These past few months working as a member of the Appalachian College Advising Corps have been almost… nostalgic for me, though in a very unique way. Growing up in an environment very similar to the one I’m working in—a rural county in the Appalachian mountains, where farms outnumber stoplights—driving the winding roads to work every day has taken me back to my time being a student. I had the amazing opportunity to be in a program very similar to CAC. My years of being in Appalachian State’s Upward Bound program gave me the insight to have a deep understanding and gratitude for the ongoing work in college access, and being able to carry on that tradition as a part of App State is something I am grateful for.
While I have degrees in biological science fields, I still find this work extremely rewarding. My personal story being so similar to theirs, I am able to truly connect with these seniors. Many of my students are interested in or have experience around farm work, and my background—my childhood in a rural farm county and my education in environmental science—allows me to foster conversations that stimulate their interests and have them feel comfortable enough with me to keep coming back.
And, like most of these students, I am a first-generation student, going into this process not quite knowing what I was supposed to do. Even students who have had parents and siblings attend a post-secondary institution still find themselves confused or unsure as they stare at application screens. Having gone through that exact situation myself, I can relate to my students in ways that help them rather than embarrass them due to lack of knowledge or fear of lost pride.
In these students, I see my own high school classmates who felt the need to stay close to home rather than go away to school. I see the same worry I experienced myself when people started talking about costs of tuition, room and board, and other fees. The same hesitation to try—because you can’t get rejected if you don’t try. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to be in a position where I can alleviate some of these fears and help students find a way to pursue their passion—whether that be getting a certificate from the school down the road, or working towards a full ride to Stanford, just like one of the students I have had the absolute pleasure of helping get to their goal of post-secondary education.