Counselors have an important role in bridging the gap between high school and the world beyond, guiding students throughout their academic career at MHS, and College Counselor Andrea Rusk was recognized for her work, receiving the 2020 Counselors That Change Lives award.
“I had no idea I was nominated…. I had seen past recipients on social media and my different organizations in the past, but I never would have placed my name amongst them, so it was a huge surprise,” Rusk said.
Rusk was one of 14 recipients across the U.S. and was nominated by a representative from Hope College who was familiar with Rusk’s work with students and had seen the changes she had made as a college counselor.
“I have created an entire program from scratch,” Rusk said. “I have presentations that are specifically for underclassmen, juniors and seniors, and we have workshops for FAFSA and financial aid…. I have essay workshops for seniors.”
Colleges That Change Lives, the non-profit organization that offers the award, said on its website that her personal and intimate guidance made her stand out, despite working with more than 450 students.
“She is an amazing resource for all students looking to go to college because she individualizes her way of helping students so that every student gets the help they need,” Hailey Negley, senior, said. “She also always makes time so that every student can get help as well.”
In the end, Rusk said she sees her job as a form of support, but ultimately it’s up to the students to make the big decisions.
“I would say that I assist students in seeing themselves in a new light, in feeling like you can take control and understand your choices and your needs,” Rusk said.
Rusk also implemented the college ambassador program to add further support for students on a path toward college. The college ambassadors are chosen at the beginning of their senior year, and they work together to produce presentations they feel highlight the most important elements of the college process. They are also in charge of Decision Day, which celebrates the choices made by the entire Senior Class regarding their post-secondary plans. Once at their respective colleges, they are invited back to MHS to share their experiences.
“[In the college ambassador program], we have students that can lead from their own examples; they’re near peers who can help assist in different ways– adults, you hear us talk all the time, and so sometimes it’s nice to have that student perspective,” Rusk said.
Colleges That Change Lives highlighted on its website Rusk’s efforts to introduce students to as many colleges as possible by coordinating college fairs and by meeting with students individually to offer new options.
“[Rusk] has also helped me grow out of my comfort zone regarding colleges and careers. She has guided me towards going to a few college visits that I wouldn’t normally attend,” Abby Hammer, junior, said. “As she predicted, I actually found it very informative to go and proceeded to get the information I needed to strengthen my views concerning colleges.”
Looking out into the world beyond high school can be overwhelming for many, with so many options and paths to take. Rusk works every day to ensure MHS students get the help they need.
“With four thousand options out there, there’s a really good chance your best fit is somewhere you don’t know exists right now,” Rusk said. “I hope that I’m at least assisting in the identification of the new options, new opportunities and understanding that you can go for everything you want.”