Luz: Coach to Counselor

Luz, Counselor

What was your own journey to and through college like? 

Choosing a college was really stressful. I didn’t have any help from my family or my mom. She still doesn’t really understand what college is or what it means to go. There were a lot of challenges with FAFSA verification because of the way my family filed taxes, and I had to figure it all out on my own. I wanted to go to school outside of NYC and the five boroughs,, but then I got pregnant, so I knew I needed to be close to home.

I started at BMCC and then I finished undergrad at Queen’s College last semester. I think my love of learning helped me get through, and all the negativity I was hearing after I had a baby. People were telling me that I couldn’t do it and my life was ruined, but I turned all that around and used it as motivation. My daughter needs a role model, and I can be that person for her if I do what I need to.

Why did you become a Bridge coach, and why have you remained in the role?

My college counselor at the Academy for Careers in Television and Film (TvF) reached out to me because she knew I was already helping a lot of my friends with FAFSA and the TAP application. I like helping people so I thought it sounded like a great opportunity. Going to my high school as a staff member was weird at first, especially seeing teachers I used to give attitude to. But now I’m used to being their coworker.

This is my fourth year as a coach. I keep coming back because of my students. Getting to help the students and then seeing the outcomes makes it all worth it. Last year two of our kids got full rides to NYU, and it was one of the happiest moments of the whole year.

How is the college process for the students you work with different from your own experience?

The process for my students is really different. If I’d had a coach, I wouldn’t have felt so alone through it all. I was pretty good at keeping up with stuff over the summer after graduation, but my friends would have benefited so much from having someone to keep harassing them to turn in all their stuff to actually enroll in college in the fall. At TvF we recently had a staff retreat to talk about the college process, and we spent time looking over the numbers from before and after my coworker and I started as Bridge coaches. I couldn’t believe the difference. So many more students are actually matriculating now, and it’s amazing.

How have you grown during your time as a Bridge coach?

A big thing for me has been learning to advocate. I always would stand up for myself and my students, but now I know how to do it professionally and with the right sort of language so people really listen. Another big thing I’ve learned is to not take things so personally. At the beginning I took everything to heart, and would get upset when I’d tell someone to do something and they’d do something else instead. Now I can respect my students’ decisions a lot more. Instead of me just telling them what to do, it’s more about them telling me what they want and then the two of us figuring out together what makes the most sense.

How did your work as a Bridge coach lead you to your new role in college access, and how is it going?

After I finished at Queens College, I heard from CARA about a maternity leave coverage role leading the Student Success Center at Mott Haven for Right to College. All the experience I had as a Bridge coach caught their attention, like the work I did with the toolkit for undocumented students, and all the different ways I’ve used data and spreadsheets to keep track of student progress. Everything I learned as a Bridge coach is related, and it all helps me now.

The difference here is that I’m in charge, and supervising four high school peer leaders. I’ve had to work on delegating, which is hard. Sometimes I know I could do something faster, but it’s important to teach them to do things so they learn.

I’m already kind of doing my dream job, but ultimately I want to get my master’s degree and be a college counselor at the DOE. All these steps I’m taking little by little will lead me down that road.