Join the AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides!

We’re halfway through the year with our current College Guide cohort of 75 members, and we’re ready to start looking for next year’s team!

For the 2018-2019 service year, College Guides will serve at ten different host sites around Ohio: Canton (Stark Education Partnership); Cleveland (College Now Greater Cleveland); Cleveland (Esperanza, Inc.); Cincinnati (Cincinnati Youth Collaborative); Columbus (I Know I Can); Marietta (Connect to Success); Oberlin (Ninde Scholars Program); Warren (Mahoning Valley College Access Program); Yellow Springs (Greene County College Success Partnership); and Zanesville (Scholarship Central).

The College Guides serve as advisors, mentoring and guiding typically underserved Ohioans—first generation college-going, low-income, and minority—in getting the information and knowledge they need and deserve to prepare for, access, and complete a post–secondary credential. On any given day a College Guide could be meeting with students individually, administering workshops in classrooms, talking with a parent to explain the FAFSA, chaperoning a college visit, or so much more.

In addition to the Ohio College Guide program, we are looking for ten members to serve in the Cleveland Metropolitan School district as AmeriCorps College and Career Guides. These Guides primarily serve 8th and 9th grade students, focusing on career exploration and readiness. Their days could include administering personality tests to students and coaching them through their results, supporting 8th graders in choosing their best fit high school, helping students explore and secure summer opportunities, and endless other activities.

To apply to either program, please email a cover letter and resume to Jennylee Gandarilla at jgandarilla@collegenowgc.org. In addition, please complete the official AmeriCorps application at my.americorps.gov.

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Reflections on the Americorps College Guide Experience

Over the past months, I have been serving as an Early Awareness College Advisor to seventh and eighth graders.  It has been an absolutely engaging and educational time.  Not only have I been given the opportunity to educate the 7th and 8th grade students I work with about college, but also I have [also] been learning a lot myself.  When I go into my classrooms, I cannot help but reflect about my own life.

I am a woman who has been born and raised on the south side of Chicago; many of the students I work with remind me of myself.  Just as I have shared with my students, I am sharing with you that I have chosen to serve because I was once one of them.  When I was in the 7th and 8th grades, no one came in to talk to me about college.  In fact, I did not start to realize the importance of, and learn more about, college until my second and third years of high school.

College was something new in my household.  I am a first generation college graduate; when it was time to apply for college, the help that I received was from outside resources. My mother knew that I was going to college, but she was not able to help me with the details of going.  I consider myself lucky to have participated in a program called AVID- a college access program in high school.  The teacher for that program became more than just my teacher.  Therefore, when I applied for this position, I could not help but think of her.  She made a huge impact in my life and the lives of others; if it was not for her, I do not believe I would have been a high school or college graduate.  I serve because like me, many of the students will also be first generation college students, and receiving help early on makes a big difference.

I serve because I know that young lives matter and all they need is a little assistance.  It is more than just service to me; it is a difference that is being made in the lives of future teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, pilots, cosmetologists, and more.  I know I am making a difference when my students come to me to ask questions about future their future plans.  I serve because I want young people to know that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

Why I Chose to Become an AmeriCorps Ohio College Guide

From an early age, I have always felt that my purpose in life was to help motivate and inspire youth. I am referring to poverty-stricken youth. I am referring to individuals who are constantly brought down by the society that they live in. I am referring to individuals who are repeatedly told that they perform significantly lower in all academic areas than their counterparts. The problems that students face within education should not simply be “talked about.” A conversation gets you nowhere unless there is action behind it.

I chose to serve with the AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides because I wanted to be that “action.” Education has always been paramount in my life, but the road to education was not always an easy path for me. I truly believe that individuals across the world can overcome through/with the power of testimony-not just any testimony, but a testimony that is not at all perfect. When I speak of testimony, I am speaking of experience. AmeriCorps is an amazing outlet to spread my testimony to countless individuals who need a push in the right direction. When a person is able to identify with another person on the basis of experience, it makes one not feel so alone.

I also chose to be an AmeriCorps Ohio College Guide because I love the idea of being “of service.” When you serve others, it puts full focus, attention, and dedication on the person in need, rather than yourself. AmeriCorps is truly a vehicle of great change.

A Day in the Life of an Ohio College Guide

This year is going by way too fast. I also think it goes faster being an AmeriCorps Ohio College Guide. What is a day like as an Ohio College Guide? Crazy. That’s what it is. When I originally took this job opportunity, I had no idea just how busy I was going to be. Every day is different. I bet you are wondering what I do?  As a guide, I do many things – I may work in a high school, in our Scholarship Central office, out in the community, at a conference, or whatever else that may be thrown my way.

Most days, I work within a local high school.  A “College Guide” is to help guide students through the college going process. They come into my office and I tell them about scholarship opportunities, financial aid, FAFSA, we work on activities sheets, fill out scholarship applications, or sign up for the ACT. I assist many seniors in this way. For the underclassman, I talk to them about funding their education, how to find the right college for them, and get them to start thinking about what they want to do with their lives. This is interesting, because at 22, I am unsure as to what I would like to do with the rest of my life. But, as I tell my students, it is important to have a plan and start thinking about how you want to start your life and where you want your life to take you. After all, life is what you make it.

At Scholarship Central, I meet with students individually, prepare for community projects, and input data into our system.  Keeping track of the data allows us to know how many students we have served and how we have affected their lives. I love building relationships with the students and parents. It is neat to watch the students develop a plan to go to college and pursue what they want for themselves.

When I am out and about in the community, I volunteer for local events. For example, I have helped serve food at a local food pantry. Scholarship Central also put on a luncheon for the first responders in our community for the anniversary of 9/11. I am currently leading a project for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The other Guides and I have met with local minority students for this event and helped them prepare to receive a scholarship. We also attended the event where the students were honored for their work.  This project has been my favorite so far because it was fun to visit a local radio station and record a public service announcement for the scholarship. In addition, during this project we were able to mentor 27 young students.

So yes, I am busy during my day as an Ohio College Guide, but it is very rewarding. I love to see students applying for scholarships, and I love the new opportunities that are available to me. I have also learned how to better network. A day in the life of an AmeriCorps Ohio College Guide is pretty cool.

My AmeriCorps Service: A Reflection

When I was younger I was always taught that it is right to help others. I have tried to live by that all my life, and that is one of the main reasons I became an AmeriCorps College Guide in the first place. While my first year of service is drawing to a close, I must say that this has been one of the most unique, challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. Working with first-generation college students and helping them achieve their goals of a college education is something that I have dedicated a significant portion of my life to already, particularly by working with the Upward Bound program.

As an Upward Bound Alumnus helping this program and Educational Talent Search (another college access program) has been something that I can say has impacted my life greatly. This experience has been especially rewarding because I have had the chance to serve on a college campus with other college student personnel, as that is what I want to study in graduate school, and pursue as my future career. As I told my family when I decided to apply to be a College Guide, serving with this particular program would provide me with incomparable experience not only personally, but professionally as well, and I could not have been more correct.

Making the Impact

On my first day at East Technical High School, my advisor introduced me to a student who immediately assured me that he would be in my office “every day.” It turns out he wasn’t kidding. The student—I’ll call him David, for anonymity’s sake (although he already knows that I’ve mentioned him, though not by name, in another blog post)—stops in almost every day, and often multiple times a day. I’ve become acquainted with details of his life, from anecdotes about his parents, grandmother, and siblings, as well as his personality, from his sense of humor to his outrage over why nice-looking argyle sweater vests violate the dress code (note: apparel featuring the color purple is not part of the color scheme at East Tech). Although I rarely divulge anything about my personal life to him, it’s easy to feel like he’s my friend because he’s so open.

When David and I began his college search, he had a good sense of what he was looking for in a school. He didn’t want to go too far outside the Northeast Ohio comfort zone, which includes large public universities like The University of Akron, Cleveland State University, and The Ohio State University, which are popular among many Cleveland high school students. However, he did express interest in Hiram College—a small, private, liberal arts school—and was one of the few students to come through my office with a willingness to go to school where few, if any, classmates would be in attendance.

As schools began to send their acceptance letters, it was an anxious time for everyone, but because I see David more than I see most students, I knew how eager he was to receive his decision letters. Despite his high GPA, one state school did not offer David admission, and he was understandably disappointed. It made me wonder how he was going to fare with Hiram, where the academic standards are more competitive than certain state schools. If he wasn’t even accepted to a state school, would the private school offer him enough financial aid, even if they did accept him?

The Hiram acceptance letter arrived, and it was good. Then the financial aid award letter arrived, which was even better. Hiram made their school far more affordable than any of the state schools and he chose to accept admission there. I think we were both pleasantly surprised and elated; as I watched him seal the envelope that held his deposit check, I interrupted him, mid-sentence, and said, “Wait a minute, do you realize what a moment this is? Do you remember our first day together? Look how far you’ve come!” He smiled, and I could tell how excited he was to be ready to go.

David wasn’t the only student I worked with from the beginning to the end, but he was the most memorable one. Because we had the chance to work so closely, I really won’t forget him. The students with enthusiasm and warmth are the ones who are the easiest to work with by far, and I know Hiram will be getting a gem when he joins their campus in the fall. Despite the frustrations and setbacks that can come with this position, just seeing one success like David is enough to feel like I’ve made an impact.

A Reflection on the Idea of “Not Doing Anything”

Direct service isn’t the aggressive term it seems. Unfortunately working inside a high school, where students are invariably already required to be somewhere else, there is going to arise these moments of downtime, of reflection. I understand the frustrations many confront with having to live in this downtime; however, I’m also supportive of that time. While some days will come about where it’s easy to sit back in an office and say, ‘I spent two hours with students today and that’s all,’ it’s your mere availability that is so important. Direct service constitutes just that: exclusive action or handling of a student’s affairs, often coddling them through a process eight times out of ten. Those other hours spent are, obviously, an indirect service, and there is no glory or reward in them. Yet, it’s in these indirect moments where a college guide’s presence in a student’s life really takes form and you get to become an elemental part of the school. When you’re entering in data, there are boxes ranging from the specific to the general, for ACT/SAT waivers, application assistance, college advising. What there aren’t boxes for are the students crying over verification letters, the students who have just found out they’re pregnant and are overwhelmed about what to do next, the students who have 1.7 GPAs and are getting ready to take 25k/year in loans at an open admissions school, and, most of all, the students who respect you as friend and stop in to tell you about their baseball game, or prom dress. A college guide becomes a reference on a job application, a supportive crutch, and an outreach. It’s in the tedium of indirect service where patience is learned, where it grows, and where, in times of reflection such as these, a person, such as myself, could care less about that downtime and revel in the fact that if a student ever needed me, at least I know, and he or she will know, that I was there and I am there.

Choose Your Own Adventure

It’s three o’clock on a Friday. I originally had the day scheduled off but volunteered to come in as I didn’t finish everything I had hoped to on Thursday. So here I am in my office—with a notably grumpy walk-in appointment. Let’s call her Leah. About 20 years my elder she sits across from me, looking everywhere but at me. I speak and her face remains impassive as I run through the enrollment process while attempting to learn a little bit about what she wants out of higher education. This is made somewhat difficult when a person begins by ignoring and ends by interrupting everything you say.

When I finally get her to tell me the program she is interested in, she is certainly not loquacious. “Health” she almost hisses.

I pounce on it and begin telling her about a few of our Associate Degree programs; letting her know the requirements to be accepted in any of the Health Sciences programs here at WSCC.

She looks gob smacked by the amount of prerequisites. She frantically tells me she is ‘too old’ to go to school that long; she wants to be in and out. She asks about the certificate programs we offer. I barely finish explaining that only degree seeking programs are eligible for the Pell Grant when Leah rises to her feet, shoulders her purse and, for the first time, looks me in the eye as she says, “You can’t help me then. Thanks for your time, I guess.” As she chokes out the last two words, tears well and pour slowly down her face as she starts to turn away.

I’m faced with a fork in the road. It’s like the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books from childhood. Path one: I can simply let her leave my office. After all, I’ve done what I could, right? But I know if I were to flip ahead to the end, I’d see Leah would never come back.

Frustrated, harried I almost plead, “Would you just sit down a minute. Please.” I take a breath and squeeze my eyes shut. I am amazed when I open them to see Leah sitting across from me; finally attentive, and clearly lost. Path two: chosen.

I’ve never had a more difficult appointment, or a more rewarding one. I saw in Leah, something universal. Fear.

Higher education is scary, especially for someone who hasn’t been in a classroom for a couple decades, but sometimes all a person needs is a little kindness and patience. I found a program that fit Leah’s needs and she left my office looking like a different person. Hope had softened her features and reminded me that though it’s not always easy, really caring and relating to someone on a personal level is vital for making a difference.

The Takeaway

The main reason I chose to do an AmeriCorps year of service with the Ohio College Access Network through College Now Greater Cleveland was simple. It wasn’t because of the money (because there isn’t much to be had, when you’re a full-time Member) or the career advancement (while I’ve learned valuable professional skills, the subject of this position has very little to do with my undergraduate degree or prospective graduate program), but rather because I am passionate about social and political issues, and education involves both of those things. I’m also a big fan of college—it was difficult to walk away from four years at The College of Wooster and not want everyone in the world to have the incredibly positive experience that I had.

As someone who was born and raised in Cleveland, I want to help empower Cleveland, its youth in particular. While I had some prior insight (from both an academic and a colloquial standpoint) into the challenges that Cleveland Metropolitan School District and our country’s overall education system have faced, having the opportunity to experience a CMSD school firsthand has refreshed, and, in some cases, completely redefined, some of the views I had about education, economics, social justice, and the government. I have felt more skeptical about certain policies that simply aren’t serving the purpose that they are supposed to be serving, aren’t serving our students, and aren’t serving our shared future.

Although I have been frustrated with some of the standards and action (or lack thereof) that affect my students’ lives, both in and out of school, I look at this position as an opportunity that has allowed me to explore possible solutions by being the closest I can be to those affected. It is one thing to discuss the state of our education system from the comfort of our homes and classrooms, but having the chance to witness the humanity of a circumstance firsthand is an entirely different story. By serving in a CMSD high school, I feel that I am fulfilling a civic and human responsibility to engage in an effort that will become a catalyst for improvement.

The Reward of Service

August 9th 2010 I came to my host site for my first day of service as an AmeriCorps College Guide. This was almost a week after the other members at my site because I have previously arranged responsibilities. I remember sitting in my first team meeting, as our site supervisor Gary Williams went over the “ins” and “outs” of AmeriCorps and the upcoming schedule of activities for us. As I sat there somewhat intimidated, I thought: “There is no adjustment period here, we are hitting the ground running hard, because there is a lot that needs to be done.” I could not help but be eager and nervous all at the same time. It was then that I realized, that my AmeriCorps service was going to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I realized that in order to make the most of this experience, I was going to dive in head first, no reservations.

My experience with AmeriCorps has provided me with a tremendous amount of experience for the present, and future. I want to pursue a career in college student personnel, so getting the opportunity to serve in a college access program housed on a college campus has been particularly rewarding. My service has taught me so much that I will be able to use for my future. I realized early on that having this chance to engage with so many professionals in the field I want to pursue was going to be a great opportunity for me both professionally and personally. In order to gain as much as I could from it, I was going to have to be a sponge and soak up all of the knowledge I could.

This experience has also helped solidify my views on the importance in education for student’s lives. I have previously worked with first generation college students in college access programs, but not full-time. Having the opportunity to assist these students full-time has been particularly powerful. I like knowing that when I go to my host site I can make a tangible difference in a student’s life. As a first generation college student who has graduated college, having the chance to help these students full-time is something I would not trade for the world. Serving with Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound has been great because as an Upward Bound alum myself, it is important to me to give back to the TRiO programs that helped me so much in my past.