With a mission to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education, the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC) is an AmeriCorps State program housed at the University of Virginia. Serving more than 14,000 students at 63 high schools across the Commonwealth, there are currently 60 AmeriCorps members serving with VCAC.
As a partnership between AmeriCorps and the College Advising Corps, VCAC recruits graduating college seniors and recent college graduates to serve as full-time college advisers in high-need high schools throughout Virginia, addressing structural inequities in the education system that have systematically advantaged some populations over others. Advisers become fierce advocates for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students, fueled by the idea that access to higher education is paramount to racial and economic equity. To learn more about VCAC’s impact in the communities they serve, we invite you to get to know three of their current advisers...
Zoie Sickey is a first-generation college graduate and a second-year VCAC adviser at Salem High School. She studied biomedical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University and plans to pursue a career in higher education after she completes her service with VCAC. Zoie reflects, “I was fortunate to have a wonderful academic adviser during my time as an undergraduate student, and when I was in the process of job searching, he inspired me to consider advising as a possible career. Because of his suggestion, I came across the posting to become a college adviser with VCAC and have loved advising ever since.” This past summer, Zoie also served as one of VCAC's "Pre-Service Training Facilitators" and helped plan and lead VCAC’s annual pre-service training for incoming college advisers.
In her work with students, Zoie's efforts to increase FAFSA completion at Salem High School last year resulted in 80% of her students submitting the application, the highest of any high school participating in Virginia's Super FAFSA Project. One of Zoie’s students says, “I'm so very thankful for Ms. Sickey because she made applying to college more conceivable. She broke things down for me to make the college application less overwhelming and took the time to check in on me throughout the year. She helped me gain the confidence I needed to finish my applications.”
“The one-on-one interactions between myself and my students have had the greatest impact on me throughout my time in VCAC,” says Zoie. “I always knew I wanted to enter a career that allowed me to help others directly, and getting to assist them and see them pursue their own goals has been nothing short of incredible. It is definitely the biggest motivation behind my plans to pursue my master’s degree in higher education so I can continue this work at the college level.”
C'erra Rhodes is a first-year VCAC adviser at Madison County High School, having graduated from Radford University in 2023. She attended Charlottesville High School, where a VCAC college adviser supported her with her own college application process. “I was served by VCAC advisers throughout my junior and senior high school years," recalls C’erra. “I wanted to serve as a VCAC adviser because I remember the challenges I faced during the college application process as a first-generation student. Without the guidance of my VCAC adviser, I'm not sure if I would have navigated it successfully on my own.”
One of C’erra’s students says, “I am thankful for Ms. Rhodes because she has been a good advocate for students of color in our school and helping us know that it is okay to be a student of color and to want to go to college.” In addition, C’erra has been doing an impressive job coordinating college exploration activities for her students, including a campus tour of Eastern Mennonite University and an upcoming trip to Longwood University, with support from a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia grant.
“Each day I spend interacting with my kids leaves a lasting impact on me," says C'erra. “The trust they place in me and the openness with which they confide in me make me feel like I'm genuinely making a difference in their lives. The exchange of stories, both theirs and mine, is a privilege I never take for granted.”
Bruce Lamond is a second-year VCAC adviser at Mecklenburg County High School, which just opened in 2022. He served in the Marine Corps for several years before graduating from the University of Virginia in 2022. During his military service, Bruce became passionate about youth mentorship, prompting him to pursue a degree in Youth and Social Innovation and to step into several student support roles at UVA. “I learned about AmeriCorps and VCAC in my senior year of college when an assistant director of VCAC presented on the program in one of my classes,” recalls Bruce. “As soon as she started talking about the program, I knew it would be a good fit for me personally and professionally. When I was applying to college, I was very fortunate to have people in my life help me with the process and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay it forward.”
Bruce has quickly gained the trust of students at MCHS and individually assisted over one-third of MCHS’s class of 2023 with a college application, resulting in the class submitting a total of 504 applications. One of his students reports that, “Mr. Lamond has made applying for college much easier and less stressful. Without him I wouldn't even know where to begin. He's been a lot of help to me.” In addition to his role as the school’s college adviser, Bruce coaches Mecklenburg's soccer and basketball teams. In a recent evaluation, Bruce’s supervisor wrote, “Bruce has done a great job establishing the VCAC position here at MCHS. He does great at relationship building with students.”
“The opportunity to serve with VCAC has impacted my life in so many ways, but the relationships I have with my students is by far the most impactful,” says Bruce. “I came into this position knowing that I would like to work in higher education, but working with this population has opened me up to the possibility of continuing this line of work. Even being a small part of their personal journey to college and beyond is a true privilege.
Learn more about VCAC and explore opportunities to serve as a college adviser at vcac.virginia.edu.