U.Va. guides hope to inspire students to pursue college

October 24, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Students who want to go to college may relate to someone who has already been there and has succeeded.

Recent graduates of the University of Virginia who are members of the Virginia College Advising Corps hope to inspire and help high school students go to college.

Devin Underhill, the new college adviser at Magna Vista High School, is from Fairfield, Conn., and Joseph Francois-Ashbrook, the new adviser at Bassett High School, is from Alexandria. Both bring a lot of experience working in student affairs.

While at U.Va., Underhill was a resident adviser, orientation leader and university tour guide, and he worked in the admissions office, he said.

Francois-Ashbrook was a mentor at the Virginia Summer Enrichment Program, a program through U.Va. that worked with high school students; and he also was a peer adviser for the Office of African-American Affairs at the university, he said.

As college advisers for the next two school years, Underhill and Francois-Ashbrook will help local students register and prepare for the SATs, read over their essays and college applications, help the students create résumés and help them fill out scholarship applications, Underhill said.

Both of the college advisers have a passion for encouraging students to go to college.

“I want to help create a college-going culture,” Francois-Ashbrook said. He wants to make going to college something that students feel comfortable about, and in turn, see the rate of college-bound students increase, he added.

Francois-Ashbrook was excited to become a college adviser because he remembers how much his college adviser in high school helped him get through the application process. It’s “my turn to give back and help the way I was helped,” he said.

“I enjoy the fact of going to work every day knowing” that he can make a difference, Underhill said.

“I believe that going to college is a way to learn about yourself and the rest of the world,” he added.

Underhill wants students to feel that they can come to him for extra support, he said, adding that he is there to help them achieve their goals and get them through the college process.

Having college guides who have just gotten out of college may help students to relate and feel more comfortable.

Since Underhill and Francois-Ashbrook have just graduated, they can “tell them (the high school students) what college is like right now,” compared with hearing the experiences of a parent or teacher who the students may not believe, Underhill said.

“Seeing someone who has succeeded may have a positive impact on them” and inspire them to go to college and do the same, Francois-Ashbrook said.

The Virginia College Advising Corps started at U.Va. in 2005 as the College Guides program. Two years later, it was the model for the National College Advising Corps, according to a news release.

The corps members work with the school district to encourage students to figure out the best fit for them, whether it be a career technical program, community college or a four-year college, said Keith Roots, corps director.

“There’s a long-term benefit to the community, the state and the nation by having more people participate in post-secondary education,” Roots said.

Since the program began, college advisers have worked with more than 94,000 students in Virginia and helped more than 8,000 enter college, Roots said.

The corps came to this area six years ago and is funded here by The Harvest Foundation and AmeriCorps. Both groups have contributed about $145,000 to the program this year, Roots said.

There are 21 recent U.Va. graduates involved in the program, he added.

Also in the corps locally are Leidra Danielle Hickson of Lynchburg, the college adviser at Martinsville High School, and Lauren Laskey of Cherry Hill, N.J., the adviser at Patrick County High School, the release said.


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