A smooth path: COM College Connections advisors now at high schools

College Connections advisor Alexis Vance assists Santa Fe High School senior Austen Belzer in completing a college application.

Santa Fe High School senior Austen Belzer knows exactly what he wants to do after graduation: law enforcement.

When he comes into his school’s College Connections office, advisor Alexis Vance walks him through the ApplyTexas application for all Texas colleges, financial aid and placement testing requirements to reach his goal.

“I’ll help you wherever you want to go,” explained Vance. “Even if students come in and have no idea, I can help them at least start with a career assessment.”
 
This semester College of the Mainland has launched College Connections, which places an advisor at each high school in COM’s taxing district – Texas City, Hitchcock, Dickinson, Santa Fe and La Marque – four days a week to answer students’ college admissions, financial aid and career questions.
 
“The College Connection advisors spend 32 hours a week at the high school,” said COM Director of College Connections Tamara Hoodye-Harris. “They’re teaching college and career readiness. It’s not recruiting for COM but for college.”
 
The program aims to replicate the results COM has seen at Hitchcock High School with a full-time advisor, funded by the Gulf Coast PASS Grant, guiding students in the college application process.
 
“At Hitchcock the number of seniors going to college nearly doubled,” said Hoodye-Harris. “We’re hoping to have a similar increase in other schools.”
 
Besides open-office hours, College Connections advisors will teach sessions of College 101, explaining admissions procedures, financial aid and placement testing, if teachers request it.

Lionel de Luna, a former first grade teacher and academic advisor, serves Dickinson High School’s students.
 
“I can see up to 200 students a month,” said de Luna. “I’m recommending they start as soon as possible with the college application process. I give them options – doing their core at a community college and (then) going to a university or starting a university. I want them to make the final decision.”
 
Dana Gazda, a former academic advisor with Galveston College and University of Houston, serves Hitchcock ISD.
 
“I'm here to promote all colleges,” said Gazda. “I assist them with ApplyTexas, finding the school they want to go to and signing up for the SAT and ACT.”
 
Earl Alexander, College Connections Advisor at La Marque High School, advises high school students, particularly those who will be the first in their families to attend college.
 
“As a La Marque High School graduate and a graduate of College of the Mainland, this position gives me the opportunity to give back and share my personal and professional knowledge with students from the community and schools that helped to nurture my success,” said Alexander.
 
Cassandra Sutton, Texas City High School College Connections advisor, taught a study and life skills course at a community college before joining the program this fall.
 
“We help eliminate barriers to college entrance and help students transition seamlessly from high school to college,” explained Sutton.
 
“We’re going to help students apply to any university and apply for financial aid,” added Hoodye-Harris. “Many students don’t really know they can go to college. They don’t know how accessible college is for everyone.” 

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