Friday, July 19College Admissions News

The 2023 Counselors That Change Lives Awards – Colleges That Change Lives

The Counselors That Change Lives Award recognizes those whose dedication to the college counseling profession reflects the CTCL ideals. By helping students frame their search beyond the ratings and rankings to find a college that provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life, these counselors change lives.

Ana Almeida HeadshotAna Almeida — Onward We Learn (RI)
Nominated by Christopher Muñoz-Calene of Clark University

Ana demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to understanding and representing her students’ experiences and perspectives while growing as a college access professional. She believes that authentic conversation, connection, and partnership with admission professionals and their colleges and universities is necessary to create greater opportunities for the college bound. Because she is so intensely focused on her students, she effectively illustrates and communicates when and how students might encounter barriers in their attempts to learn about their options. By sharing their real stories, she illuminates best practices and those that could be more student-centered. Hers is a trusted voice.

In spaces where she is invited to exchange ideas – by joining a workshop or serving as a panelist – she poses questions that lead to deeper discussions, leading the entire group of participants to richer, more rewarding outcomes. A terrific role model for her students, she enthusiastically supports and encourages them to incorporate their histories, wish-lists, interests, and individual context as they research post-secondary options, demonstrate interest in a particular program or campus, and self-advocate throughout the admission process. Ana’s guidance empowers her students to center themselves, which makes for more meaningful outcomes.

Sarah Jane Gibbons HeadshotSarah Jane Gibbons — Millennium High School (NY)
Nominated by Christopher Muñoz-Calene of Clark University

As she advises and guides students through the college search and admission process, Sarah Jane is intensely focused on empowering them to find their best learning and living community.  She enthusiastically coaches them to discover what they truly value and hope for from their post-secondary experience. They become experts at translating facts and statistics from brochures and presentations with Sarah Jane’s wise counsel. She role models self-advocacy in the search process and students learn quickly how to navigate to the information they really need.

Year after year she is excited to work with students as they navigate it all, helping them to learn more about themselves as they find the places and spaces that will challenge and support them and their goals. Sarah Jane keeps up with alumni, sharing their progress with her school’s administration and the admissions officers who visit each year.

She uses alumni stories to empower and educate the next generation of college bound scholars and changemakers; she encourages admission officers to do the same. Sarah Jane takes the time to update all stakeholders to sustain a college going culture and to create networks of support. She is a trusted advisor and mentor whose feedback is welcomed and valued by both those she counsels and other college access professionals.

Christopher Miller HeadshotChris Miller — Sandy Spring Friends School (MD)
Nominated by Philippa Roberts of Eckerd College

Early in the college search process, Chris collaborates with his students to identify and prioritize what factors, criteria, values, programs, co-curricular opportunities, outcomes, and campus personalities matter the most. After they’ve partnered to curate an initial list of institutions that interest them, he challenges students to pinpoint why exactly each institution might be a good match. They create their own personalized rankings to use as they are researching and evaluating potential fit. Chris recognizes that students have thousands of options, and he uplifts their power to choose. He does a fantastic job of advising parents and families on both concepts.

An enthusiastic advisor, mentor, and coach, Chris practices whole-student college counseling. He treasures origin stories and lived experiences, affirms student’s identities, keeps up with what’s going on in their daily lives, intentionally checks-in on a regular basis, monitors their stress levels, celebrates academic and personal milestones, and is truly present and available. His relationships with them are rooted in mutual respect and authentic connection: students trust him because they know he deeply cares and sees them as completely unique individuals. Chris really knows them and represents them and their interests thoroughly and honestly from search to decision. Admission counselors trust his recommendations and advocacy. Chris’s service to the college admission profession via several counselor advisory boards, regional and national organizations, and access and advocacy initiatives makes him a true leader in the field.

Melanie Onufrieff HeadshotMelanie Onufrieff — Deerfield Academy (MA)
Nominated by Erin Hutchinson of Earlham College

When students come to Melanie as juniors new to her caseload, they are laser-focused on college. She doesn’t start talking to them about college until she first spends a substantial amount of time getting to know them and helping them to get to know themselves. She does a wonderful job of reframing the college search as one that highlights the individual student as the prize a college should be seeking, rather than the college as the prize that the student is seeking.

Melanie is able to see the strengths in every student and bring those out into the light, giving the student an opportunity to see themselves in a new light. She makes it very clear to every student that they are special and more than enough, just as they are, regardless of college outcomes. She helps them realize that they deserve more than just a school with high rankings, they deserve a school that will celebrate and nurture them as they continue to grow. Melanie is all about affirming and empowering students. She is their lifelong champion and cheerleader for life.

M.L. Weber — Freedom Preparatory Academy (TN)
Nominated by Zoe Scott, formerly of Rhodes College

M.L. Web works closely with her mostly first-generation college bound students from limited income backgrounds to name and face the fears they have about the college experience and then together they flip the narrative that tells them they aren’t ready or capable. M.L. approaches them and college counseling from a strengths outlook, challenging the deficit mindset as they make their way from prospective college student to first year – and beyond – undergraduate.

While she helps her students uncover and understand what matters most to them about their college experience, she encourages them to consider the level of support they think they will seek out and how to assess whether or not a particular post-secondary community can provide that. M.L. reminds them that they will find advisors, mentors, and resources that will support them. She reaches out to alumni to underscore these messages and serve as a chosen, extended family.  M.L. recognizes the power of near peer networking, the importance of creating generational connections, and teaching self-advocacy.

With her guidance, students quickly learn that they belong at the center of the college search and that their values and wish lists drive it. She regularly chaperones weekend campus visits for groups of students, believing it is a terrific learning lab for the college admission process. Students are encouraged to connect with their admission counselors, ask all of their questions, and remember that they are not going through this process alone.

Christopher Wolf headshotChristopher Wolf — Nicholas Senn HIgh School (IL)
Nominated by Thea Clarkberg of Earlham College

Chris and his extensive, innovative college counseling programming encourage students to look at a wide variety of schools. They are inspired by his enthusiastic recommendations to discover and research all different types of colleges and universities in lots of geographic locations; institutions that are less well-known, schools with quirky personalities, places that offer uncommon academic options and co-curricular activities. Chris looks past the traditionally published rankings to help students construct their own rubrics. Over the years students have explored and found their way to an impressive, diverse assortment of schools.

Chris believes that helping students find their best match means finding the institutions that will provide the support and community they need to be successful, from their first semester through their post-graduate lives. He focuses on a fit-first philosophy and celebrating all choices. His attitude and approach open students’ minds, reinforcing the belief that they will find their next best homes. Students entrust him with their histories and journeys, which he uplifts, honors, and learns from.

They understand how invested he is in their success. He shows up for them as a college advisor, English teacher, and cross country coach: they show up in impressive numbers at the events he coordinates throughout the year. Chris is also deeply committed to connecting and partnering with admission professionals, colleges, and universities to better serve students.

Rose Yackley HeadshotRose Yackley — Achieve Twin Cities – Humboldt High School (MN)
Nominated by Shannon Cron of St. Olaf College

Rose creates super engaging content and supportive spaces for all students to explore their post-secondary options. Incredibly affirming and enthusiastic, she truly cares about each student as an individual; her patience and keen listening skills make it possible for her to meet each student where they are. She is endlessly supportive, helping students understand how to apply the skills gained during the college search process in other areas of their lives.

Rose’s nominator shared that “students light up when they work with her because they feel seen and less stressed about all the uncertainty of the admission process.” Rose has a robust sense of humor and believes in sharing laughter and joy with her students and colleagues. She shows up for her students and honors their lived experiences, reminding them there is strength in what they have walked through.

Rose teaches students how to confidently ask direct questions to get the information they need to make informed decisions. They learn how to reflect on why they want to attend college, their individual interests, and non-negotiables. She introduces them to different types of schools, encouraging them to think critically about how their needs and goals would be addressed and supported.