Emery Counsels Students to Success
Erica Emery, who majored in secondary education with a concentration in English at UMF, now works as a college and career-development counselor with Bottom Line, a non-profit organization focused on helping disadvantaged Boston-area youth gain access to and graduate from college.
“My students don’t have advocates at school or in the home,” explains Emery, who assists high school students (one half of her case load) with filling out federal financial-aid forms, completing college applications, writing admission essays and conducting on-campus interviews. For her college-enrolled students, typical support involves conducting “degree audits” (reviews of their academic progress and degree requirements) to make sure they’ll graduate on time. And the assistance doesn’t stop there, as Emery works with Boston- and Worcester-area businesses like Sun Life Financial and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to develop summer internship and job opportunities for her college-enrolled students.
Among the challenges, Emery says, is overcoming the “doctor effect” in career counseling high school students uncertain of their career interests and job options.
“They say they want to become doctors because it’s the only image of job success they know,” she explains. “And they want to go to Harvard or Yale because those are the only universities they’ve heard of. I start by explaining to them different professions that match their interests and develop a realistic list of good colleges to support their goals.”
Emery says another challenge is building trust with her ethnically diverse students. “Success really depends upon building relationships and getting the students to know you’re going to be there for them—even if they see you has having an entirely different background,” explains the Farmington native, who was the first in her family to attend college right after high school. “Even though I have a different background from the Haitian, Dominican and Cape Verdean students that I work with, as soon as they can see that I am going to remember their birthdays, send them good-luck e-mails the day of tests and help them get jobs, they realize I’m invested in their success. Then they understand that they have a support system that includes me and Bottom Line.”
After graduating from UMF, Emery spent one year teaching the children of U.S. Embassy personnel and Greek aristocracy at a Hellenic American Educational Foundation school in Greece. But she says working one summer as the career services coordinator for the Upward Bound program at UMF steered her toward supporting under-resourced high school students.
“I loved the UB model for mentoring students,” says Emery of the federally funded program at UMF that encourages higher rates of college enrollment and academic success among disadvantaged, high-potential high school students from west-central Maine. “Every day that I worked with these amazing students I knew I wanted to teach the skills for success in life.”