Helping Students on the Way to College, a Fellow Learns about Herself

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colin powell center college access ccny I had the opportunity to work with the College Access Center during the year. While there I worked with high school juniors on college access and college applications through group workshops held at least twice a month. Workshop topics varied from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to the College Board, to finding what major is best for you. Before stepping into the doors of the Center, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to help the students or if I would be able to make them feel comfortable. While at the Center, I learned to be honest about my limits and be both flexible and relatable through conversations with students individually and as a group.

Recognizing Potential

During one special event I had the opportunity to join the 30-40 of the College Access Center’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors for two days during spring break on visits to Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College and Syracuse University.  At Syracuse, students attended classes in groups of three to five. Working in these small groups was my most memorable moment because I finally began to realize how much of an impact I had on the students.

My group attended an immigration and public policy class, where they asked questions ranging from “What is the purpose of this class?” to “What is my opinion of classes in college compared to high school?” At that point I realized I had the opportunity to help guide them. Working within that small group made me realize how outspoken they are compared to our typical interaction in bigger groups when you can’t appreciate everyone’s personality.

Learning from Students

I learned that just because they were quiet doesn’t mean they don’t have thoughts. They were thinking about why the students on this campus are taking this class and how taking this class affects the world, which they continued to be curious about when they asked the professor and me questions at the end. During that time I was able to learn more about the students and their interests, including one high school freshman who sat down and told me he wants to learn Swahili. I told him that I too want to learn the language. Another student told me that she wondered if some of the students in the class had prejudice towards immigrants and if they realized that none of our forefathers owned this land.

I learned that although a big group is sometimes necessary, it is often the smaller group that can catch your heart and make you want to help more. I want to be able to have an impact on another group and for them to become just as outspoken as the students I had. They didn’t allow their egos or their being shy to get in their way of expressing themselves; they were simply themselves fully.  What I will take from this experience is a desire to guide more students in conversations where they are able to express themselves freely. – Whitley Jackson

More on the Colin Powell Center's college access work: Center Fellows Reflect on the Meaning and Challenges of Service (Part I) College Access Advocacy: the Bridge Builders Forum at John Jay College

Whitley Jackson is a Partners for Change fellow and a psychology major and English minor at City College. Read more about her and our other contributors here.