While emphasizing the benefits of college, Emily Hadley smiled as she captured the attention of eighth graders at Hobbton Middle School through fun activities. As she walked on the gymnasium floor, she talked about the building and the college-educated architects who had a hand with designing it.
“That is why you go to college,” Hadley said during her visit. “You don’t want someone who just went to high school building your ceilings.”
At nearby Hobbton High School, the college adviser plays a major role in helping students pursue higher education. She’s one of four advisers involved in the Duke University College Advising Corps (CAC). The purpose of the program is to help low-income and first generation college high school students in rural North Carolina receive higher education. Duke CAC recruits recent college graduates from its university to work with students to assist with college admissions, securing financial aid and enrolling. Through the program, the advisers are encouraged to use their personal experiences when it comes to applying for college.
Hadley graduated from the university in 2015, earning degrees in statistics and public policy.
“Even though we’re Duke fans instead of NC State or UNC fans, people have been really welcoming to us,” Hadley said.
She grew up in rural New Hampshire and had a great experience applying for college, but that was not the case for another family member.
“I saw the experience that she was going though and I wanted to ensure that other students had the same access to college that I got, especially students in rural areas,” Hadley said. “I wanted to be a college adviser in the rural part of North Carolina to help other students learn about college.”
During the 2014-2015 school year, seven high schools in the central and northeast regions of North Carolina hosted the first group of advisers. For the current school year, Duke CAC served 16 schools. Sampson County High Schools are four of the schools added to the new mix. The program is complimentary to the school system and funding comes from Duke CAC. Participants have the opportunity to serve for a year or two.
Hadley is looking forward to returning for another year.
“I’m excited to come back and coach and working with the wonderful staff that like to see students go forward,” Hadley said. “The students have big dreams and big plans and I really enjoy having them come to my office, so I can help them out.”
Sarah Haas, Jessica Alvarez and Drew Underwood have helped many students during the inaugural year of the program.
“It feels like family,” Haas said about becoming closer to students, parents and Midway High School professionals. “It’s really helped me to be successful on this job. People trust me and support me, which I really appreciate.”
Haas, a Duke adviser from Midway High School graduated from Duke University and majored in women’s studies and minored in education and Arabic.
“A lot of people confuse me for a (high school) student,” Haas said. Haas said students can relate to her since she’s a young college graduate.
“In general, I really enjoy this job,” Haas said. “I love to see students create goals for themselves and meet them. I’m really proud of all the things we’ve accomplished at Midway. We’ve done tons and tons of things this year and reached many milestones. The most important and exciting part for me is celebrating with them and helping them achieve their goals.”
Along with scholarships and students being accepted to multiple colleges, one of the major achievements at Midway High include the first annual College Decision Day celebration.
“That was a really great time to celebrate all of the students and where they decided to go to college,” Haas said. “One of the things that I’m most proud of is the relationships that I’ve been able to develop with my students, the individual accomplishments that they had and their potential for what’s next in their lives,” Haas said.
Haas is leaving Sampson County and is traveling to San Francisco for another educational position. She admitted to being nervous, but she’s looking forward to it. Taking advantage of opportunities is something she stresses to her students.
“It’s something, I try to tell my students all the time,” she said. “When you’re young, it’s important to branch out and step out of your comfort zone. I’m taking that advice myself.”
At Union High School, Alvarez enjoys the one-on-one interaction with students. She earned a history degree from Duke University is currently working with young people who will be the first in their families to attend college.
“A lot of these kids don’t know what you’re doing and they come to see you as some sort of guide,” Alvarez said. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Outside of her office, she’s enjoyed seeing the success made possible through Duke CAC.
“It’s interesting being in the high school setting when you’re not a high school student and seeing how everything navigates,” she said. “What I really enjoy is seeing how the students interact with the teachers. You see how much they generally care for their students and how they want the best for them. Being in this environment has been really beneficial for me.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.