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#GraduateStudentsNow

#GraduateStudentsNow- Brittani Williams

Responses by Brittani Williams

Educational Leadership Policy Ph.D. student at Texas Tech University

What inspired you to want to become a school counselor/higher ed professional?

I grew up in a low-wealth community, in a single-parent home.

I am the oldest of four.

I am a TRIO Upward Bound Alum 

I am a transfer student.

I am a student-parent.

I am a first-generation college graduate. 

Navigating those pieces of my identity through degree completion was not easy.

All those pieces grew a passion to serve students that shared my same story.

All those pieces inspired me to pursue a career in higher education.

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?

The biggest challenges I faced in my own educational journey was college affordability and navigating undergraduate coursework as a student-parent.

What is one thing you would tell your younger student self now?

One thing I would tell my younger student self is “congratulations, you are doing a great job”

Learning to celebrate my academic accomplishments no matter how big has boosted my self-efficacy and supported my persistence in my current studies. I did not do that enough when I was younger.

If you could go back and visit your undergraduate institution, what would you tell the faculty and staff about what students need to know about succeeding in college?

I would go back to my undergraduate institution and tell them to support student parents. We need affordable childcare, available family housing, and a support center.

If you wrote a book about your educational journey, what would the title and chapters be?

If I wrote and educational book it would be titled “Assignment Understood:  My journey from a low-wealth neighborhood to doctoral regalia.” 

My chapters are titled: Oldest Sibling, TRIO Works, College Attainment, The Experience, Lateral Transfer, Student-Parent on Campus, She Mastered it, Parenting Pursuing A Ph.D. — the rest is still being written.

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?

My message to first generation students trying to figure it out is: You don’t have to do it alone — go speak with your high school counselor. You are supported. 

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know?

One piece of advice for higher education professionals is: plant and nourish good seeds. That means, every student interaction is a chance to plant and nourish or encourage and support growth for success.

From your perspective, what really works in college advising, access, and success?

From my perspective what really works in college advising, access, and success is patient support. As a professional, I remember every advisor that was patent and kind — it made me feel empowered and confident that no matter the situation, I possessed the ability to persist and succeed.

 How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?

I hope that by using my voice to share my story, using my education to inform the field, and using my working experience will continue to advance the “mission” of a more equitable postsecondary advising system.

Brittani Williams
Brittani Williams

Brittani Williams is a first-generation college graduate pursuing her doctorate in Educational Leadership Policy. Her research interests include college access, attainment, affordability, and degree completion — closing opportunity gaps for low-wealth and first generation students of color.

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CBO Counselor Educator K-12 School Counselor

Culturally Responsive Education: Reflection – Beyond the School Walls

Liberation Through Education- Part 111

By John Johnson

Director of Postsecondary & Alumni Affairs 

Looking Back to Move Forward 

Over the last couple of weeks I have experienced some very proud and exciting moments. As I scrolled through my social media page I saw so many of my former students graduating from college. It was exciting because they were all students from my first class as a counselor at University Prep Art & Design. For the past six years I have had the pleasure of supporting the graduating classes at UPAD with developing plans to help them reach their postsecondary goals. As a college coordinator I have the distinct role of navigating students through the complicated process of filling out college applications, financial aid, scholarships, housing applications and much more. Above all however, I believe my biggest responsibility in this role is to help students believe that they can reach their dreams. It is an honor, and is more than a job to me, it’s my passion. 

As I draw close to the end of my sixth year in this role I reflect back to my first year as a college coordinator. I had the goal of being a hero who would come in and save students by getting them out the hood and into college. I had my checklist of items that I needed each student to do: 

  • College Acceptance Letter: CHECK ✅
  • FASFA Completed: CHECK ✅
  • Scholarship: CHECK ✅
  • Choosing your college and orientation date: CHECK ✅

It was near the end of my very first year… I was going through my checklist with each student, and came across a student who hadn’t made his official college decision. This was weird to me because we had met several times and decided on a school that matched perfectly to his needs both academically and financially. I angrily called him to my office so that we could discuss his procrastination. I had an entire speech in my head of what I would say to him “YOU ARE GOING TO MISS OUT ON THIS OPPORTUNITY!” “YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER!” and my all time favorite “YOU CAN’T APPROACH THE REAL WORLD LIKE THIS!” When the student walked into my office I wasted no time in questioning him. “WHY HAVEN’T YOU PAID YOUR DEPOSIT AND SIGNED UP FOR ORIENTATION?!” The student looked at me as if he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He paused and said, “Mr. Johnson, I… AM… SCARED”. My anger instantly turned into disappointment. Not toward him but disappointment toward myself. In my attempt to be a hero, I never took the time to listen to what he may be going through. In our many meetings over the years, he always came across as confident and sure of himself but today, he was a student who needed someone to listen and validate him. 

He talked and I listened for over two hours and he shared with me that he was the first in his family to go to college, and that he was afraid that he would let his family down if he didn’t make it to graduation, and that he had never been away from home. The part that broke my heart is when he told me, “I don’t know if I am good enough.” My instant reply was, “What if you are good enough, and what if you do make it.” He responded with, “I never looked at it that way.” As we finished our discussion, we signed him up for orientation and I gave him a hug and assured him that he would be alright. 

That conversation was transformational for me because it made me change my entire approach to this work. In the words of Tina Turner “We don’t need another HERO” (I just aged myself ). Our students needed someone who could relate, support and validate their experience.  

CRE and College Counseling 

Often when we think about Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) we do so in relation to students’ experience in the classroom. There is not enough conversation surrounding CRE in counseling practices. I can make a case that CRE  is just as important when counseling students. Our students grow up in a world that tells them: 

  • Because they are black, their lives don’t matter 
  • Because they are from Detroit, they are less than 
  • Because they come from low and working class backgrounds, they can’t achieve. 

When we incorporate CRE into our counseling practice we begin to create counternarratives to the aforementioned views. I suggest a more culturally responsive approach to college counseling and access, that refrains from a deficit viewpoint, and considers the contextual needs, cultural knowledge and assets our students embody to realize their college aspirations and career goals. Too often when we measure college readiness we do so based on White middle class students as the dominant measure for academic and personal standards to determine if a student can succeed in their pursuit of college and life. However, our students have gained a specific set of skills and resilience that has allowed them to survive and thrive in Detroit when it was at its worst. That same resilience can be translated to their success in college and beyond. Dr. Shaun R. Harper Provost Professor in the Rossier School of Education and Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California discusses this in his presentation “This too is Racist” When we devalue the experience and capabilities of Black students, we are committing to racist behaviors. To overcome this we have to begin telling our students that their lived cultural experience matters and is valued. In addition, we also have to help our students unpack the cultural experiences they have and translate it into tools to help them reach their personal and professional goals. 

Taking a New Approach

I decided to transform the approach I would take as a counselor and take a more culturally responsive approach. I had to move away from being a hero and take on more of a restorative approach. I remember Dr. Chris Emdin calls it “ Restoration over Rescue Mission”. With that in mind I decided to approach this in three different ways.  

  1. Listen: Often our students are told to be “seen and not heard”. I have to create more opportunities for students to express their fears, concerns and experiences. We can’t help students until we understand them; we can’t understand them till we listen to them.
  1. Student-Centered: Move away from my own personal objectives when meeting with students. Allow them the opportunity to discuss their needs, goals and plans and respond and support appropriately. Remember that each student is different and requires a unique approach.  Instead of looking at their experiences as setbacks and deficiencies we must help them understand those experiences are tools that have helped them grow personally and professionally. Help them translate how those experiences can lead to their success in college, career and beyond. 
  1. Empower: Students should walk away from counseling and coaching sessions empowered to reach their goals. Many students are victims of oppression and racism and may need motivation to move forward.  Before students leave high school and transition into the next stage of their life,  they should have a positive self appraisal of themself (self actualization). They should believe in themselves and know that they can achieve any goal they set for themselves, despite the obstacles and experience of their past. 
  1. Love: Our students deserve to be loved. I charge every educator to move away from robotic interactions with student and instead approach students with love and their well-being 

What CRE Means to Me

The thing that I had to learn as a counselor is that I had to meet the needs of the students and not my own objective. Access to a college education is not enough. TOO many of my students feel that they won’t make it in college because they feel they are not good enough or because they feel they don’t deserve it. As educators we have to provide students with the tools and self assurance to deal with the pain of fundamentally being disempowered and oppressed. When we liberate students through education we create students that transform and not conform. But we must be careful in our approach, because education in the past (in some cases currently) has been used as a tool to oppress communities of color. This is why providing students with a culturally relevant education is paramount. By infusing CRE we are able to create conscious and self-empowered individuals who use their educated voice for themselves and their community. They use that educated mind to disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression and inequities to create a better world for us all. 

As I was scrolling through my social media and seeing each of my former students in their college cap and gowns I ran across the student who I mentioned earlier. There he stood with his Cap and Gown on and a caption that said “I DID IT” I enthusiastically sent him a message that said “Congratulations Bro, I’m proud of you. If you need anything, call me.” Within an hour my phone rang and it was him. He said “I don’t need anything. I just had to say thank you for everything, it was a hard journey, but I did it!” With a huge smile I simply replied, “it was my pleasure brotha!” 

Citation: Johnson, John “Culturally Responsive Education: Reflection- Beyond the School Walls” Uprep School Inhouse Blog, June 9th 2021, https://uprepschools.com/liberation-through-education-culturally-responsive-education/

John Johnson
John Johnson

John Johnson is the Director of Postsecondary & Alumni Affairs at University Prep Schools. He has over 12 years of experience helping students to and through college working at both the high school and collegiate levels. He is a graduate of Michigan State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications. He also has a Masters Degree in Education & Training. He is a 2020 Detroit New Leader Council Fellow and currently a 2021 San Diego State University Equity in College Counseling Fellow. In 2020 he was awarded the Influential Educator Award by the Michigan Chronicle, and most recently the 2021 Fred Martin/Coleman A. Young Educator of the Year.


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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- John Johnson

Interview with John Johnson

Director of Postsecondary & Alumni Affairs

What inspired you to want to become a school counselor?

I grew up in a small city on the other side of Michigan called Muskegon Heights. I remember going through the process of trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Pretty much everybody in my community worked in a factory. My parents, aunts, uncles, everybody worked in a factory, but I knew that is not what I wanted to do. I remember just trying to figure that out for myself. My guidance counselor was good but she just seemed overwhelmed, I understand she was trying to service over 500 students and give them each individual time.  To make a long story short I really wanted to be for students what I wanted for myself. I want to be someone who can support them and help them achieve their specific goals. I also want to show them that there are a variety of opportunities available to them. Detroit is a very industrial city with the big three autos here, because of this it seems that our students have this ideology that this is the line of work they have to go into. I really try to encourage students to achieve whatever dream and aspirations they have and provide them direction and support in navigating the system so that they can achieve those goals. 

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?

My biggest challenge was being able to say I need help. In high school things came easy for me. When I got to college I had this mindset that I don’t need help and can just navigate through it myself. Then in my first writing class we had an assignment where I felt I could knock this out. I remember getting a big fat F and the teacher made a comment that I should go to the writing center. I felt that I didn’t have to go to the writing center, but rather it was just one bad assignment. She then assigned another assignment, and I got a D with a comment saying, “come see me after class”. I saw her after class, and she told me she could tell I have potential, but I needed help bringing out that potential. She walked me over to the writing center and I got the help I needed. This was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it allowed me to start asking people for help and start accepting help. I realized I was being bullheaded thinking I could handle everything without assistance.  Now I tell my students that I struggled academically both in math and in writing my first year like Michigan State. I started in a remedial math class and thought, “oh this is going to be a breeze”. I struggled in that remedial math class and I was shocked. My brother was in his senior year of Michigan State and he told me to go to the math help room. I went because I had already learned this lesson from my teacher who took me to the writing center. Receiving help and support worked for my writing and math. 

What is one thing you would tell your younger student self now?

One, don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help. I think that’s really important. A lot of times, especially for African American families and African American students, growing up we hear: be strong, be a man, handle yourself, be an adult, you have to handle it on your own, and all those sorts of things. That was something that was embedded in me that I had to overcome. I had to learn to be able to say “I need help” and then accept the constructive feedback that came with it. 

Two, I would tell students to explore their career options. I am now a counselor and working in education, which has been extremely rewarding for me, but going into college I would’ve never considered this as a career. It never occurred to me that maybe I could work in education in some capacity. So, explore careers and don’t wait until you get to your senior year to do that exploration. Start that as soon as possible and continue to try new things right. Also allow yourself to evolve and continue to find yourself. Various good things come from exploration of new things, careers and opportunities flourish from it.

If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and or high school counselor, what would you tell them? 

I got into Michigan State and was extremely happy as it was one of my top schools. My eldest brother had gone to Michigan State, and he was the first in our family to go to college and I had loved the campus. I had tried going to my counselor for support and help in navigating through the process. I remember one time she said, “Have you considered going right into the workforce? There is this new company that’s coming into town and they’re going to be hiring, paying like $10 an hour. That might be a great fit for you.” Now I don’t know how she meant it, but I took it as if she didn’t believe that I could go to Michigan State and be successful. After that I had the feeling that maybe I’m not good enough for Michigan State and instead I should consider another option, such as going straight to work. I thought that maybe she saw something in me that maybe I didn’t, and I wasn’t ready for Michigan State. Looking back on that moment, the thing I would tell her is to invest emotionally and strategically within your students. Emotionally, by telling them that they can do it and that they can achieve what they put their mind to. Then strategically by showing them how they can do it. In my case, possibly connecting me to other students who were at Michigan State or connecting me to various professionals so that I could see people from my community who went to college and were successful. While there is nothing wrong with working at a factory, I knew it wasn’t for me. I try to apply that to my own students. I try to be available to them because of that. When it comes to their dreams, we plan on how they can get there. I’ve never told them no but rather that Mr. Johnson is going to help you achieve that dream. It may not be the path they envisioned, perhaps they will have to start off with community college or start at a smaller school and then transfer, but we are going to have a plan of action.

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know? 

You can’t educate all students in the same way. One of the things that I’ve noticed over the last several years working at both the collegiate level as well as at the high school level is that the way we prepare our students for college and expectations once they get to college is very narrow and doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of first generation, low income, and minority students. This is depending on what school you go to, some schools have done well and have resources and additional services, but some schools have not. You can see which is which by looking at the graduation numbers for those populations. Also, with the pandemic, consider what your students’ level of learning is after having a year online. There is a gap there that has happened, and it is especially exaggerated for students that come from special populations and special backgrounds. I think there’s going to be a level of trauma once they hit their college campuses. I think there is going to need to be some type of learning curve that helps integrate students into college. I would say consider all those things when you’re dealing with the next two to three incoming classes, not just this current class. All of these students went through that pandemic as well. Find ways to invest into students and do the research so that we have the data to properly support these students. 

Tell us about your advocacy project. 

I created a scholarship for my students. One of the things that I often encounter with our students, who as I said before, come from working class backgrounds or low-income backgrounds, is that every summer I would get a call from a student saying they don’t have enough money for food or even to get to college. I used to reach into my own pocket and call colleagues to help support the student’s financial needs. Whenever I reached out on behalf of students’ people would respond right away. I wondered why I didn’t just create a scholarship. It started off as one scholarship that I started with my Michigan State University alumni friends. I suggested we each pitch in $20 and I had this whole speech of how we have to give back to our community but didn’t have the chance to say it because they all agreed and offered up $100 instead. It all went by so smoothly I thought to myself whether I could do another. I’m also a part of a leadership council and came with my pitch, again they offered more than I asked. Again, it worked, and I figured let me try one more time. We were able to come up with some leftover funding and provide a Senior Mastery scholarship to three students who pretty much mastered the process. All in all, seven students got a scholarship. I really enjoyed doing it and what I took from it is to be confident in what you’re doing and realizing that there are people who really do want to help students outside of the people who exist in our schools. There are people outside of our school who are willing to invest in our students. I’ve already met with the committees of each of the different scholarships and we’re talking about expanding and offering more money next year.

Is there anything you would like to address that I haven’t asked?

Even though it was a hard year, some good things came out of it for me. I was awarded the Educator of the Year Award by Coleman A. Young foundation which is really cool. I was really excited to find out that I was nominated by one of my students. I also received a promotion at work. I am now the Director of Postsecondary and Alumni Affairs. I will be overseeing all of the college coordinators and high school counselors in our district which is a total of 10 schools. I’m looking forward to it because I think it’s an opportunity to advocate and support more students, as well as be able to work with alumni and create support and resources for them.

John Johnson
John Johnson

John Johnson has been promoted to Director of Postsecondary and Alumni Affairs. Johnson was instrumental in building the college-going culture at the school and increasing postsecondary options for his students. Helping minority, low-income and first generation students navigate the college-going process, has become his passion and he advocates consistently for these groups of students. In 2020 Johnson was selected By TCF Bank and the Michigan Chronicle for the “Influential Educator Award” for his work with students in Detroit. In 2020, he also was selected for the Detroit’s chapter of the New Leadership Council’s Fellowship. In 2019 he was part of the inaugural cohort for Detroit College Access Network College Bound Fellows. He was featured in 2019’s College Board’s “Counselors Recognition” Program. Johnson has a Bachelor degree from Michigan State University in Communication and a Master of Art in Adult Education & Training. He is also a member of Michigan Association for College Admission (MACAC).

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Emily Johnson

Interview with Emily Johnson

Licensed School Counselor and Department Head at Plainwell High School

What inspired you to want to become a school counselor?

I started out as a teacher where I taught English for two years. I had a lot of reasons why I left teaching but one reason was because I enjoyed having a connection with kids but hated that kids would confide in me and tell me things yet it was my job to hand them off to someone else. I felt that I had a connection to the student which played a big role in why they confided in me. Plus my own life history leads me to feel connected with kids that go through things in high school. I felt I could do a better job as a counselor and could do the work that I enjoy most which is connecting with students. 

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?

My junior year of college,the week before finals, all of a sudden my computer went black. The computer no longer worked at all. I had primarily English classes so all of my final papers were on it. I was able to call my grandfather, who was my biggest support system with education, but I can’t help but to think how difficult that would be for students who do not have anyone to turn to. I called him and he bought me a new laptop because he could afford to do so, but I had to navigate rewriting papers and emailing professors to inform them of the situation. I had to explain to professors that I did in fact have them done but now they were gone. I tried to find proof to show them and luckily I had some rough draft printed copies and had emailed some rough drafts to a friend to look at. It was a challenge across the board having to navigate that situation and stay calm and focused. It could have been more of a challenge if I hadn’t had the support system I did.

What is one thing you would tell your younger student self now?

I would tell myself that your life experiences will help others. I have had my own personal challenges when I was in high school and I think if I had known how much that would help other people later on by making me more empathetic and allowing me to connect with students that would have helped. 

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?

I would say try out lots of different classes because you never know which one is going to speak to you and it might not be something that you would expect. I would also say that your  interests may lead you down your own path. Simply because it is different or not something your family has done, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. 

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know? 

They need to make their websites easier to understand. We work with the local community college and they have a phenomenal website. It is very easy to navigate and they tell you every class you’ll take to get your degree. Oftentimes I will use it with students even though they have no interest in going there just to show them what they need to look for. I think that many websites are so confusing or you can’t find the information you are looking for. I know what I’m looking for and even I can’t find it. Nowadays, the website is the number one thing kids look at since campus tours aren’t an option (due to covid) and is therefore extremely important.

From your perspective, what really works in college counseling/advising, access, and success?

I think just being available. We also actually have a dedicated college advisor. This is our sixth year and after this we’re actually phasing back to just counselors next year. It’s really sad because it’s been really great to have a dedicated person and everyone knows that is their job and their role. So now we have to take a look at how to reformulate again so that students still have that. Also I think having one-on-one meetings and being accessible to parents is important because oftentimes students and parents may be embarrassed to talk about sensitive information such as their financial situation or even their interests sometimes. Having an open door policy can help with that.

How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?

You hear these stories about “that time my counselor said I couldn’t do this…” I cannot imagine ever saying that to any student and so I think my job is to make sure that whatever their interests may be I help them try that. Even if in the back of my head I’m doubtful, it doesn’t matter what I think because that student could still get into that college and could still be successful in that career. It is not my call to make. Of course also talk about having a backup plan, but I think believing in their dreams is really important and making sure that they understand that you’re genuine in that. I am never going to be that counselor that doesn’t believe in a student because it’s my job to believe in them. 

Tell us about your advocacy project. 

It’s on parent engagement. I grew up in a single parent household where my dad did not know how to advocate for us, if needed, and so I think that many parents simply have no idea how to advocate for their students or who to reach out to. I’m still shaping the project a little bit but something that may be helpful is publications or parent guides. In these we can address topics such as who at the school to reach out to for this issue or that issue. If we can provide a template, schools can input their information. I think parents want to get involved, they just don’t always know how or who to call. 

Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a Licensed School Counselor and Department Head at Plainwell High School. Emily has a Bachelor of Science in Education from Indiana University in Bloomington and a Master of Education in Counseling from Loyola University in Chicago. Emily has worked at Plainwell for seven years. Prior to working at Plainwell, Emily worked as a school counselor in the Chicago area for five years and also spent two years as an English teacher in Indiana. This diverse background in rural Indiana, urban Chicago, and now small-town Plainwell has given Emily an interesting lens when working with students. Emily believes in helping students through a holistic lens and is always interested in helping students find his/her purpose beyond high school. Emily is passionate about social justice and helping all students find success, regardless of background.

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Kimberly Twarowski

Interview with Kimberly Twarowski

School Counselor at Shelby Junior High

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?

After I received my Master’s degree in Florida, I moved back to Michigan, where it was required that counselors have a teaching degree. I did not have that so I returned to school to obtain my teaching certificate. Two years after I graduated, Michigan changed and allowed school counselors to practice without a teaching degree. Financially having to do both was difficult. I knew I wanted to be a counselor but I had to spend the extra time and the extra money to get that teaching subject first. I will say that it was a benefit to me to have that teaching degree. It’s helpful but I think that Michigan made a good decision to allow people to get a school counseling degree without a teaching degree. 

If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and or high school counselor, what would you tell them? 

Honestly, I don’t have a clue who any of my counselors were. I know that junior high was a really rough emotional time for me so I would say that it’s important to reach out not only to the kids who are labeled “difficult” or “bad” but also your high performing kids. I was a high performing kid academically but I was kind of a mess emotionally. That is one thing I consider in my own practice, which is that everybody needs support. It doesn’t matter what their grades are, everyone needs an adult to talk to. 

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?

I didn’t decide until later what I wanted to be and I think that’s so important for students to know, that you don’t necessarily have to know what you want to do and that is ok. It’s ok to attend your community college and take some general classes while you find your path. It’s ok to work until you find your path. I think getting that exposure, trying something new that you didn’t have the opportunity to do in high school through CTE classes, internships, and/or work study is helpful. If you’re not sure, explore. If you’re sure of your path from the beginning then go down that path. And either way make sure to know the resources available to you! Find out where your help centers are, find out where your office of disability services are, etc. There are a lot of people out there to help you, so that you don’t feel that you have to go it alone. 

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know? 

My daughter is in college right now, and it has been a hard year to be in college. Going off her experience, my advice is that your students’ experiences are valid. I think it’s really important at that level to still pay attention to students’ emotional states. I think you have to be passionate and love the subject you teach, but also remember that you’re still teaching people. One thing we say at my school is, “you don’t teach 9th grade English, you teach 9th graders the English subject,” because it is important to focus more on the student than the subject matter. I feel like college professors may tend to have the mentality of, “oh well I taught it, if they didn’t learn it that’s on them.” But that’s not fair, students are still only 18, 19, 20 year old kids. It’s also important if they don’t show up to your class, reach out to them. You can send them an email to check in with them, don’t just assume that they’re lazy. If you send them an email and say, “Hey, we missed you this morning, I just wanted to check in and see if you’re ok.” That’s showing enough of an interest for that student to start coming to class because now they know that their lack of presence is noticed. I know college professors may have classes of hundreds and perhaps can’t do that themselves, but use your TAs. Do something to make sure that your students do not feel like a number, especially on those larger college campuses where it’s so easy for these kids to get lost. 

Tell us about your advocacy project. 

My focus is researching social emotional learning (SEL) curriculums. There are so many out there and currently my district is going to default to the county’s recommendation. Yet, the more I research the more I realize that is not the best choice. It is recommended that schools pick the best SEL curriculum for them. The problem is that not every school is able/willing to deeply research social emotional learning. I hope to take what I’m finding to the county so that I can support them, then bring it to my district and get more social emotional learning across the district. SEL is not something I can do alone. I am only able to teach a lesson once a quarter so it really needs to begin in pre-k and go until 12th grade. Good social emotional learning leads to more college attainment. A simplified explanation of why is that the younger you start the SEL curriculum, the more stable the kids are, the more they can listen to the college and career information, the more they will want to go to college. To me it fits with encouraging college access because you are dealing with a lot of the reasons that kids don’t go: they don’t feel confident, they don’t know how to navigate, they don’t know how to ask questions. All of those things are taught in a good social emotional curriculum and take away those barriers. Students will know how to research, know how to ask questions, feel confident navigating college on their own, and that’s why it’s so important to implement good SEL curriculums. 

Is there anything you would like to address that I haven’t asked?

  1. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with our state representative and I’m meeting with another one soon. The need for counselors is so huge and I feel that this year has brought that into perspective more than anything. I hope that our legislators from the top down realize you have to put the funding behind it. 
  2. When I did my teaching certificate, I already had my Masters in school counseling, I went through Michigan State University. I was surprised to find that their teaching certificate program didn’t include any educational psychology classes.  I found that wrong because I can see it in the colleagues that I work with. They’re not trauma centered. They’re not social-emotional based. I think that makes it harder for us all to work together. All of those things need to be infused not only in school counseling but also  teaching programs. I think the programs (school counseling and teaching) need to work better together. Perhaps school counseling professors can work to teach teachers social SEL and from a  trauma centered perspective. There are some teachers that are great at it and some that are horrible at it. 
  3. In terms of student well being and mental health, I had a student attempt suicide last night and I had to make a call about another one that was threatening suicide. My colleagues and I have discussed that these kids normally come and talk to us about the “little stupid things” and because they’re not here on campus and reluctant to reach out on on zoom, they are not getting a chance to talk about the “little stupid things”. These, plus covid and death and loss are all building up and they can’t handle it. I have had to hospitalize more students this year. I’m dealing with more and more students with anxiety. I think if they’d been here, on campus, if I had better access to them, a lot of them wouldn’t be there. Kids just need to talk, they need someone to talk to who will listen. That’s also why it’s important that kids learn how to seek out and talk to an adult, get good advice from an adult, then incorporate that. Sadly there are not enough of us. 
Kim Twarowski
Kim Twarowski

Kim Twarowski is a junior high counselor at Shelby Junior High in Shelby Township, Michigan, where she has worked for 22 years. During her time at Shelby, she has coordinated peer mediation activities and anti-bullying student groups. Additionally, she has coached cheerleading and track. In her building, she has served as department chair and school improvement chair. Most recently, she has served as district-wide counseling department chair. Kim has been instrumental in her district’s development of a mental wellness support plan that has provided students, parents and staff with mental health resources including printable guides and online videos. She graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a teaching certificate in Psychology and English, and she received her Master’s in School Counseling from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Kim has earned Specialist certificates in Anxiety and Stress Management, Leadership, and Career Development from the American School Counselor Association. Kim’s passions are social-emotional learning and trauma-sensitive schools and connecting those skills to post-secondary plans.

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Counselor Educator K-12 School Counselor

Parents, an Underutilized Resource

By Heidi Pair

Assistant Director at Renaissance Academy

Though I do not have “school counselor” as my title, I have had the privilege of being able to collaborate in a variety of professional development opportunities with those who do. Regardless of official titles, the concerns, struggles, and genuine care for students and how to get them through this year moving forward academically and with mental health intact were shared by all.

This pandemic, in which emotional health issues have soared and access to students has plummeted, has taken a toll on the caring professionals already overloaded with large caseloads and evolving job descriptions pre-Covid. When successfully getting stressed students — and ourselves —  through a semester is at the forefront, effective postsecondary advising seems like a lofty and long-term goal. 

Yet, the statistics are clear. There is continuous work to be done so that all students have access to timely and relevant post-secondary information and opportunities. Without this work, it will be difficult to get out of this hole a worldwide virus has collectively pushed us in.

Overworked counselors, if you had access to a free resource that would help you reach more students, work more efficiently, and allow more focus of your time and energy where it is needed the most, would you be interested?

As someone who walks along the outskirts of the profession but with the very same concerns for today’s students, I would like to suggest a paradigm shift concerning a far underutilized resource: parents. 

The burden of responsibility to provide information and postsecondary guidance to students felt by school counselors is obvious. You desire to be able to give more time, more of yourself. How, I ask, is this even possible with the national average of 479:1 student-to-counselor ratio?  

One supportive parent can bring that ratio to 1:1.

While I recognize not every student comes from a household with a supportive parent or parents, many do. Every time the words “my student” are used by a counselor, there are usually two additional adults using the words “my child.”

What is lacking is not a parental desire or ability to support, but knowledge and awareness. How can school counselors better equip and empower parents to guide their children in post-secondary planning? 

Here are three steps to thinking about the role of parents in a new way.

Step 1: View Parents as Partners 

Are you viewing parents as true partners in the process of guiding students through post-secondary planning? Or, are you seeing parents as “tools” to help you guide students through the process? Partners work alongside, collaborating with distinct knowledge and talents, toward a common goal. Tools provide things so that someone else can accomplish a task. Evaluate your perspective of parental roles and adjust them if needed.

Step 2: Provide Parent-Focused and Accessible Information

Students should take ownership of their postsecondary path, and parents should be invested in the process alongside them. Your role, as a counselor, is to share the various paths, including possible obstacles, and opportunities that correlate with the student’s goals. Consider yourself the travel agent while the parent is the tour guide. Both assist the student needing guidance. One shares information and options while the other walks alongside. The experience of the trip is for the student.

Encourage parents to engage in the process with their students through the way you share and present information. Create lesson plans and guidance for parents to work through with their students rather than have all info directed to just the student. For example, provide workshops that give parents the skillset to help their child think through the process rather than give them checklists of what their student should have “done” by a certain date.

Step 3: Show Students and Parents How to Crowdsource

Guiding a student through college applications, options, and decisions almost seems akin to being a parent for the first time. Sometimes parents just need to share ideas, discuss with others in the same place, and learn from each other. Popular FB groups such as the 100K member Paying for College 101 give parents the resource of each other rather than the efforts of a single school counselor. Showing parents where they can seek out readily available information and support each other will free up your limited minutes with a student to address more specific postsecondary questions or in other needed areas, such as mental health. 

The above may seem like logical and simple steps of role definition, information, and support, perhaps even ones you believe you are already doing. As an outsider looking in, I can tell you that is not what I’m hearing during conversations among school counselors. I hear weariness and desperation in attempts to get information and action from students single-handedly while leaving parents, who care for their child more than anyone, on the bench waiting to be told what to do. Parents, who do not understand the postsecondary planning process, have looked to school counselors to take the lead in the process, and school counselors have assumed responsibility for this work beyond what they can provide. Instead, treat parents as counselors-in-training and equip them to guide their students and share their knowledge with others. Parents need a coach and to be invited as an active part of the team.

If you are instead sending signals that “my student” comes with more ownership and responsibility for guidance than “my child,” not only do you have it wrong, in a 479:1 world, it isn’t even possible.

While continued training of dedicated school counselors in postsecondary advising is critical in increasing college access and postsecondary certificate and degree attainment, when paired with a paradigm shift on the role of parent, we can hit it out of the park.

Heidi Pair
Heidi Pair

Heidi Pair is the Assistant Director at Renaissance Academy, a K-12 hybrid program for homeschooled and non-traditional full-time students. In addition to her role and work with students at Renaissance Academy, Heidi assists parents in the college process through teaching workshops and private consulting. She is a current member of Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) and Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling (MACAC).

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Stacey Hickman-Jackson

Interview with Stacey Hickman-Jackson

K-8 School Counselor at Nolan Elementary & Middle School

If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and or high school counselor, what would you tell them? 

I don’t have much to say to my high school counselor as I didn’t have any rapport with her, but I did have a teacher in middle school who was very supportive and ironically she ended up becoming a school counselor. If I could tell her anything I would tell her thank you for being my English teacher but wish I could have experienced her true calling during the time I knew her.  Ironically, counseling turned out to be her true calling was counseling and she is now a retired school counselor. She made me feel very comfortable around her and she was truly a jack of all trades. As a counselor now, I understand the challenge behind building rapport with your students but we have a duty and responsibility to at least try to do so. I know that many counselors have several hundred students on their caseloads and can’t know every single one of them intimately but please make it your business to try to meet as many of them as you possibly can. There’s nothing worse than asking students, “what’s your counselor’s name?” and they say I don’t know or give you the name of somebody they know but who is not their counselor because they don’t know who their counselor is. Try to make yourself as visible as possible and with technology today, we are able to reach out to our students more readily than in the past.

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?

I would tell them don’t box yourself in. I would tell them you don’t have to make a decision today, just give yourself a chance to explore what’s out there before you make a decision. It’s not a requirement as a freshman entering college to know what you will do after college. It’s ok to explore different things and to change your mind. It’s important to know what you like to do so that you can enjoy doing it because you’re going to be doing it for a very long time. 

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know? 

I would say that higher ed is just a term. It’s important to bring yourself down to the student’s level. You can’t address a student and deal with them at a level that they’re not on and you’re going to find that many students especially now during this pandemic are at varying levels. The term higher ed should not be an attitude or a way to feel superior. It’s necessary at some point to lay that title (Dr.) aside and just be somebody that’s going to be able to support the student and guide them. Especially now with covid, in the near future there are going to be many students who are very lost and need that interaction and guidance. 

From your perspective, what really works in college counseling/advising, access, and success?

I think what’s currently working is that we have found ways to expand communication. I think pre-pandemic we were set in our ways in terms of communicating with students. Before it was really emphasized that students need to physically go and see the campus or meet in-person with an advisor, which I agree is ideal, but that is not an option for most. We are starting to meet students where they are and making it as basic as possible. Currently we are more in tune to students’ needs instead of institutional needs.

How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?

The one thing that I’m learning about equity is that it’s not one person’s responsibility, but that we all have a part in it. My goal would be to make sure that in anything I’m involved with, has fair and equal opportunities for all to participate. Everyone’s gone through the pandemic, there’s no one that hasn’t, but not everyone has the same level of needs and so we need to meet them where they are to lift them up and support them so that they can be successful. It’s important to get to know the individual and find out what their needs are versus stereotyping them based on what everyone else needs. 

What do you hope to gain as a school counseling fellow? 

When I started my application, I doubted myself thinking I didn’t have the “right kind of experience” to be doing this. Therefore, initially I thought I was going to do this to get more knowledge in terms of working with my students and providing support. What I have gotten is a buffet of different things such as making connections with individuals, hearing about some of the same things that I’m feeling from other people to know that I’m not alone, listening to ideas on how to reach out to students, and various other things that I didn’t anticipate. I feel much more capable now than I did coming in the door because I thought I was just going to sit back and listen and not say a word. But now I feel like I have a voice and have important contributions to make. I hope to just continue to grow as a counselor but also as an individual because I feel that what I learn as a counselor helps me become an even better person. At the end of the day, I hope it helps me grow individually and professionally. 

Tell us about your advocacy project. 

When I was in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So it resonates with me that we need to do college and career exploration as early as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean a formal sit down but rather start the conversation. It’s important to have students realize that there are many more occupations than doctors and lawyers. I want career exploration to be intentional, starting as early as kindergarten or pre-K depending on the environment. At the middle school level is where we really need to start having conversations about career paths, education and exposure. I want to introduce college and career counseling at the middle school level with academic support and tutorial sessions in a year round setting. Students would attend tutoring a couple days a week throughout the academic year to get academic support and at the same time they would explore career opportunities via job shadowing, interview/meeting with professionals in that particular field and field trips to local college campuses.  They would spend part of their summer time engaging in a summer program while staying on a college campus to experience independence/self-governing opportunities, residential life and academic enrichment. I want to give students a little taste of the college experience from the dorm rooms to the classroom.  I feel the sooner we start the more experienced and more understanding students will have with which to progress. 

Stacey Hickman- Johnson
Stacey Hickman- Johnson

Stacey Hickman-Jackson is a K-8 Counselor in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. As a Licensed School Counselor at Nolan Elementary and Middle School she works closely with the students to help prepare for the next level and beyond. In addition to being a Licensed School Counselor at Nolan, Hickman-Jackson is also the Counselor at Warren Woods Adult Education. She works with adult education students seeking to complete their high school education via the high school diploma track or the high school equivalency track. She also guides her students through post-secondary opportunities including the college admissions process and career pathways.. Lastly, Hickman-Jackson serves as the Study Center Coordinator for Upward Bound (UB), a federally funded TRIO program. UB is a college prep program that helps high school students develop the skills and the motivation necessary for them to successfully complete high school and to enter and succeed in college. Hickman-Jackson holds a BA degree in psychology and MA degree in Counseling from Wayne State University. She is certified in school, community/agency and substance abuse counseling.

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Rayme Martineau

Interview with Rayme Martineau

Educational Consultant for Marquette-Alger RESA

If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and or high school counselor, what would you tell them? 

I didn’t have an elementary or middle school counselor because I attended rural schools. I did have a high school counselor and I think I would like to tell them to take the time to get to know the students. The only time we did have interactions with our school counselor was around scheduling issues. There was never any personal connection there so I think that would be something I would love to go back to ask, “Why didn’t you get to know some of the students and be a part of their lives…be a part of their journey through high school?” I learned from that and it is why I went into counseling because I wanted to do the social emotional work that was missing. Sadly, now I’m so removed from doing that because of all these other duties, but that’s why I went into the field. I think having relationships and having those connections, simply taking a few moments just to see what’s going on in the lives of students, is important. 

From your perspective, what really works in college counseling/advising, access, and success?

The advisors at the postsecondary level that I work with are really good at showing the relevance of the courses students are taking. Perhaps I’m super lucky with the ones I work with, but they do really take the time to explain to the students why they’re taking this course and what it will look like down the road or how this course may have an impact if they continue on to a bachelor’s degree or beyond. It’s extremely time intensive to be a college advisor and I don’t think school counselors have the time to do that but if they did, it would definitely help students be successful. If they could actually take the time to have those kinds of conversations, or make it more personalized,  it could really help show relevance. 

How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?

I’m in the UP (upper peninsula) and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Michigan but we are rural. I took the equity class with SDSU and it was an eye opener for me. I always thought I was this fair equitable person and I found out I was not and it was heartbreaking. I realized I have all these preconceived notions that I wasn’t really aware of. I learned that awareness is huge because I think we all believe we’re good people and don’t intentionally do or say things to be inequitable. That is something that is still rattling around in my mind on how I can work with other school counselors across the UP and even with our own staff to increase awareness of biases. The equity class was a really good class and I think everybody should take it. I think if we are aware of our own issues and how we perceive students that is the first step in being more equitable.

Tell us about your advocacy project. 

Cathy, Stephanie and I are interested in working around the role of the school counselor. I really want to have our role more defined because I am afraid of what’s happening with the counseling profession. I went into counseling for the social emotional aspects of the job and when I talked to my counselors that’s why most of them went into counseling as well. Yet, it is not something we are able to do as much because of other duties placed on us. Having the role more defined so the administration understands what counselors should be doing is important in advocating for the profession. Many counselors want to be involved in social emotional work but very few of my high school counselors are doing that. We are looking into having a widely spread counselor evaluation that helps outline and define the role of the counselor and what they should be doing.  That way counselors can advocate for what their role is in the school. I think it’s going to be a long process but it’s my yearly goal for next year to get that information across the UP so it is consistent. Part of the dream is to work with the school principals associations and have a brief training on this. It will also be important to get counselors to start advocating for themselves. Even asking to be evaluated using the evaluation tool we create (or use MSCA) might peak the administration’s awareness so that they realize that their school counselor is taking on many duties.   I am concerned because I see this weird thing happening with the profession where it’s kind of morphed and changed into something else. We should be doing college and career advising, SEL and not be in charge of 504 meetings or testing.  Our Michigan Department of Education doesn’t have anyone there that deals specifically with school counselors.  We have no point of contact if we have a question. Having that position where school counselors have a point of contact where we could email if there are issues or we require timely resources would be helpful. It’s important to have one person to turn to rather than try to get information from a variety of scattered sources. With this one little project, we have all these different directions we want to take. 

Rayme Martineau
Rayme Martineau

Rayme Martineau is an Educational Consultant for Marquette-Alger RESA in Marquette, MI. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling and a Bachelors of Arts in Special Education and Psychology, both from Northern Michigan University. Rayme supports and provides services to the 82 school districts across the U.P., along with specific services for Marquette and Alger school districts. These duties include School Counselor Support, CTE, MATech Middle College, McKinney-Vento Grant Coordinator and Internship Coordinator.

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Ruby Griggs

Interview with Ruby Griggs

School Counselor at Hamtramck High School

What inspired you to want to become a school counselor?
Education is powerful. It opened a lot of opportunities for me. I liked school growing up and it was something that I was good at. When I went to college, it opened my eyes to social injustices. I grew up in homogenous, White, rural communities and didn’t really know a lot about the world. Once I went to college at University of Michigan I was more exposed to things going on. I decided that the best way to work towards improving the world was to work in education and help society become more educated, as well as help students who may not have as many opportunities. That’s what got me into the education field. I also worked for City Year in Detroit as a college advisor. I did that for a few years and that’s when I realized I wanted to be a school counselor because I want to help students with this part of their lives.

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?
Going to college, I thought I would be an engineer because I liked math and science. So I was going down that route and found myself really unhappy. I didn’t like my classes. I didn’t feel like that was the right fit. So that was a challenge, letting go of that expectation that I had for myself and then refocus on what I am passionate about. Letting that go I didn’t have a clear direction of where I was going. I knew that I didn’t want to do engineering any longer but I wasn’t sure where I was gonna end up. It was hard to trust that I would figure it out.

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?
I would let them know that nobody knows what they’re doing, everyone is trying to figure it out. Even if your parents did go to college, it was different than when they went. While they may have the cultural capital to navigate the process, it’s still new. I think the biggest thing that first generation students lack sometimes is confidence and belief in themselves that they can do it. Financial aid is also oftentimes a concert with many saying that they can’t afford it, but more often than not they are eligible for a lot more financial aid than they thought. So I would tell them don’t let that hold you back, it’s something we can figure out. I would just say the biggest lesson I would try to drive home is that you can do this. You have the ability and are capable of being successful.

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know?
Be understanding of where students are at. Students come from all different backgrounds and different life experiences so take that into consideration when teaching and when working with college students. This goes for professors, as well as administration. Some students don’t have the language or tools to advocate for themselves, so it’s important to keep that in mind.

From your perspective, what really works in college counseling/advising, access, and success?
Everything was turned upside down in the last year. Whatever may have been working may not be working any longer or vice versa, but I think this last year has taught all of us to be flexible and adaptable. It’s also pulled everyone into the virtual world, which I think is something that will help students in the future. They are very much more fluent in the virtual setting from a professional standpoint so I feel like that is something that will definitely be helpful moving forward.

How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?
In my perfect world, I would be able to dedicate more time to the students who need more support. There are always those students who already have their applications done, their FAFSA filled out, seeking you out and asking you questions.Those are the low hanging fruit right like they’re already there. Then you’ve got students in the middle where they might just need you to pull them into the office to ask questions and get their brains going. Then you’ve got those harder to reach students who are maybe less motivated or interested. I would like to be able to spend more time on that middle group and those harder to reach students, to support them and help them find their path. In the last two years, we have tried to focus a lot more on trade programs and different things that are not necessarily your traditional college experience because those are really important too. We have a lot of students that are not interested in college and are burnt out by school or they just want to work. Therefore connecting them with those programs is really going to be important in terms of getting them set up with careers that they’re going to be successful in. They can then get some type of certification or training. That’s what an equitable college advising program looks like in my perfect world.

What do you hope to gain as a school counseling fellow?
I hope to gain perspective and support from fellow school counselors, as well as increase my own toolbox of things I can try with my students. It may be that someone else did something in their program that was really successful or they may introduce me to something I am not aware of or haven’t heard of before. I think we’ve already shared many good resources with each other. It’s also nice to know that other people are going through things similar to what you’re going through. We can then provide support for each other.

Tell us about your advocacy project.
I will be collecting resources for the state of Michigan. It’s similar to the College Counseling Now campaign map https://education.sdsu.edu/cepa – though I’d like to break it down by regions. I would like to create a survey to distribute to the fellows and other educators in the different regions to try to build up the resources that we have available.

Ruby Griggs
Ruby Griggs

Ruby Griggs is in her 4th year as a school counselor at Hamtramck High School where she provides social & emotional, academic, and college & career counseling. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from University of Michigan and her Master’s in School Counseling from John’s Hopkins University. She is passionate about providing equitable opportunities to students and loves working in the diverse, urban community of Hamtramck. Ruby is always looking to expand her knowledge and learn from fellow student advocates in the education field. Her greatest joy comes from helping students find their path and empowering young people to pursue their dreams.

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#SDSUSCFellows

#SDSUSCFellows- Rakiba Mitchell

Interview with Rakiba Mitchell

School Counselor at Southeastern High School & Founder/CEO of HBC&U Legacies

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your own educational journey?

My biggest challenge was in undergrad. There was a teacher who would not allow me to do my lessons which presented some roadblocks. I noticed that my fellow cohort members didn’t have the same issues. As a result, I ended up having to wait a whole semester to take the class over again. I tried to advocate for myself, I tried to talk to the dean and anyone involved in setting up the pre student teaching. I had suspicions that the teacher was racist and a friend who had been in my cohort got hired at the school validated my suspicions. I was disheartened and past outrage, to the point where I just felt done. I also realized that this was not a good fit for me. Because of this, now that I am in this position where I am advising students about postsecondary planning I make sure they really focus on matching and ensuring that the institution and the student are a good fit. It’s important to do research beyond what’s on the computer screen, sometimes that means going in person to ask questions, even uncomfortable ones, so that you understand what your experience may be like. 

What is one thing you would tell your younger student self now?

I don’t think I necessarily challenged myself. I think I operated with the idea that if this is too hard I won’t succeed. That is why I changed my mind about being a child psychiatrist. I knew education was something that I did well because I’ve been working in school since I was in high school and I’m a fourth generation educator. My thinking was that I can do this, but in one of my classes I had a professor with a very thick accent and I didn’t understand much of what he was talking about and rather than really trying to understand my thinking changed to I don’t believe I can do this. I then changed my entire focus. So my message to my younger self would be to rise to the occasion, challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid to go after what it is you really want rather than just the interests you had in high school. I think that back then I needed to rise to challenges and that’s why I’m glad to say that now in this phase of life I’m doing things that challenge me like studying at Harvard and recognizing that I’m smart enough to do so. It’s important to also find what you are passionate about. I always tell my students that a passion is something that you love doing that if you weren’t to get paid for you would still pursue it. Though I am not endorsing going without a paycheck! 

If you could go back and visit your elementary, middle, and or high school counselor, what would you tell them?  

I had a good relationship with my high school counselor but I think because I was one of the “good” students she felt like she didn’t need to engage me. We tend to do that, society tends to do that, educators tend to do that in educational settings. The students who perform well are students we tend to engage a lot less because we have the notion that they’ll be okay because they’re performing and meeting standards. Now I’m always looking out for that student because I was one of those students.

What message of encouragement would you give to first generation students trying to figure out their postsecondary path?

A lot of our students are first generation students, and I don’t think there’s one message. I think there needs to be a consistent message of resilience and empowerment. I also think we need to teach the importance of a support system. They may not recognize that they have a support system and how to tap into those people when they’re exploring postsecondary planning and when they’re starting to apply to schools or work. Those are the people they need to lean on heavily for guidance as to how this works as it can be extremely overwhelming for students that don’t have any guidance on which path they should take.

If you could give one piece of advice to higher ed professionals, what would you want them to know? 

I think that there needs to be a lot more conversation on how we support students in their transition from high school to college. We don’t give them an understanding of expectations or what it will look like when/where they land. For example, you may take students from Detroit, a predominantly black city, and a predominately black school who have rarely been out of the city boundaries and they may land in a predominately white space. That’s going to be a major culture shock for a lot of them and they may not be ready to handle that. The question becomes how are we going to transition them into being a part of the community. Students are having a difficult time transitioning and then adding the rigor on top of that and then covid on top of that. With covid, we’re talking about seniors who haven’t seen the inside of a building in over a year so essentially they last functioned in the building as juniors and have operated fully online the entire year. Students need to have a mastery of skills in high school before they can transition to college like time management, soft skills, communication, and with covid I don’t think that they have gotten that. 

How do you hope to create a more equitable postsecondary advising system?

I am the founder and CEO of HBCU legacies and we have been providing professional development opportunities for educators for four years now. We go to conferences, high schools, churches, organizations, and whatever setting is necessary to present and talk about historically black colleges and universities. We present exploration, applications, and funding materials so that students know that they exist and how to go about accessing these resources. We engage professionals and advocate that they need to include HBCUs when talking about postsecondary planning because they deserve to be there and have a space in the conversation. Now we are taking it to the next level. We are going to start to host webinars now and allow people to purchase some of our own published resources. We are definitely contributing to the conversation and making sure the HBCS have a seat at the table.

Tell us about your advocacy project 

My work with HBCU Legacies will be developed into an advocacy project. We are working to make sure that we’re advocating for HBCUs at every level. Our target audience was mostly high schools, but now we are going to target elementary and middle schools so we can start the conversation earlier. 

Rakiba Mitchell
Rakiba Mitchell

Rakiba Mitchell, MA, LPC, NCC is a school counselor, adjunct professor and mixed media artist.
During her 22 year tenure as an educator she has received a multitude of honors which are inclusive of being selected for the 2020 Inaugural School Counselor Leadership Fellows Program at San Diego State University, 2019 College Board National Counselor Recognition Program, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent’s Service Award (2019) and 2015 College Signing Day Panelist featuring FLOTUS Michelle Obama.
Ms. Mitchell is the Founder and CEO of HBC&U Legacies, a team of educators who facilitate professional development workshops that provide the necessary tools for implementing an HBCU inclusive college-going culture. HBC&U Legacies was recognized at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated 88th Great Lakes Regional Conference as Community Superstars for their work with HBCU advocacy & promotion.
In 2019, Ms. Mitchell designed AfroShe Collection©—mixed media acrylic collage paintings that celebrate the essence of black women. She enjoys creating masterpieces that foster representation and was Blac Detroit magazine’s featured artist of the week in January 2021. She is also an expert at creating virtually interactive educational experiences.
Ms. Mitchell is also an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Eta Iota Omega Chapter.