Member Spotlight

Dr. Erin Almond, KIPP Through College Program, Jacksonville (FL)

When Dr. Erin Almond started with KIPP Jacksonville in 2013, she spent a lot of time listening to students and parents to understand what was important to them in regard to their education beyond KIPP so that she could provide the best counseling and transition experience.

Dr. Almond’s work has evolved quite a bit since then. As the Director of KIPP Jacksonville’s KIPP Through College (KTC) program, Dr. Almond leads a team to support our recent alumni in high school, as well as our college-aged alumni, to ensure that they are equipped to pursue the paths they choose–college, career, and beyond.

Additionally, Dr. Almond manages college partnerships that enable KIPP to provide additional levels of support for students and looks forward to how the KIPP Jacksonville KTC program can expand.  This year as KIPP Jacksonville plans to open KIPP Bold City HIgh School, she and her team are working to plan ways to extend the runway for postsecondary access by providing targeted programming in 9th grade.

In addition to leading the KIPP Through College team, this year she worked closely with regional leadership to support equity initiatives, including helping to lead an equity team that was charged with creating an inclusive process to define the first KIPP Jacksonville Regional Equity Vision. Dr. Almond views this equity work as deeply important and necessary in ensuring that students have an experience at school where they are seen, valued, and affirmed.

Dr. Almond earned her Doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration in organizational leadership. Her dream is to be able to take this work and build strategic partnerships within the community to further college access for all students.

“I have a deep love and respect for our students and their families. I view our role as one that helps them to see the array of opportunities available, and helps them overcome obstacles that may prevent them from being able to pursue those opportunities.”

Serving the Underserved in Puerto Rico

Dr. Maria Rosa Bruno, University High School – University of Puerto Rico

by Celeste Suris-Rosselli, Baldwin School of Puerto Rico

It has long been acknowledged the inequity that exists in the public school system, a fact that could not be more true of the public school system in Puerto Rico. Not tied to property taxes or limited to geography, the public school system on the island was centralized upon its inception to provide more consistency in access and instruction. Decades later, the centralized system continues to face significant decline.

It was the disparity of the system that inspired DJ Meehan, Director of College Counseling at Saint John’s School, to seek out SACAC’s support. Together, we pitched the first Mini-Camp College event held in August of 2019. With the support of current and past SACAC members Giselle Martin, Karen Vargas, Joe Latimer, Claudia Marroquin, Jimmy Suarez, Yamilette Medina-López Danita Salone, Carolina Echevería, Marilina Matta, Claire Oxford, and Jessika García we held two mini-camp college sessions. We were excited and looking ahead to Mini-Camp College 2020 but the pandemic paused our plans. This allowed us to see how we could improve on the program’s initial success.

Enter Dr. Maria Rosa Bruno.

Mari Rosa is the heart of the college counseling department at the University High School, the laboratory high school for the University of Puerto Rico(UPR). This public school serves about 500 students from 7th to 12th grade, and it offers dual enrollment courses as part of the college preparatory program. UHS was created so that the students in the university’s education department could do their practicum and develop new ideas, launch projects, and conduct research. Prospective students must pass a rigorous battery of exams similar to the college admissions process of the UPR to gain admission, making UHS one of the most competitive schools on the island. Notable alumni include two former mayors of San Juan, Hector Luis Acevedo and Carmen Yulin Cruz; current coach of the Boston Red Sox, Alex Cora; and celebrated Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

DJ and I knew Mari Rosa for years as our paths crossed at dozens of counselor events. As we looked to expand the program, we knew that Mari Rosa would be an essential ally.  Though not a member of our organization, Mari Rosa has long felt the support of members. Karen Vargas, Mario Silva-Rosa, Marie Nocella, and Julie Maloney took the road less traveled and helped her increase the number of students who pursue their education in the mainland.

It was this experience that led to Mari Rosa joining our team, and for the past year, we’ve met to plan the next phase of Mini-Camp College. This newfound partnership with UHS and the UPR’s education and counseling departments will help us expand our outreach to students like those at UHS and other underserved communities. Together, we want to broaden their access to public schools on the island and expand their recruitment efforts, as well as connect with them and their families.

Colleges can start to bridge this divide by learning more about how the system works and what college options students have available. The island has a strong college-going culture, but finances keep many students from going away when more affordable options are available to them within our state and private college system. The PAA is a College Board entrance exam similar to the SAT and used for admission in Puerto Rico and at Fordham University, NYU, Bentley University, Assumption University, University of Connecticut, University of Texas at El Paso, and Temple University.  In PR, students in the public school system take the PAA for free twice before their senior year, and on average, 2,000 sit for the SAT while close to 30,000 take the PAA.

Community-based organizations like the Kinesis Foundation and their Bright Stars program have made inroads in offering students in underserved communities guidance during the college search process. Community programs like Caminando Con Caimito and POSSE’s new partnership with Bard College and the Lin-Manuel Miranda Foundation hope to increase mainland college-going rates.

Getting to know the PAA, the history of the public school system, and connecting with counselors like Mari Rosa are key ways our organization will be vital in opening doors to students in Puerto Rico.

Highlighting John Palmer Rea

John Palmer Rea, Belmont University, Nashville, TN

John Palmer Rea started as a student recruiter and student worker in admissions when he was enrolled at Belmont University (Nashville, TN).  He managed and trained all of our tour guides and became president of our student Bruin Recruiter organization of over 130 volunteers.  He found a passion for higher education, and we hired him immediately upon graduation as an admission counselor.  He left Belmont from 2018-2019 to be a regional recruiter for University of Mississippi and lived in Atlanta where he did what he does best – developed strong personal and professional relationships with the school counselors and other recruiters in the Atlanta area.

In 2019, we hired him back as an Assistant Director where he has been an invaluable team member. From training and mentoring new counselors, answering many questions from the team, organizing the logistics of our virtual events, to being the Honors program liaison, he is always willing to help lend a hand for our team (and recommend a local coffee shop in the cities in which he travels!). For the profession, he served as Faculty Member for two consecutive years with the Dry Run annual SACAC workshop in 2019 & 2020, where he mentored new professionals and facilitated sessions about best practices within the industry. He is an amazing face and voice for the profession and a brilliant advocate for the students. He always knows the right thing to say and extends kindness and grace. As a mentor, he has helped us learn our CRM, helped with planning travel, and even shadowed our beginning sessions to give feedback. He is committed to pursuing excellence and does his job so well. We are so grateful to have John Palmer on our team.

The Facts and Feelings of Choosing Your College or University: Tips

Bryan Rutledge, Director of College Counseling, Woodward Academy, College Park, GA

If you are a counselor trying to help students make college decisions this spring (or summer), we hope you will find these tips helpful to share with students!

The waiting is finally over, and you know your admission results. Congratulations on the acceptances you have earned. In addition to meeting all your academic, co-curricular, and family obligations, you have been welcomed to college or university communities and your path to a bright future. Now you get to choose; but how do you go about it? Here are some tips, and of course, remember you can also consult your college or school counselor.

1. Decide about any waitlists and focus on your options.

If you are on a waitlist for admission, follow any directions to reaffirm interest should you wish to pursue it. Then, set the matter aside and focus on making a choice among the available options. If you decline a waitlist offer, you might create an option for someone who would like to have it. You can withdraw your application to any school where you have been wait-listed or admitted and are no longer interested. Think of those who will benefit from your anonymous gift.

2. Be creative about researching colleges and universities.

Not being able to visit colleges and universities in person is a hassle, but there are work-arounds. Some are offering visits by appointment, and others may do so in the near future. Virtual tours and admitted student online events can help as well. Reach out to current college students to get a diversity of opinions. You can contact the administrators and student leaders in identity and affinity groups (sometimes via social media) to learn what campus life is really like and what kind of community resources are available. Some colleges and universities are extending the May 1 enrollment confirmation deadline, creating more time for you to research and weigh your options. Stay in touch with the undergraduate admissions offices via their websites. Most have admission reps designated by territory. Email this person with your questions or concerns. Don’t hesitate to reach out and pose questions to admissions and financial aid counselors and to follow up with them. They want you to enroll and are eager to help.

3. Weigh your options and lean on your wise advisors.

Ask yourself, “What is the current state of my interests and plans, and have they changed, or have I changed, in the past year? What do I think now about the size, cost, diversity and inclusion, distance from home, academic and career opportunities, co-curricular life, virtual or in person learning, and surrounding community of my college or university options? What kind of residential life suits me, and are learning/living communities available? Would more research lead me to a destination that will feel like a second home? Am I choosing based on vague reasons or thoughtful analysis?” Some students organize the pros, cons, and offerings of each college or university on a spreadsheet. Also, now is the time to turn to the wise advisers in your life. Instead of asking them where you ought to enroll, consider asking, “Would you describe my strengths and interests?” You can take it from there.

4. If you’re undecided about your college major or college life, reach out directly to professors, administrators, or college students.

Many students are undecided about their major or career, and that’s fine. At the same time, you’ve probably narrowed it down or have combinations in mind, and that’s all you need to launch your college major research. But how do you get started? Email your admission counselor or just email the academic department(s) at your prospective school. Ask if you can communicate with a professor in your preferred field of study or an upper-level student majoring in that field. These conversations could be game-changers.

5. Check in with the Career Planning Office.

One of your most vital resources is the career planning office. Call or email them as well, tell them the majors/minors that most interest you, and ask what they can do to guide and assist students with your particular interests. What are their services for internships, alumni networks, popular companies that interview, summer jobs, interest surveys, resume and interview services, and career/professional school placement? Estimate all the time and money you and your family will invest in your undergraduate experience. After you have caught your breath, ask yourself whether your outcome in four short years is worth some college major and career planning. You should build a working relationship with your school’s career planning department no later than your first semester.

6. Consider how you’ll finance college.

Let’s introduce the elephant in the room: Money. Money isn’t everything, but it’s very important. Choices you make now will profoundly affect your future financial life. Low interest college loans can enable futures that would otherwise be out of reach. At the same time, consider that, in 2019, the average debt for Georgia college graduates was more than $28,000. Consider the impact of debt on your early career and what it will mean for your lifestyle, freedom, and graduate or professional school choices. Ensure that you thoroughly understand the details of any financial awards; if you’re not sure, reach out to the financial aid office. If you have been invited to a school’s honors program, contact the program director to learn about all the enrichment it provides. If you haven’t been invited, find out how you might earn your way in after enrollment if that looks appealing.

Once you have enrolled and gravitate toward your academic major(s), speak with professors about departmental funds that could enhance your learning. Perhaps you could become a tutor or research/technical assistant. (What a terrific way to network with faculty!) After your first year, student jobs may open in the residence life office. Be creative: If you can construct a website, whip up tasty pastries, or bench press a car, you can make money. Also, consider the potential earning power of your college major. If you are planning a major in the humanities, social sciences, or fine arts, that’s great; yet it might be a good idea to consider adding a minor or double-major in something like computer science, business, natural science, or communications. The good news is that colleges and universities are more flexible than ever at helping you tailor your undergraduate experience to your particular needs and plans.

7. Keep going, and keep your sense of humor.

While these tips are a good starting place, there is so much guidance available, including recommended reading.


General guides:

The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together by Brennan Bernard and Rick Clark; There Is Life After College by Jeffrey Selingo; Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be; and Colleges Worth Your Money by Belasco, Bergman, and Trivetto.

Remember, these simple words will see you through many challenges: Own your education, keep up, and keep a sense of humor!

Community Based Organization Spotlight: The Peer Power Foundation (TN)

Sydney Olojo, Director of Storytelling, Peer Power Institute

The Peer Power Foundation (Memphis, TN) is a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains high-performing college students to deliver high-dosage tutoring and mentorship in public schools. The organization launched in 2005 as a unique student-to-student tutoring concept at East High School, hiring 40 high school honors students to tutor and mentor their peers. This inaugural effort led to better academic performance, increased school involvement and increased motivation from students. This has led to what Peer Power is today–a tutoring-mentoring program that has served more than 28,000 students to date. The tutors, now called Success Coaches, are high-performing, compassionate college students who have strong subject-content knowledge. Peer Power provides Success Coaches with competitive wages, flexible schedules, internship credit opportunities and essential life and job skills. The organization aims to improve the lives of the diverse talent who help carry out the mission of inspiration and empowerment. From learning how to design and deliver educational content to developing interpersonal skills that navigate classes in-person and online, Success Coaches build impressive resumes for future opportunities.


Peer Power partnered with the University of Memphis and Shelby County Schools (SCS) beginning in 2015. The program now employs 131 Success Coaches who are placed in classes to assist an assigned teacher with lesson design and delivery. Through consistent high-dosage tutoring, Success Coaches offer more individualized learning experiences and provide immediate attention and feedback to students. Peer Power also offers other opportunities for SCS students, like test prep instruction through an ACT Prep University program where more than 4,500 students have been served. On average, students who attend the full round achieve a 3.4 composite score increase. Peer Power also partners with The University of Memphis Office of Admissions and Financial Aid to give students who excel in academics an exclusive recruitment experience, orienting them to college life with access to counselors for student and parent questions. Since the start of this program, there’s been an increase in enrollment to the University of Memphis from partner school students.


In 2018, The Peer Power Institute was launched at the University of Memphis to work with leadership in different academic departments to coordinate development, gather data and improve the quality of services. Through partnership with the University of Memphis, Peer Power also provides a comprehensive, paid internship experience. There are multiple options for students entering the internship program, including job and course credit opportunities. Additionally, the Peer EmPOWERment Fellowship will launch at the University of Memphis in Fall of 2021; incoming freshmen will have the chance to take Peer Power staff-led courses. There they can earn a competitive wage as a Success Coach, take academic courses to better prepare them for their role as tutors and mentors in SCS classrooms and attend monthly personal, professional and leadership development training. Peer Power’s vision is to create a world where all children are provided the ability to learn and grow regardless of their zip code, and the passionate college students Peer Power works with make positive change possible.

This Day in 1965: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Bill Pruden, College Counselor/Director of Civic Engagement, Ravenscroft School

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a centerpiece of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislative program.  It was also a foundational part of his administration’s War on Poverty.  Indeed, when Johnson sent the bill to Congress in January 1965, he asserted his belief that the country should commit itself to “a national goal of full educational opportunity.”  For Johnson, educational opportunity was something he took personally.  The memories of his year as a teacher of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Welhausen School, a small school established primarily to serve the Mexican-American population of Cotulla, Texas, were something he never forgot. Johnson knew the value of education and the impact a teacher could have on a person’s life, and his own appreciation of what an education could mean was evident when, on April 11, 1965, he signed the new law, one that marked the beginning of a vastly expanded federal role in the nation’s educational efforts.

In a bill signing ceremony held in Johnson County, Texas, in front of his childhood school, and seated at a table next to his own elementary school teacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, Johnson made clear his deep personal commitment to education and the students it served.  Noting that the ceremony was taking place on Palm Sunday, he said that his “minister assured [him] that the Lord’s day will not be violated by making into law a measure which will bring mental and moral benefits to millions of our young people.”  The President then explained that he had come back to his childhood home for the ceremony because “I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education–to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.”  Expanding the opportunities for that magic time in which he so deeply believed would prove to be one of the most enduring legacies of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Further information on the law and its subsequent revisions and impact can be found at these websites:

SACAC Member Spotlight on Kathryn Daniels

Kathryn Daniels, College Counselor, Hammond School (SC)

How did you get started in School Counseling?

I knew I wanted to be a College Counselor from a fairly young age, which I have learned is pretty rare! I first considered it when I went through the college application process myself, as I had a wonderful College Counselor and thought, “Her job seems really cool.” However, I went off to college planning to be a high school English teacher. After one semester, though, I realized the classroom wasn’t my calling, and that I wanted to work with and support students in another realm. That’s when I revisited the idea of College Counseling and reached out to College Counselors I knew to find out more. I was even able to intern in a College Counseling office during my senior year at Vanderbilt, which really solidified that it was the right path for me! So, I made a plan: go to graduate school for Higher Education/Student Affairs and begin working in admissions, be an Admissions Counselor at few different colleges to gain experience, and then switch over to “the other side of the desk.” Miraculously, things worked out according to plan!

What was the transition like from College Admissions to High School Counseling

Because I had always wanted to eventually make the switch, it felt like a dream come true in so many ways. However, that doesn’t mean it was easy! The very first thing I realized is there is so much to learn, and you can never know everything. With thousands of colleges in the United States alone – each with their own personality, strengths, and nuances in the admissions process – the work of researching and educating myself is never done. However, that is something I truly love about this job!

How has SACAC played a role in your career?

SACAC has been an important resource to me since I was in graduate school. I took advantage of opportunities like the Drive-In Conference in South Carolina at that time, and it was an amazing way to connect with colleagues in the field and dip my toe in the waters before I began job-searching after graduation. Then, throughout my job searches, SACAC was invaluable.

One of the best experiences I have had with SACAC was participating in Summer Seminar in 2019. The guidance and resources from that experience, as well as the friendships and connections I made, are so valuable to me and were perfectly timed right at the beginning of my College Counseling journey. I highly recommend it to anyone who is new to College Counseling!

What is your best piece of advice for someone new to the profession?

My best advice would be to not be afraid to ask questions! I find that everyone in our profession is really willing to help out. From my Director who I pester with about a hundred questions a day, to my SACAC mentor, to colleagues at similar schools, I don’t ever feel alone in getting through tough situations or making big decisions. I love to utilize resources like the College Admissions Counselors Facebook group and several email listservs to crowdsource problems or gather advice. I’ve also learned to never be afraid to pick up the phone and talk through something with an Admissions Counselor! Nine times out of ten, they are happy you called and more than willing to help in any way they can.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I knew coming in that the relationships I would build with the students would be the best part, and I was right about that. Working with a student at this crucial, exciting time in their life, and being their advocate through the good and the bad is a special role. It’s also truly a joy to get to know all of these impressive young people and brag on them shamelessly to my colleagues on the other side of the desk! There is nothing more rewarding than getting to help a student find their best fit and go off to do great things in the world.

However, another thing I love about this job is that every day is different and there’s never a dull moment! Typically, I blink, and the day is over. I don’t do well in jobs where I feel bored, so the fast-paced nature and tendency to feel pulled in a lot of different directions is perfect for me.

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

I have been an avid reader my entire life, and I was an English major in college, so when I’m not working, I’m often found reading. My husband and I also love to travel, and New York City is one of my favorite places to visit because I’m an enormous musical theatre nerd. I have a five-year-old miniature bernedoodle, Fenny, and I spend a lot of time with her, or talking about her when I’m not with her. One more thing I have recently gotten into is jogging…I never would have believed it, but quarantine caused us all to do some crazy things, right?

First-Generation Experiences

Leri Argueta, Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment, University of North Georgia – Gainesville

Can you share a little bit about your journey as a first-generation Latino male through higher education? Who/what inspired you to work in higher education? What has been your experience working with students prior to higher ed? 

I always say that it is an honor to be a Latino in higher education since we are underrepresented in this field, especially in leadership roles like the one I am fortunate to have now. The journey has not been easy as I have had to battle a lot of issues systematically in this field that affect both students and staff. Often, I am put in places where I need to be vocal on issues that affect minoritized students since rarely do people look like our students in the spaces where the decision-making process happens. On the other side, it has also been one of the most rewarding professions that I have been blessed to have! With the headaches of the policies and comments made about minoritized students, the students themselves inspire and motivate me to keep pushing through! Being their champion in this field and giving back inspired me to work in higher education. Looking back at my experience, I had few student affairs professionals of color that helped me with my tough college career. To now be in this space and to be a guide for students that look like me means the world to me. I am Latinx, son of immigrants, first-generation, and from a very low-income community. I statistically am not supposed to be where I am today. Yet, here I am. To be in this position where I can assist with breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the number of underrepresented students that attend college, that is the dream. Before higher education, I worked in a non-profit for four years assisting first-generation college students in the state of Georgia. I worked with roughly 300 students during my time there.

Tell us about your first-generation programming/workshop efforts you put on for high school counseling offices and their students.  

Before COVID, we started a Shadowing Tour experience with some high school counselors that would identify first-generation students and bring them to our campuses. We would then pair up the student with a current University of North Georgia (UNG) student, and they got to experience college as “a day in the life of a UNG student.” We launched this program to show first-generation students what college was really like by attending classes and joining on-campus activities. Another program I started was partnering with a county’s academy specialist and a county-wide mentoring program in Georgia to facilitate virtual workshops such as “College like a Pro” and “College 101” with first-generation students from grades 8-12. High school counselors would promote it to their students, and I would cover various topics such as scholarships, 2-year vs 4-year degrees, and understanding financial aid. I also attend first-generation conferences and facilitate workshops for first-generation students at college fairs.

What are some effective outreach strategies that you use for counselors, students, families, etc.?

Honestly, everything. Text, call, email, and even making personal home visits. First-generation students will vary on their level of engagement and the type of communication they prefer. The key, I find, is that messaging has to be personal (not generic like “hey don’t forget x,y,x.” When the pandemic hit, we sent messages that said simply, “We know college is probably not a priority right now, but we are here for you.” Showing first-generation students that you care when you outreach, I find, tends to be the most effective way to get students to engage. Also, emailing and texting their parents too! They can help or nudge their children to respond and get ahead of the curve. We often think that our students live in a digital world; the truth is they do. However, first-generation students might need that personal and extra support from us. Last year alone I made 14 house visits assisting students with their FAFSA and college application (following COVID guidelines). I know it sounds like it is a lot of extra work; however, the relief students and families have when you do this  makes it worth it and reminds you why we do what we do.

Is there a difference in outreach to first-gen students/groups in metro areas vs. non-metro areas? 

Not sure to be honest. I typically find myself doing the same effort for metro areas vs non-metro areas. Since our state demographics are changing, I tend to see more first-generation students in metro areas engaged with outreach. However, from a recruitment side I try to always do the same amount of effort with outreach for all of Georgia since the barriers vary depending on where students live and the type of support they are receiving at home.

How do you build or use your own personal experience as a first-gen Latino male into your recruitment and programming practices?

I use my personal experience as a first-generation student to connect and relate to students and their families. While we might want to be quick and say “Why are they not doing what we are telling them to do?” I check myself a lot of times and ask myself “What was I thinking at this point of my high school career?” I also use my experience to reassure families and students that I know that the whole college application process is overwhelming. No one in my family helped me because my parents were not from the United States and never attended any form of schooling in their home country. It is a process that we have to explain and make sure we inform first-generation students and their families about since this will be their commitment for the next few years. We need to assist them with making sure they are prepared for it.

What has been your biggest win since offering first-gen programming at Georgia high schools?

One of my biggest wins was having a student come up to me after a first-generation college presentation at a high school (Pre-COVID) and hug me saying “Thank you for showing me that we can do it too.” I nearly cried because I talked about college admission, how to pick a college right for you, and my personal story at the end. I think my story resonated with her. I’m happy to report that she completed her first semester of college (at a different college) and is thriving!

What is your best piece of advice for high school counselors working with first-gen students?

Make things relatable, personable, and simple. While we may want our students to be able to figure things out quickly, first-generation students are not all at that same level. They have other external factors that may cause them to have road bumps along the way. Also, we need to be consistent with our outreach to make sure students know that we are here for them. Sending one email a month is not enough. We need to go the extra mile for our first-generation students.

Can you share any special opportunities for first-gen students at UNG or other University System of Georgia schools that high school counselors and students can look into?  

Yes! UNG offers a great mentoring program for first-generation students called Gen1 in which students get paired with faculty and staff who were also first-generation, and they receive personal mentorship! We also offer scholarships for first-generation students. Please contact me for more information regarding our programs.

What’s your favorite quote and how do you use it in your work?

My favorite quote is hands down from the Marianne Williamson poem “Our Deepest Fear.”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness

That most frightens us.”

I constantly remind myself as a first-generation professional and my first-generation students that we are capable of so many things if we believe in ourselves. I came along from that one-bedroom apartment that my mom, dad, brother, and I shared when I was a kid. Fear is not always negative; it is sometimes a call to awaken the lion you really are. What we are really capable of: that, to me, is what really frightens us.

When you finally get down time away from work, how do you like to spend your time?

When I am not working, I love to read and spend time with my family. I have a three-year-old daughter who is my world. I am striving to be the best father I can be for her since I come from a dysfunctional family.

My History with SACAC

Jonathan Ferrell, SACAC President, Director of College Counseling, Pace Academy (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing? 

I entered the profession as an admissions counselor at Centenary College, my undergraduate alma mater. While most people are excited about being accepted to law school, for me it caused great anxiety because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go in the first place, and not getting accepted would have made  my decision easy.  After a bit of soul searching I was convinced by the Director of Admissions at Centenary that I should “take a year,” work as an admission counselor, then decide what to do. That was 16 years ago! In that time I have worked on both sides of the desk, had the awesome privilege of being the team leader on both sides of the process, and have made so many lifelong friendships.  I think the thing I am most proud of accomplishing is earning my MBA.  Not so much because it’s another degree, but at the time I was in the program I was a full time student, a full time director of admission, and I was planning SACAC’s annual conference.  While I still don’t know how I did it, I was just so proud to have navigated all of those things at once.

As a professional and individual have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

I am going to redirect this answer a bit and describe a feeling that I feel more than the two you’ve asked about.  More specifically, I often feel heavy.  I’m going to paraphrase something that Maya Angelou said in a poem and it was this…though I come alone, I stand as ten thousand.  While everyone may understand those words, I think you’d have to be a leader who is often the “only” in a room to truly understand that, and the pressure and expectations it brings with it.

What are ways in which allies/accomplices in the field have/have not shown up for you? What do you wish you would see more of with respect to support from colleagues in this profession?

It has always frustrated and baffled me that in a profession that centers around education, many people continue to place the burden on those who are already burdened to teach those who need to learn. If accomplices educate themselves, there’s no way they can sit on the sidelines.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

While I am often exhausted, I do realize that I have a platform that comes along with an obligation to use my voice to speak truth.  While I am sometimes criticized for not speaking loudly enough, I don’t believe that being the loudest equals being the most impactful. What continues to affirm my passion are the many offline conversations I have with a diverse group of students and professionals day in and day out.

What are things you hope to accomplish in the future professionally or personally? 

In some ways I’ve stopped focusing so much on the future.  What I really strive to do is to be fully present in the present.  My hope is that learning to do that really well will continue to push me toward my more authentic self each day.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Silence isn’t always the best policy.  I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve walked into my office the day after an unarmed black person was shot and none of my white colleagues said a word to me about it.  I know that it’s often because they didn’t know what to say, but silence isn’t always being supportive to our colleagues.  I try and serve ALL of my students by always making sure they know that I see them and that I am always available to listen and hear them.

My History with SACAC with Briana Duncan

Briana Duncan, M.Ed (she/her/hers), College Advisor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Like many other admissions professionals, I began my career as a University Ambassador while completing my undergraduate degree. I realized my passion as students nationwide walked the campus and visualized themselves opening doors to their future through higher education. Getting my foot in the door as a front desk Admissions Office attendant at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and slowly working my way up to autonomous territory management, I desired a more in-depth knowledge of theory, student development, and policy. While leading an out-of-state recruitment team at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA (amidst a consolidation), checking in and out of Hilton properties recruiting students along the East Coast and Midwest, I started my Masters of Higher Education Administration degree. Yes, being the first in my family to complete a master’s degree was a fantastic accomplishment, and I am truly blessed, but that is not what I am most proud of achieving. My most crowning triumph was the journey itself: a millennial, black woman working full-time in a majority-white space, completing graduate coursework while managing a team of other young women of color in a small country town five hours from home, leading and practicing resilience during the 2016 presidential election – y’all. We begin careers in higher education to transform the lives of others. Still, so many times along the way, our dedication to the students and the students themselves end up changing us.

As a professional and individual, have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

COVID-19 has turned so many things upside down and changed our lives forever, but for me, it was an unexpected shift in career and a switch to the other side of the desk. As the only person of color in the Office of Admissions at a small, private institution, I was left feeling unfulfilled, misrepresented, and disrespected. Microaggressions assume many shapes and forms, and though often white and white-facing colleagues don’t mean to offend or oppress, it happens more times than not. We all know how small our region can feel. Everyone knows everyone, and word travels quickly. For the first time in my professional career, I was ready to give up and abandon all that I had worked to achieve. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind the students that ultimately keep all of us employed. Though feeling unsupported for a short time, it felt amplified while on lockdown and isolated from family and friends. Unmotivated and lost, I leaned on faith and my SACAC network. I am grateful for all of the fellowship and connections I have made and honestly advise others to find a small group of motivators and uplifters to keep you going. Lord knows I am grateful for mine.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

In the public school environment with an inner-city district, it amazes me that so many white and white-facing educators still look to BIPOC for ways to connect with students of color. Whether it be trying to garner attendance to virtual class in general or participation in programs and events, there are still many people within our industry who simply do not know or understand the obstacles that people of color face. I remain affirmed each time I reach a student through shared experience and empathy. Our students need our motivation and positivity now more than ever, and the resiliency we display will have long-lasting effects on their perception of education in the future. I do not want them ever to feel unheard, unseen, or forgotten. They matter, and their education matters, and if my presence and representation alone can do that, I will serve with a smile.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Only one piece of advice comes to mind, but if we all used this simple tip, we would be better off. SLOW DOWN. When you have an opportunity to connect with a student or colleague, those mounting emails can wait. When you find time to volunteer while traveling and recruiting students, take it and make a difference; when you need a break and feel run down, take time for yourself and your health. These institutions and offices will be there. The recruitment goals and strategic plans aren’t going away. We will also have deadlines and timelines. We know and understand their importance. You can best support your students and colleagues by being your real, rested, and refreshed self. Enjoy the ups and downs, but never take it too seriously. We owe it to each other to slow it down and show up as our best selves.