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Virginia College Advising Corps Lights the Path to Higher Education

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:07
Katie McNally

In 2005, the University of Virginia launched the Virginia College Advising Corps (then called the College Guide Program), seeking to narrow the growing college access gap for low-income, first-generation and under-represented students. As it marks its 10th anniversary this year, the corps is also celebrating a new wave of growth in Charlottesville and beyond.

An AmeriCorps-affiliated program, the College Advising Corps trains recent U.Va. graduates to offer “near-peer” college advising support to high school students and help them apply to a wide range of higher education institutions. Each adviser is placed in a different Virginia community, where they work full-time at the local high school for two years. Their salaries are paid through a combination of AmeriCorps grants and funds from private donors.

In 2005, the program placed advisers in 14 high schools around the commonwealth; they are now in 23.

“We just added four new high schools in the Northern Neck,” the program’s director, Joy Pugh, said.

To date, the program has helped more than 10,000 Virginia high school students enroll in post-secondary institutions. While students are encouraged to apply to colleges all over the country, a number of advisees set their sites on the University every year.

“I had five students come to U.Va. this year from Nelson County,” said adviser Rebecca Hawes, a 2014 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences who is starting her second year working at Nelson County High School.

Like her students, Hawes attended a rural high school and knows how intimidating the college application process can be when you come from a smaller community.

“I was lucky to have a good support system in my family, but I felt like within my high school there wasn’t a lot of push for me to go to a competitive or elite school,” she said. “I wanted to help more students see all the opportunities open to them.”

Hawes’s five Nelson-to-U.Va. students are among 88 members of U.Va.’s Class of 2019 who benefitted from the program. At U.Va. alone, there has been a 94 percent increase in students matriculating from College Advising Corps-served high schools since the program began.

Some of those students are driven to give back to the program that put them on the path to Grounds.

“I knew I wanted to come back locally and help the community where I grew up and learned so much,” said Patrick County High School adviser Emily Wimmer.

Wimmer, also a 2014 graduate of the College, had her own adviser when she was a senior at Martinsville High School. She credits her adviser with helping her overcome the information gap that was holding her back on college applications.

“Neither of my parents really had experience with how to apply to college and what we needed to do,” Wimmer said. “I had a college adviser named Chelsea Duncan, and she really helped me through the whole process, step by step.”

After following in her adviser’s footsteps, Wimmer is thrilled to see the impact she is having in the lives of her students.

“I had this wonderful student who didn’t have much support from home. She was first-generation, low-income, and really wanted to go to U.Va. or William & Mary,” Wimmer said. “She ended up getting into both. I helped her with financial aid and she got a full ride from U.Va. I just texted her yesterday to check in, and she is so happy being in Charlottesville now.”

In addition to giving back, advisers also have the opportunity to advance their own educational goals through the program. Upon completion of their two years of service, each receives an $11,000 education award that can be used for graduate studies or the repayment of student loans. Still, for many the greatest reward is watching how their students mature and gain confidence throughout the application process.

“I saw certain students that I worked with change over the course of the year,” said Staige Davis, adviser to Charlottesville High School and a 2014 graduate of the College. “I had one student that could advocate for herself in person, but didn’t like to talk on the phone and she had several financial aid questions that had to be made over the phone.”

Davis sat with the girl as she made the calls, carefully going over what she should ask beforehand. By the spring, the student was able to call on her own for all the information she needed and was no longer afraid to reach out with questions.

Due to the College Advising Corps’ success, students all around the country now have access to the kind of in-person support that Davis provides. The program became the model for the National College Advising Corps – now the College Advising Corps – in 2007.

Using U.Va. as an example, the national corps has set up similar programs with 23 university partners  in 14 other states. They served more than 144,000 students during the 2014-15 school year.

As the scale of the Virginia College Advising Corps and its national counterpart continue to grow, the advisers see their individual impact every day.

“There are students who I sat down with a couple times a week to work on applications, and I feel pretty sure that no one else would have done that with them,” Davis said. “Without that support, I don’t think they would have gone on to college and that would be a real loss.”

Interview Prep Week Readies Students for Influx of Employers

Mon, 2015-08-31 16:54
Caroline Newman

Now that students are settling into their routines, the University of Virginia is preparing for another wave of new arrivals: the recruiters eager to hire U.Va. students after graduation.

“Our goal is to make U.Va. the top place companies come to recruit, both for the quality of our students and the quality of the service,” said Everette Fortner, associate vice president of career and professional development. “Coming from a tradition of student self-governance, our students are client-ready. Employers feel comfortable putting them in front of a client or customer.”

Already, 189 companies have reserved slots once on-Grounds interviews begin Sept. 21. That number is higher than in past years and is expected to increase as more employers sign up for later interviews in the fall and spring.

“Participation has grown and companies – particularly those looking at students across all majors – are coming earlier and more often,” Assistant Director for Employer Relations Dillon Kuhn said. “Our days are filling up like never before and we have needed to find extra rooms to accommodate the demand.”

Full-Time Employment and On-Grounds Interviewing Preparation

To prepare students for this influx of potential employers, the U.Va. Career Center is launching an “On-Grounds Interview Prep Week,” which kicks off today. Students can attend introductory sessions explaining the logistics of on-Grounds interviews and sign up for résumé reviews and one-on-one mock interviews with alumni, employers or career counselors.

The week concludes with a Consulting Symposium training students in the case interview process, a common practice among the top consulting firms due to arrive on Grounds. (See a full schedule of the week’s events.)

Consulting and finance companies have traditionally used on-Grounds interviewing as a major part of their recruitment strategy and continue to do so. However, they are increasingly joined by companies in other industries that are interested in majors across the arts and sciences. 

“U.Va. has always attracted many consulting, investment banking and Fortune 100 companies, but many students are surprised by the breadth and variety of companies beyond those segments that are coming to Grounds,” Fortner said.

Two years ago, supported by the U.Va. Parents Fund, the University established a job developer position dedicated to building relationships with employers that recruit outside of business or engineering; Kristian Robinson, a May graduate of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, currently holds the position. The investment has paid off: last year, on-Grounds interview participation among College of Arts & Sciences students increased by 56.7 percent. Huge companies like Google, General Electric and the National Basketball Association and major nonprofits like Teach for America now come to Grounds, looking for students to fill a wide variety of roles.  

“We expect that growth to continue,” Kuhn said. “Employers are looking across majors for students who have a strong critical thinking and communications background.”

Students can find an even wider variety of opportunities posted on CavLink, U.Va.’s jobs board. In August alone, more than 500 companies combined to post more than 1,000 jobs.

“The job postings include a broad, rich set of companies that might not travel to Grounds because they only need a few employees, but that are nonetheless very interested in hiring U.Va. graduates,” Fortner said. 

Internships and Student Employment

Younger students will find that this year’s internship opportunities come early and often.

“Competition for top student interns has grown and some companies are moving their internship interviewing earlier in the fall,” Fortner said. “This puts a lot of pressure on students who have just chosen their major, and is one reason that we have added extra preparation opportunities.”

On Friday, the Career Center hosted its first Student Employment and Internship Fair showcasing employment opportunities among different departments on-Grounds, which include opportunities in finance, marketing and product development. 

“The University is really a microcosm of the broader world of work, and employment on-Grounds can be a fantastic launching point for careers beyond U.Va.,” said Kimberly Link, associate director of the U.Va. Internship Center.

The Internship Center helps students find experiential learning opportunities and prepare applications with one-on-one advising and small-group workshops. Additionally, students in any year can join one of six new Career Communities to connect with alumni and employers in their field of interest. Communities available this year include Business, Creative Arts, Media and Design, Education, Government and Law, Engineering, Science and Technology, and Public Service.

“We just registered 2,000 first-year students for Career Communities at the Student Activities Fair, which is an amazing response. I am so excited for students to engage with with this new approach. Career Communities personalize and bring careers into focus in what can be a very overwhelming process,” Link said. “For students just starting their U.Va. experience, this is the perfect time to explore careers, get involved on Grounds, consider student employment or job shadowing and build their skills.

Beginning that preparation now will help students secure opportunities that can sharpen their personal goals and successes in post-graduation employment.

“Students often tell me that they do not know what they want to do, but the only way to find out is to start trying opportunities through internships, externships or job shadowing,” Fortner said. “You will learn what you like and what you are good at and you will be that much closer to finding what you are passionate about.” 

Students looking to begin their career search should connect with the U.Va. Career Center. Parents or alumni interested in recruiting U.Va. students for job or internship opportunities may contact Assistant Director for Employer Relations Dillon Kuhn.

Study: Following the Pack in Adolescence Leads to Health Benefits Down the Road

Mon, 2015-08-31 12:09
Fariss Samarrai

Though teenagers often are warned to beware of the undue influence of peer pressure, new research suggests that following the pack in adolescence may have unexpected long-term benefits for physical health in early adulthood.

The study is published this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

University of Virginia psychology professor Joseph P. Allen and U.Va. education researcher Christopher A. Hafen, along with research colleague Bert N. Uchino of the University of Utah, found that physical health in adulthood could be predicted based on the quality of close friendships in adolescence. In addition, efforts to conform to peer norms were actually linked to higher-quality health in adulthood.

“These results indicate that remaining close to – as opposed to separating oneself – from the peer pack in adolescence has long-term implications for adult physical health,” Allen said. “In this study, it was a robust predictor of increased long-term physical health quality.”

The intense adolescent focus on forming and maintaining peer relationships may well result from an instinctive recognition that these relationships are linked to well-being, according to the authors.

“Peer relationships provide some of the most emotionally intense experiences in adolescents’ lives, and conformity to peer norms often occurs even when it brings significant costs to the individual,” they state in their article. “Cross-cultural research has found that an approach to social interactions that emphasizes placing the desires of one’s peers ahead of one’s own goals – much as adolescents do when they conform to peer norms – is linked to reduced life stress.”

Essentially, Allen and colleagues hypothesized that “following the herd” and having close, supportive relationships in adolescence would lower the risk of having stress-related health problems in adulthood. To test this, they recruited a diverse group of 171 seventh- and eighth-graders and followed them from ages 13 through 27.

Each participant nominated their closest same-gendered friend at the time to be included in the study. From ages 13 through 17, the participants’ best friend filled out a questionnaire assessing the overall quality of the friendship, including the degree of trust, communication and alienation in the relationship. Friends also provided information about how much participants focused on fitting in with their peers.

Participants’ health quality was then assessed annually at ages 25, 26 and 27 with questions about their overall health, anxiety and depression symptoms, and body mass index.

To account for possible health problems, participants also reported on distinct medical diagnoses as well as any hospitalizations.

Results indicated that both high-quality close friendships and a drive to fit in with peers in adolescence were associated with better health at age 27, even after taking other potentially influential variables into account, such as household income, body mass index and drug use.

The findings signaled that adolescent relationship qualities might come to influence adult health through decreased levels of later anxiety and depressive symptoms.

“Although autonomy-establishing behavior is clearly of value in modern Western society, in which daily survival threats are minimal, it may have become linked to stress reactions over the course of human evolution, when separation from the larger human pack was likely to bring grave danger,” Allen and his colleagues wrote.

“From a risk and prevention perspective, difficulty forming close relationships early in adolescence may now be considered a marker of risk for long-term health difficulties,” Allen said.

The authors suggest that future efforts to promote long-term health should consider the quality of social relationships in adolescence in addition to more commonly investigated health risks, such as obesity and smoking.