Marie Charles is in her second year in People’s Prep’s Office of College Placement. In the latest edition of Wolfpack Voices, Marie discusses how her team continues to support our alumni during the pandemic and what makes PPCS a great fit for students who are looking for a college prep high school next year.
You held a number of positions in higher education before joining People’s Prep. How have they prepared you for your current role with the organization?
In addition to my work at People’s Prep, I’m also an adjunct professor at William Paterson University. I’ve worked with high school honors students in a STEM Program, as a career services advisor at a trade school, and as an academic advisor working with first generation students (traditional and non-traditional). All of these roles have prepared me for my work in the Office of College Placement (OCP) because I work with all of these same groups of students every day. I was excited to join the OCP because I wanted to help students bridge the gap between where they are now and what they want to do next. No matter where they are in their journey, I can help them in the transition to or from trade school, two and four-year schools, and their future careers.
What are some of the biggest obstacles our alumni face in getting through college?
I think that “grit” is our most important core value for our alumni to carry with them when they go to college. A number of our students forget that college classes require a lot more of their time management skills. They need to be flexible, learn how to navigate the different departments within their college, and learn how to change their learning style for different courses. I spend a lot of time advising our students and motivating them when they’re not speaking up for themselves. Whether it’s negotiating a grade or meeting with a professor who has done something that they need to appeal, I guide them through those moments. In situations like that, some of our students struggle because they feel ashamed of their communication skills or limited knowledge of resources. I always tell them, “I’m behind you, and you’re so worth it.”
And, of course, I try to teach them to just be aware. I remind them they are adults and limit the hand holding. As a college student, you really have to manage your time and be comfortable with things like billing, financial aid, and filling out forms on time. Becoming an independent critical thinker who continues to evolve in their learning and their soft skills is what I stress to all Alumni. Preparing them to face life after college, the workplace, and their future careers is the goal.
People’s Prep supports alumni for up to six years after graduation. As a member of the Office of College Placement, what does that work look like for you on a day to day basis?
Right now, we have alumni who are in all phases of our 10-year plan. We have some who are living on campus, some who are virtual, students in two and four-year schools, and others who are just entering the professional world. I need to know everything about their dreams. For me and my team, that means that we need to know their advisor at the college and everything about their major. Sometimes we even need to study the physical layout of the university they are attending to help them navigate their campus.
In addition to being their advisor, I’m a confidant when they need to talk about things they might be experiencing as a first-generation college student. There’s definitely a mental health component as well. I talk to our alumni about what’s going on with their families, their personal lives, and what they like to do outside of school, so I lend a listening ear. When it comes to this type of advising it’s not always just about academics and finances: I take a holistic approach.
The world has changed a lot in the past nine months. How have you and your team had to adapt to meet the needs of our alumni?
One of the biggest aspects of our programming we’ve adapted is transitioning our mental health services virtually, which we are now able to offer free to majority of our students who express a need. It has been really beneficial for the students that take advantage of it, and I’m looking forward to providing that for a number of semesters to come.
We’ve been increasing the frequency and diversifying our alumni outreach. We used to have on-campus one-on-ones, but now we’re using Google Meet, which has allowed us to increase how often we have our check-ins.
We also have a number of alumni who can’t go on campus to do work but also have a situation at home that isn’t conducive to studying either. So, we partnered up with a co-working space that is free for our students to use if there’s just too much going on at home.
For our college-enrolled students, we’ve been connecting them with virtual internship and job opportunities. For some of our students, a job could mean they don’t have to take a leave of absence from their college. For those whose circumstances require that they take a leave, we’re finding them jobs, making sure we’re still speaking every other week, and helping get them on their feet so they can go back the next semester. We’re not giving them the option of dropping out of school; we’re giving them any way possible to stay on track.
People’s Prep is running its own enrollment lottery this year. Why should prospective parents consider PPCS as the high school for their child?
In my own experience of going to a public school, my guidance counselor didn’t have a lot of time for me. My parents were from the Caribbean, and I was the first in my family to go to college. It was a totally new experience which meant I had to do all the work on my own. I wish I had someone like the people who work in the Office of College Placement to help me while I was in high school, college, and during the transition to a career afterwards. It would have been a benefit for my parents to have a continuous relationship with a dedicated advisor throughout my education. It’s a tremendous benefit to the parent and the student to build a lasting relationship with the OCP, whether they go to 2 or 4-year school, a trade school year, or take a gap year. That parent can rest assured that the relationship they build with this office is going to be a lasting one.