Trinidad and Tobago and Hyattsville, Md., who will return to Piedmont Virginia Community College. She graduated with a degree in religious studies from the College.

• Thurman M. Winfrey Jr., 22, of Paterson, N.J., who will be working at George Washington High School in Danville. He graduated with a degree in history from the College.

— By Matt Kelly