Hard Work, Real Impact

Guest post by Emily Hadley T’15 | Duke College Advising Corps

Two years ago, during the spring of my senior year, I turned down a consulting job. The company seemed to do important work and my family was excited about my possible ascent into a higher income bracket, but after four years of a Duke curriculum that encouraged me to dream big, I wasn’t sure that I would find the job fulfilling.

I was looking for a job that would challenge me, that would do some good in the world, and that would allow me to see the direct results of the work I put into it. That job turned out to be my work as an AmeriCorps college adviser with the Duke College Advising Corps.

The modern AmeriCorps can trace its roots to 1990 legislation signed by President George H. W. Bush. Since then, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all either added to or expanded the program. Today, the organization known as the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is the largest grantmaker for service and volunteering in the U.S. and engages more than five million Americans through its core programming.

AmeriCorps members pledge to “make our people safer, smarter and healthier” and to “strengthen our communities.” Some of my AmeriCorps colleagues have followed through on this oath with health outreach for underserved communities in Seattle, home repair after flooding in Louisiana, and literacy programming in Appalachia.

In my position, I am the first full-time college adviser for a small high school in rural North Carolina. I have the privilege to work with a number of students who have overcome incredible adversity and are on paths to be the first in their families to attend college. Over the past two years, I have helped these students write college essays, take standardized tests, go on college visits, put together college applications, practice for scholarship interviews, submit financial aid paperwork, and develop their postsecondary plans. I have listened to their stories, celebrated their successes, challenged their biases, and developed advising relationships that will likely last long after my contract is done.

Many of my family members and friends were baffled when I told them that after earning a Duke degree, my first job would pay a small AmeriCorps stipend. But I couldn’t deny my gut desire to serve. I have benefitted from many government investments, including the public elementary school that gave me a solid foundation, Medicaid that paid for my childhood healthcare, and Pell grants that helped me afford college. As I prepared to make my own leap up the ladder of socioeconomic mobility, it was important for me to reach around for others who shared my background. I had the skills to make a difference, namely knowledge of the college application and financial aid process as well as experience as a low-income student at an elite institution, and I felt obliged to share my knowledge with others.

The skills I’ve developed during this job are varied and relevant. I’ve learned the value of collaboration and teamwork through putting on college access and standardized testing workshops with teachers in my school. I’ve developed presentation skills from talking before hundreds of high school students. I’ve gotten a detailed look at the current state of public secondary education and the challenges facing college access.

I’ve also been forced to confront my own biases and to develop the confidence to address the structural inequities faced by many members of the community. Overall, I have been honored to be a part of my students’ journeys, from the young woman who discovered the wonders of liberal arts colleges during a free, selective summer camp to a young man who was the first in his family to finish middle school and will soon be the first to attend college.

When I leave this job in June, I will join a network of more than one million AmeriCorps alumni engaged in a variety of sectors across the country.  I will miss my students dearly, but their stories drive me to seek change on a larger scale. During my experience, I’ve developed a better understanding of what it means to serve and how our state and country got to where they are today. I’ve come to embrace the final line of the AmeriCorps oath, “I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.” The work is hard, but the impact is real.

As I go forward, I will carry my commitment to my country, and to truly getting things done.

The Duke College Advising Corps is currently recruiting candidates for the 2017-2018 school year. To apply, please click here.