As Schools Go Back Into Session, the College Advising Corps Is on the Case

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September 09, 2020

Working from their own experiences, recent college graduates are guiding the next generation toward higher education.

This is the mission of the Virginia College Advising Corps, in which recent graduates of the University of Virginia, UVA’s College at Wise and several other schools will fan out around Virginia, spending the next year helping low-income, underrepresented and first-generation high school students navigate the college admissions process.

The program started 15 years ago at UVA and has since expanded to a national non-profit that serves 17 states. The Virginia College Advising Corps is a joint venture of the University of Virginia and the College Advising Corps, and is an AmeriCorps program.

Forty-two recent graduates make up the corps, serving in 48 Virginia high schools. Working in high school counseling offices, they advise students who might otherwise not think about higher education, arranging college visits and assisting with filing admission and financial aid applications.

“Even in good economic times, incredible amounts of determination and resiliency are required of low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students to overcome structural barriers on their path to college,” said Joy Pugh, executive director of the Virginia College Advising Corps. “In this current environment, educational attainment requires even more – that students without safety nets take massive leaps. The knowledge and support of VCAC college advisers becomes critical then, working with students to play out various scenarios in the shifting landscape, to prepare for all of them, and to execute the necessary steps when it is time to do so.” 

Under Pugh’s leadership since 2012, the Virginia Corps has tripled the number of advisers and partner high schools. Since the program began, more than 165 college graduates have spread across the commonwealth to assist high school students in their postsecondary  decisions. The advisers make a two-year commitment to the program, which is supported through federal funding from AmeriCorps as well as various grants and gifts from foundations, corporations and individuals.

“Our program works because of the incredible people who become advisers,” Pugh said. “The dedication that they have to serving students, families and communities is genuine and tireless.  They provide useful, tailored information and one-on-one mentorship at a critical turning point in a young person’s life.”

“My dream has always been to encourage students in minority groups and lower-income counties to further their education through technical institutions or college,” said Skye Scott of Graysburg, North Carolina, who will be a first-year adviser at Buckingham County High School.

College Advisers recognize the strengths and potential in each student they serve.  Kalea Obermeyer of Manassas, who will be a first-year adviser at Charlottesville High School, understands the impact of this near-peer advising.

“VCAC does more than equip students with the right resources to matriculate,”she said. “It energizes them to want to aspire to college, it builds relationships between communities that wouldn’t have otherwise existed, and it shapes a cohort of change-makers. Being a college adviser means building equity, establishing trust, infusing compassion, and inspiring hope among students who have so much to give to this world.”

Advisers also see their job as helping high school students negotiate the obstacles they themselves encountered.

“Having someone to inform me about the transition from high school into college could have saved me from experiencing a lot of unnecessary hardships,” said Janeen Graves of Newport News, who will be a first-year adviser at Northumberland High School in Heathsville and Lancaster County Public Schools in Lancaster. “Though I am fortunate to have learned from these experiences, they took away my ability to focus solely on my academics. If I can use my experiences as a means of preventative measures for these students, then I am happy to have the ability to make their lives a little easier.”

College advisers work with high school students to explore multiple higher education options, including two- and four-year colleges, technical and trade schools, and certificate programs.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the advisers have devised many ways to stay in touch with their students, using social media, Zoom meetings and smartphone applications.

“Being innovative and nimble are hallmarks of our program, and we will continue to adapt as this public health crisis unfolds,” Pugh said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, last year Virginia advisers held 24,031 one-one-one advising sessions, assisted students with 13,948 college application submissions and ensured 4,336 completions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

This year’s college advisers are:

  • Juli Abbott of Roanoke, a 2019 UVA sociology graduate, who will be a first-year adviser at Patrick County High School in Stuart.
  • Madison Allen of Powhatan, a 2020 Spanish graduate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Caroline High School in Milford.
  • Jordan Arnold of Lexington, a 2019 UVA economics and political and social thought graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Covington High School.
  • Christen Lloyd of Norfolk, a 2017 University of Mary Washington psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Orange County High School.
  • Lee Bernstein of Carlisle, Massachussetts, a 2020 economics and politics, American government graduate with a minor in education policy from Washington and Lee University, who will be a first-year adviser at Rappahannock County High School.
  • Leah Brooks of Chatham, a 2019 UVA youth and social innovation and psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Dan River High School in Pittysylvania County
  • Marissa Bryant of Bassett, a 2019 criminology graduate of the University of Lynchburg, who will be a second-year adviser at Bassett High School in Henry County, from which she graduated.
  • Ben Buell of Richmond, a 2019 UVA global security and justice and history graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at William Monroe High School in Greene County.
  • Raleigh Christian of Kents Store, a 2019 political science graduate from Virginia Tech, who will be a second-year adviser at Louisa County High School.
  • Madison Coleman of Bowling Green, a 2020 government and secondary education graduate from the College of William & Mary, who will be a first-year adviser at Union High School in Big Stone Gap.
  • Charna Davis of Jonesville, a 2020 elementary education graduate of UVA’s College at Wise, who will be a first-year adviser at Thomas Walker High School in Ewing and Lee High School in Jonesville, from which she graduated.
  • Rachel Davies of Yorktown, a 2019 UVA global development studies and French graduate, who will be a second-year adviser in the Charles City County Public Schools.
  • Michelle De La Cruz Santos of Harrisonburg, a 2020 criminal justice graduate from Roanoke College, who will be a first-year adviser at George Washington High School at Danville.
  • Liam Donohue of Madison Heights, a 2019 UVA anthropology and environmental sciences graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Nelson County High School.
  • Anna Du of Fredericksburg, a 2018 international affairs and Chinese language and literature graduate from George Washington University, who will be a first year adviser at Harrisonburg High School.
  • Melinda Espinoza of Chatham, a 2019 UVA biology and psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Gretna High School in Pittsylvania County.
  • Mauliola Gonsalves of Pukalani, Hawaii, a 2020 international relations, public relations and French graduate from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, who will be a first-year adviser at Sussex Central High School.

  • Janeen Graves of Newport News, a 2020 African and African-American studies graduate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Northumberland High School in Heathsville, and Lancaster County Public Schools in Lancaster.
  • Harley Hess of Honaker, a 2020 communication studies graduate from UVA’s College at Wise, will be a first-year adviser at Chatham High School.
  • Jasmine Holliday of Woodbridge, a 2019 justice studies graduate with a minor in African, African American and diaspora studies from James Madison University, who will be is a second-year adviser at Culpeper County High School.
  • Nicole Izurieta of Herndon, a 2019 UVA psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Rappahannock High School in Richmond County and at Washington and Lee High School in Westmoreland County.
  • Joshua Justus of Hurley, a 2019 UVA biology and philosophy graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Liberty High School in Fauquier County.
  • Jordan Kijewski of Haymarket, a 2019 UVA government and American studies graduate, with a religious studies minor, who will be a second-year adviser at Huguenot High School in Richmond.
  • Melody Lipford of Pennington Gap, a 2019 English literature graduate with a minor in Spanish from Emory & Henry College, who will be a second-year adviser at John I. Burton High School in Norton and Eastside High School in Wise County.
  • Bailey McGrew of Midlothian, a 2020 neuroscience and psychology graduate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Amelia County High School.
  • Taylor Mullins of Wise, a 2018 business administration graduate from UVA’s College at Wise, who will be a second-year adviser at Central High School in Wise, from which she graduated in 2015.
  • Kalea Obermeyer of Manassas, a 2020 youth and social innovation major at the Curry School of Education and Human Development at UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Charlottesville High School.
  • Reilly Park of Lorton, a 2017 UVA politics graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at John Marshall High School in Richmond.
  • Lydia Prillaman of Martinsville, 2020 UVA psychology graduate, who will be a first-year adviser at Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway.
  • Rebecca Richardson of Danville, a 2018 UVA politics graduate with an urban and environmental planning minor, who will be a third-year adviser at Galileo Magnet High School in Danville and Tunstall High School in Pittsylvania County.
  • Ahmad Rudd of Richmond, a 2017 art and history major from Hampden-Sydney College, who will be a second-year adviser at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte County.
  • Kate Rusnak of Chester, a 2020 UVA psychology graduate, will be a first-year adviser at Fauquier High School in Warrenton.
  • Lailah Said of Alexandria, a 2020 foreign affairs and African-American and African studies graduate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg.

  • Skye Scott of Graysburg, North Carolina, a 2020 English graduate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Buckingham County High School.
  • Cameron Stokes of Portsmouth, a 2019 UVA education, youth and social innovation and psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at Martinsville High School.
  • Samantha Strauss of Centreville, a 2019 health and behavioral studies graduate from James Madison University, who will be a first-year adviser at King and Queen Central High School in King and Queen Court House, and Essex High School, Tappahannock.
  • Julia Trachtenberg of Midlothian, a 2020 psychology graudate from UVA, who will be a first-year adviser at Dinwiddie High School in Dinwiddie.
  • Liz Wachter of Luray, a 2018 UVA graduate in women, gender and sexuality studies, who will be a third-year adviser at Fluvanna County High School.
  • Darien Waters of Silver Spring, Maryland, a 2019 UVA psychology graduate, who will be a second-year adviser at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.
  • Erica Wood of Louisa, a 2019 health sciences graduate from James Madison University, who will be a second-year adviser at Eastern View High School in Culpeper County.
  • Trei Young of Richmond, a 2020 UVA politics and foreign affairs graduate, who will be a first-year adviser at Armstrong High School in Richmond, from which she graduated.
  • Adriana Zehr of Centreville, a 2020 psychology graduate from Regent University, who will be a first-year adviser at the Kettle Run High School in Nokesville, Fauquier County.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications