I think the student that is often overlooked is the high achieving student with low standardized test scores. I really enjoy working with these students but it is very frustrating helping them search for college money. Unless the student is low-income, there isn’t much out there for a 4.0 GPA and a 24 ACT. When these students receive extra aid or scholarships, I am always thrilled. This year I have been working with a senior who fits this description. She has an engaging personality, is well spoken and is very active in community service. She’s made excellent grades that include credit from dual enrollment and AP courses. However, her standardized test scores aren’t super high. Thankfully, more universities are starting to accommodate students who might perform well in the classroom but have significant test anxiety or other conflicts that might make it difficult to perform well on tests like the ACT. In this student’s case, she was able to qualify for a tuition scholarship at her intended university, as well as the HOPE scholarship. We are still searching for another scholarship that will fill in the remaining gaps. While I believe that we will be able to fund the majority of her education, there are still students like her who need help in filling the funding gaps.
I have one student in particular who has really shown me what my role as a NiswongerCARE Advisor is all about. His mother is disabled and doesn’t get around well. She attended his Senior meeting and knows how important each step is to getting her son to college (TN Promise, ACT Retake, FAFSA, etc.) As a result, he knows how important these things are and is in my office every day that I am there making sure he has everything done. Even though his mom is unable to come in with him to complete his FAFSA, he made sure to schedule an appointment with me for us to complete it. He asked for a list of everything he would need to bring. Seeing how enthusiastic he is for each part of the process as well as how excited he is after he completes something, is what this job is all about. He is taking initiative but still needs some help along the way and that is where NiswongerCARE is able to step in.
This is my office on a regular day. It’s small, has no windows, and runs about 15 degrees colder than the rest of the school. Past its humble offerings, this office, to me, represents so much more than its four white, windowless walls. In this office futures are discovered. Hundreds of students have sat in the rough blue chair and told their hopes and dreams to the girl in the swivel chair on the other side of the desk. When they come in, we are strangers, and when we leave that school at the end of the year, I will never see them again. But for that brief moment in time, we are partners together; both of us working together for the future. This office represents what it means to me to be a NiswongerCARE Advisor; two people working together to build a better future.
I have enjoyed every minute I have had at Happy Valley High School working as a NiswongerCARE Advisor. One of my best experiences thus far is with a specific student who is a first generation college student with big dreams. I have been able to meet with him once a week to prepare him for the college application process. By seeing his determination and resilience in preparing for applying to University of Tennessee Knoxville and creating a path to continue his education at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine I am inspired to work just as hard as him to prepare other students for post-secondary options. Seeing the light in the student’s eyes when they realize that college is a possibility and not just a fairytale is something that I hold on to each and every day I walk through the doors to work. I cannot wait to see where the rest of the year takes my students and all of the wonderful things they will accomplish!
I have had a wonderful school year working as a NiswongerCARE advisor. I have had an opportunity to work with one of the Niswonger Scholar nominees at one of the schools I serve. It has been a rewarding and humbling experience to work with a student who has so much passion and empathy towards those around her. This has been one of the highlights of my year so far. I have been able to learn about this student's plans, hopes and dreams. I got to know her interests and talents through our mock interviews and meetings. I think one of the biggest blessings of this job is being able to get know and help those students who will one day change the world.
I went into this job very nervous…nervous about doing a job well and nervous about whether or not I could truly make a difference and help students with their post-secondary transition. The first student I helped was a confused and overwhelmed senior who was struggling with organizing everything that had to be done and felt very overwhelmed. I helped her by showing her some websites with resources about the college going process and organizing the process into manageable steps. I also encouraged her by sharing my experiences as a first generation college student how overwhelming that can be. I learned through helping her that it only takes slowing down your day enough to listen to others, to know what their needs are, and being willing to help them through that process and how that can have such a great impact. You may not know the answers to all of their questions, but you can sit down with them and help them navigate websites and verbalize how stressed they are feeling so that they know there is someone there to care for them. She left my office smiling and that left me smiling, too. It only takes a willing heart and open ears to truly make a difference.
This year, I have had the opportunity to work with hardworking open minded students. One student in particular comes to mind. This student has aspirations to become a diesel mechanic through Universal Technical Institute in Arizona. Together we were able to research his financial options and application timeline. The student was also open to keeping his options open and applying to a TCAT in Tennessee. Working with this students like this case makes me appreciate the chance to provide options and hope for students of all backgrounds.
Change is hard. Life after college is confusing. What job will I have? Will it fit what I did in college? Where will I live? Who will I be close to? What am I doing with my life?! The last months of college were the most stress-filled I have ever experienced. I had never written a resume or interviewed for a professional position; expectations were higher and the stakes were raised. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I was capable and that I would be ok, but I had no idea how to get there. My personal expectations were the scariest – I knew I had potential to do something meaningful, and I knew not accomplishing that would be crushing. I would not have navigated this time in my life successfully if not for the people who invested in my future with me, shared my goals, and guided me in realizing them. Now, I have the opportunity every day to share my experience and invest in others with the unique perspective of having just gone through that time myself, because I know. Change is hard. Life after high school is confusing. How can I help?
I think the most interesting part (so far) of being a NiswongerCARE Advisor is thinking back at how scared and nervous I was during my training, but then walking into my schools and being embraced with open arms. This opportunity has been the biggest blessing. During my first week at one of my schools, I was given access to a classroom for a full day of presentations. It was exciting to know that I was making a difference and I could see it by the end of the day. I have had a lot of success in different ways. At Clinch, we have 100% TN Promise application completion rate. At Volunteer, I have seen over 100 students and many have them have returned to ask questions- which is awesome! At Morristown West, it has felt like I am coming home. I'm from the area so knowing I am making a difference in my hometown means all the world to me. The thing I love most about my three schools is that each has a personality of their own. I have built some wonderful relationships with my counselors and appreciate them for guiding me along the way. This experience has been so rewarding already and I can't wait to see what exciting things are around the corner with upcoming Path to College events!
I graduated from Hancock County High School in 2006 as Valedictorian. Being the top of my class did very little to foster a sense of school or community pride. I wanted to get out of HCHS and out of Sneedville to move on to the bigger world and to a “more cultured” environment. But something happened the longer I was away from home. There was loss of family and friends through various methods that life serves up to us. And with that loss came an appreciation and a nostalgia for the small town community I had spent the first chapter of my life trying so hard to escape.
Sneedville and specifically my parents’ home became a safe haven from the stress and the pressures that come along with working through higher education. The more time that distanced me from my high school career, the more I longed for a way to return to my past. I looked for opportunities to return home. Any family gathering, community event, holiday, every special occasion I took the chance to return home to see my people, my mountains, my trees, and my clear skies full of twinkling stars unblocked by city lights. But as many people come to find out, in education time is sparse and sometimes educations to step away are few and far between.
A chance encounter in a classroom with a presentation by the director of the NiswongerCARE program changed this. There it was, Sneedville, on a PowerPoint, with statistics about college going and success rate. Someone was reaching out to the students trying to better themselves. Someone was working with the students walking the same halls and sitting in the same classrooms that I had been 10 years prior. And then I was given an opportunity for that someone to be me. I jumped at the opportunity and everything that it meant.
I came home in a new role ready to share my experiences and advice about making the transition out of the small town, and they would listen because I had been a part of both worlds. I was welcomed in a way that I had never been before. I was welcomed by students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Everyone was able to sense that I was no longer a student trying so hard to escape, but that I was a young professional trying to give back and join back into the community that had grown to have a special place in my life and in my heart. And the most amazing thing was that I was able to help change lives. Parents were able to have someone to go to throughout the college application process. I feel I made the transition easier for the families of first-generation students to send their child off to better opportunities.
The school would assist me in any way possible because I had been one of those students and now I was sharing that same chance with others. And looking at familiar faces of teachers, faculty, and students that had been in my cohort graduating, I really learned that the people living and working in these communities were not the ones that “never made it out” as I had thought so long ago, but were instead those that had gone out, worked toward something to give back to their community, and had come home to the mountains and to the Hancock County people that we had always taken with us in our hearts.
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