Academic GPS: Trailblazers Guide Peers through the College Experience

Tue Mar 13, 2018 at 11:32 AM

David Henderson, Abe Shahswar , Michele Ambrose, and Carolyn Wakeman

l-r: David, Abe, Michele, and Carolyn

As the recipient of the Lumina/Challenge Grant, Blue Ridge Community College brought together four students to participate in a pilot Trailblazer Program. The grant invited higher education institutions to create service positions for students to work with community partners and college leaders to address social needs of at risk students, while receiving credit for experiential learning. The Trailblazer Program sought to integrate peer mentors into different Student Success departments at BRCC. Over the course of this academic year, the participants explored what it means to be an “at risk” student, investigated best practices for peer-to-peer mentoring, and promoted academic, professional, and personal growth beneficial to its participants. Advisor Colleen Pendry says, “This group of peer mentors continues to raise the bar academically and professionally. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with them in the development of this student success initiative." The group will make a presentation at this year’s VCCS New Horizons Conference.

David Henderson

A graduate of the transfer program, David is applying to William and Mary, UVA, and JMU (guaranteed admission) with a goal to earn a law degree, and then have a career in public service in some manner.

Trailblazer assignment: Veteran Services.

"My favorite part… [was] helping veterans continue their education and hopefully move on to fruitful and successful civilian careers.”
Biggest surprise: “…the amount of guaranteed admissions agreements that the VCCS and Blue Ridge offer. If you know what you want to do and where you want to continue your education, you can pretty much go to any public school in the state as long as you plan accordingly.”

Abraham Shahswar

Abe will graduate from BRCC this May with a business transfer degree. “I will then transfer to JMU to eventually get a Master’s in Accounting, and pursue a CPA shortly after. I hope to be employed by one of the Big 4 [accounting firms] after obtaining my CPA.”

Trailblazer assignment: Student Success department in Academic Services.

How Blue Ridge made an impression: “The high level of academics the College provides and all of the professors I have personally worked with impressed me. BRCC has the kindest and most understanding professors. I have had a professor who personally buys school supplies so when students can’t afford supplies, they can come during office hours to pick up some notebooks/pencils.”

Michele Ambrose

Michele will graduate this spring with an Associate of Science degree with a specialization in Computer Science, then pursue a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Virginia Tech in the fall.

Trailblazer assignment: Career Services

Advice to prospective college students: “Understand that just because you are paying less for classes, it doesn't affect the material being taught in those classes. If anything, I felt I was able to learn more from my time here since I was learning from people who were in the workforce that I plan on going into, and I have tips and strategies on what people in those fields will be looking for. I loved my experience here, and I know that if they tried it they would, too.”

Carolyn Wakeman

Carolyn is also a May 2018 Blue Ridge grad in the Engineering specialization. She plans to transfer to Virginia Tech this fall to study to “become a Rehabilitation Engineer and be part of the design and manufacture of mobility aids and prosthetics.”

Trailblazer assignment: Disability Services

Why BRCC is special: “Blue Ridge…cares about each student's success. The culture of a school can be just as valuable as its academics. While one can treat Blue Ridge as a place to come only for classes, my best memories of my time here stem from plugging myself into the vibrant clubs and activities the school has available.”