The Joys and Challenges of Supporting College Scholars

by Alison Krupnick

It’s November. You’re on a college campus on the other side of the country or maybe at a school in Washington. It’s your first time away at school or maybe you’re back on campus after a pandemic-induced break. You get a text. “Hey. Just wanted to check in. How are things going?” You relax.

Someone at Rainier Scholars is thinking about you. 

“I’m really enjoying working with this age group because everything Rainier Scholars has put in comes to fruition once scholars are in college,” says veteran Academic Counselor Aisha Cathcart. “They are prepped for the end game. They’ve gotten into top-tier colleges, and they think, ‘Wow, I did it.’ But some of the challenges come as they start to wonder, ‘what now?’ I want to make sure we are doing everything necessary to prepare them and build them up to be successful, not just in college, but post-graduation; not just helping them have a good career but also helping them be all-around good and contributing individuals for whatever they decide to do next.”   

Guidance on the path of self-discovery

In a commencement speech she gave at Howard University in 2007, Oprah Winfrey said, “Your calling isn’t something that somebody can tell you about. You know it inside yourself.”  

College is a time of self-discovery and the Rainier Scholars Academic Counselors who support college scholars do more than just check on grades. As Counselor Asha Hanstad says, “Scholars are asking themselves, ‘What’s important to me? What kind of person do I want to become? What legacy do I want to leave?’ Lots of Rainier Scholars have a perfectionist mentality and I remind them that their grades do not define them. By this point, many scholars have learned to navigate academics and school, so I make room in our meetings to try to help them figure out who they are, what they need and to talk about real-life stuff, like stress management. We have deep and candid conversations, which I enjoy.” 

Myly Nguyen is the newest and youngest of the Academic Counselors who support college students, having graduated from college in 2020. Through a combination of enticing local scholars with food (Boba and chicken are favorites), talking about extracurricular activities and sharing stories of her own struggles in college, she’s building new relationships. She works hard to be relatable so that scholars are comfortable being vulnerable with her.  

Prioritizing mental health

May-Lannie Lozano is an Academic Counselor and a Cohort 4 alum, who uses her own experiences with the program to relate to scholars. Counselors formally check in with each college scholar once per quarter or twice per semester, but there are also regular “soft” check-ins. “We have a lot more touchpoints now than when I was in the program,” Lozano says. “We’ve also normalized making mental health a priority and sharing resources.” She enjoys continuing to support scholars she’s worked with in high school and witnessing and celebrating their growth. “It’s fun to see them get more serious and acknowledge that the skills they learned through Rainier Scholars are actually useful.” 

The Academic Counseling team has built a roadmap for counseling all Rainier Scholars, with discussion themes tied into every phase of the school year. There are also certain topics that are always on the table. “I remind scholars that I’m going to ask about their mental health every time we meet, “says Cathcart.  

“There’s a natural tendency to just go, go, go,” says Hanstad. “I encourage scholars to stop and reflect and make space before moving onto the next task. I wish I had done that in college.” She also encourages scholars to recognize their growth and be proud of accomplishments, both big and small. “We are their cheerleaders,” she says. 

Just one text away

As parents know, college students can be notoriously uncommunicative. Cathcart feels that the college scholars she supports are more responsive now, in the time of COVID-19. “I think they are looking for an anchor,” she says. 

When students are unresponsive, the counselors have to determine the reason. The deep knowledge and trust they’ve built with scholars helps them figure out next steps. “Sometimes a scholar is doing really well, and they just want some space,” acknowledges Hanstad. “I’ve had a few students who pulled back,” says Lozano. “When they were in high school, I could check their grades online or pop over to school to visit them. In college, if they are overwhelmed or embarrassed and hesitant to speak to us, it’s a lot harder to get them support until they are ready to reach out and receive it.” Hanstad recognizes that sometimes the busiest times, like finals week, are the times to be more tenacious with outreach. “We remind them that we’re here, whenever they need us,” she says. 

On a rainy November morning, a college scholar who had an exam that day received a text from MyLy.

“Hey. Good luck with your exam. You’ve got this. I believe in you,” she told him. 

However things turned out, he knew that someone at Rainier Scholars was thinking about him.