Celebrating AmeriCorps Week 2022: Beginnings and Endings

Two AmeriCorps College Advisers are serving Mason County high schools to help students make post-secondary plans. One is just getting started on their service this week, and another is completing their second term this year.

Tess O’Neal, who graduated from Ludington High School in 2012, and from MSU in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics and Mathematics, begins as LHS’ first College Adviser through the Michigan College Access Network AdviseMI program. O’Neal was motivated to become a College Adviser by her own experiences. O’Neal stated, “I wouldn't trade [college] for anything. But looking back, I failed to take advantage of so many great opportunities. I want people to learn from my mistakes.”

LHS counseling staff are “thrilled” to have such a talented Adviser on their team.  O’Neal feels the same way. “I have often talked about the quality of the teachers at LHS,” she said, “They truly care about their students and are passionate about their subjects.” The LHS role is funded in part through American Rescue Plan funds that Michigan is using to support the youth mental health and college enrollment crises that resulted from the pandemic, and the Promise Zone is covering the local costs. 

Since 2020, Trevor Puuri, a U.P. native, has served as a MSU College Advising Corps member at Mason County Central and Mason County Eastern.  In the 2021-22 year so far, while Michigan schools are reporting FAFSA completion rates far below previous years, MCE’s FAFSA rates are currently up 92% over last year. These results at MCE inspired the Mason County Promise Zone to fund local AmeriCorps College Adviser roles at MCC, MCE & LHS. Puuri, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from MSU, explained that some of this success is related to what he has learned about young people.  “My time as an AmeriCorps member has shown me the importance of clear communication and respect when working with my students. It is so important to make students feel heard and understood…and provide a space for students to come to and work through whatever obstacles arise in their day-to-day life.” 

Puuri’s service has also helped him to learn about himself.  “AmeriCorps has affirmed a desire to work with adolescents in a counseling role; However, I have decided during my service that I would like more time to spend exploring other career interests before continuing in higher education.” 

MCC & MCE will be working with MSU to find another college adviser for the class of 2023.  The program uses a near-peer model focused on hiring recent graduates to help more youth access college and career training after high school.  Puuri encourages recent graduates to become College Advisers.  He explained, “this is a program that is designed to give young adults an opportunity to gain experience in a professional environment. This position is an excellent opportunity for professional networking and growth of professional skills that you may not have covered in college, and provides support and grace for new service members as they navigate their first post-college career.”  After completing a term of service, AmeriCorps members receive an education award that they can use to pay for tuition or student loans.  Puuri, who completes his final term of service after this school year, plans to use his award to pursue a Master's degree in Social Work in the future.

AmeriCorps members serve in education, environmental programs and crisis management, and social services for civilians and veterans, which help with access to work, housing, and health services.   For more information, or to apply for other AmeriCorps positions in Mason County, visit MSU’s College Advising Corps at http://collegeadvisingcorps.msu.edu/ or the MCAN AmeriCorps programs at https://micollegeaccess.org/initiatives

Though Bailey's scar is fading, her ambition to succeed is only becoming stronger!  

Promise Scholar Follows Her Heart

Until two months before her 2021 graduation from Ludington High School, Bailey Streeter was considering going away to college.  Covid quarantine had limited much of her ability to get out of the house, and she wanted to have a new experience.  “I’ve never traveled a lot, so being able to live somewhere else, like in a dorm, sounds fun to me,” she said.  But in March 2021, Streeter, an excellent student involved in LHS band and on the bowling team, had an experience that changed her college trajectory.  “I often had heart palpitations so I thought I wasn’t good at sports because of them, but at one of my Bowling meets, my heart hurt.”  Streeter’s mom took her daughter to the local ER, who sent her to DeVos [Children’s Hospital]. At DeVos, they found a 34mm hole in her heart—an atrial septal defect. Streeter’s “broken heart,” as she calls it, required open heart surgery. 

In light of needing major surgery, Streeter talked with her mom about options for college, and decided her best option was to start at West Shore Community College, using the Promise Scholarship. She signed up right after she got back from DeVos.  Streeter’s successful surgery happened just weeks before her high school graduation. Though left with a large scar, she recovered quickly enough to walk with her graduating class that May. The young student was grateful that the Promise and WSCC made changing her mind “a lot easier” because of the fast application and acceptance process.  “In many ways, my scar has opened doors for me,” she shared. 

Now at WSCC, Streeter has a plan to get an Associate of Science so that she can transfer to GVSU and become a cardiovascular sonographer. After needing a number of EKGs, “I have become obsessed with the heart,” Streeter said, adding that her experience in the hospital made her believe in her ability to be a sonographer.  But the road has had its challenges—namely, the pandemic, which has compelled so many first-year students across the nation to take online courses to stay safe.  “I was surprised how unmotivated I was,” Streeter explained about her first semester in college. “I learn face-to-face so having online classes was a struggle.” Streeter worked through this struggle by reaching out to her professors, getting referred to support, setting aside specific times each week to do coursework outside of class, and by asking for what she needed, which in one course was more time to complete the work.  Bailey’s college decision process was unique, but her experience in navigating her first year of college in the pandemic is a common story, that students need to hear: If you need support or you struggle, it is normal, okay, and there is help, so just ask.

Ultimately, Street is excited about college so far.  “I really like how different it is, how many resources there are, and being able to meet new people from day to day.” In her first semester, Streeter joined WSCC’s drumline, and looks forward to more in-person opportunities.  “The Promise Scholarship is already too good to be true,” she shared, adding that she’d still absolutely encourage high school students to consider all of their options when considering college. “Make sure the college you’re going to is the best fit for you and for the career that you want.” For Streeter, right now, WSCC is the best option, because she can be close to home, get support from WSCC, and can transfer to GVSU after she earns her first degree. In the meantime, the aspiring sonographer is only looking ahead. “Who doesn’t want a free degree!?” quipped Streeter, happy to have the Promise at a college close to home.

Goodman Graduates from WSCC and Continues to Make Progress on Ferris Degree while Remaining at WSCC

Samanatha Goodman was first inspired to pursue a career through a CTE course in high school. "I started being interested in teaching in my junior year of high school at Mason County Eastern," said Goodman, "by trying the Educator Academy through CTE."  Now, Goodman, a 2019 MCE graduate from Fountain, is a WSCC Associate Degree holder, who is also taking Ferris courses through WSCC, and looking forward to transferring to Ferris in 2022 to major in elementary education. "I graduated in Winter 2021 with an Associate Arts and Sciences and am planning to transfer to Ferris after Winter 2022."  

WSCC has multiple programs that offer classes through partner institutions, while students remain at WSCC.  After Goodman got her first degree, she planned to “take as many Ferris classes through West Shore before I transfer," which will reduce the amount of Ferris credits required and related tuition costs later.  "The Mason County Promise has helped me afford tuition, and to get a feel for what college is all about," Goodman said, adding that, "WSCC provides ample resources and services that are essential for academic growth and building confidence."

Apart from her studies, Goodman has gotten involved in PTK honors society at WSCC, which allows her to give back to her community through service projects.  The ambitious scholar also holds a job as a local preschool teacher at her church.  Goodman's career goals include completion of a bachelor’s and a master's degree in education.  "I plan to teach and want to continue helping my community in Mason County."  Goodman even spoke at the 2021 MCE Decision Day event, as a way to give back to her high school and share her positive experiences in pursuing a degree locally.  “I would encourage students to find what interests them and use the Promise," she stated. "Students have the opportunities to explore at WSCC and identify what they want to do for the future—every experience is worth it! Having a tuition free opportunity is beneficial!”

To find out more about the Mason County Promise, visit masoncountypromise.org

Promise Recipient Accepted into New EEG Program at WSCC

Since 2018, the Mason County Promise Zone has offered tuition and fees scholarships at West Shore
Community College (WSCC) to all Mason County residents who graduate with a 2.0 or better and live in
Mason County. Carli Kandalec, a 2018 Ludington High School graduate, used her scholarship to achieve
an associate degree in fall 2020, and will now use the Promise Scholarship to pursue the brand-new
Electroencephalogram (EEG) program at WSCC.
“I realized I could save more money going to WSCC instead of moving away, because universities cost so
much,” said Kandalec, adding that initially, she wanted to pursue EEG, but neither WSCC or Ferris
offered those programs at the time.
The first cohort of the EEG program, which trains students on using high-tech equipment that examines
brainwaves, consists of two students, and Kandalec applied with hopes that she would be one of the
two. Having achieved a degree already, she was qualified, but Kandalec also used her time at WSCC to
do more than just study: She gave back to her community.
A professor suggested that Kandalec become the president of a student organization that she hadn’t
even heard of, called PTK. And she took the chance, sharing that “I’ve been able to meet more people,
gain communication skills, and plan events like trivia nights, a book club, and a food drive.”
The food drive had to be done with social distancing and virtual meetings due the pandemic. “We all
came together and collected food from the community and were able to provide six big boxes of food to
each of the Mason County high schools,” Kandalec stated, adding, “It was amazing and heartwarming to
see that something small that we did, helped us give back to the school that we went to. All of the food
went into gift bags that helped families out during winter break, and the food was especially helpful
because of Covid and the limitations of access to food.”

The Promise scholarship helped make this happen by supporting Kandalec’s college tuition expenses, so
she didn’t have to work as much to pay for those expenses.
“The Promise has worked out,” according to Kandalec, in ways she never imagined. It has allowed her to
pursue a program that she always wanted but initially couldn’t find, to live in her home community and
give back to it, and to save money, and work less so that she could graduate and pursue not just one
degree, but an additional certificate.
Consider the Promise Scholarship and WSCC as a great start to any future career.