By Shayla Thiel Stern
Just before she graduated from college, Telia Ratliff-Cross realized her heart was not really into the major in Communications and Public Relations that she’d declared years earlier. In fact, she suspected she’d prefer to work in education.
So, immediately, after graduation from Minnesota State Moorehead in 2014, Telia signed up to be an AmeriCorps member with Minnesota Reading Corps, serving as a tutor for Kindergarten through 3rd graders at an elementary school in Maple Grove. The service helped her realize she was passionate about working with students, but not young students.
“It was great being with the little kids,” she said. “But I knew that when I went back to school for graduate school, I wanted to start working with college students and working in student affairs.”
Telia was admitted to a graduate program for counseling and student affairs at her alma mater and was able to use her AmeriCorps education credit from Reading Corps to cover some of the expense. Back at Moorhead, she pursued a master’s degree while working with college students as a career development assistant. She said she often walked past an office window with a College Possible sign on her way to classes.
“I was always like, ‘What is that?’” she said with a laugh. “In my last semester of school, I went to a diversity fair, and College Possible recruiters were there.” She chatted with one of the recruiters and was impressed with the program. Then, she saw the same recruiter again at a career fair closer to the time of her graduation and decided it was a sign that she should dedicate another year or more to AmeriCorps service — this time with College Possible. She started service as a College Access and Success Coach for high school students enrolled in the organization in August 2018.
An Unsure Path to College
As a high school student in the Twin Cities area, Telia’s teachers and counselors told her she just wasn’t college material.
“They told me I would not be able to graduate from college or really, even get into college because I wasn’t on track for that or smart enough to understand the material,” Telia said. “I was disheartened because I had my heart set on going to college.”
So, she decided to ignore the naysayers, and she figured out how to get accepted to college on her own. Now, Telia coaches 40 students at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park. She serves to make sure her students are never discouraged from applying to school, for any reason.
Her service entails meeting regularly with students to help them with college applications, essays and transcripts. She also works with them to choose the best college based on their interests, family needs, learning styles and financial situations.
“I love interacting with the students,” she said. “I love seeing them go from being really nervous or uncomfortable to excited and confident about the schools they have applied to go to. It’s great getting to learn more about their lives and then just seeing all that they are accomplishing.”
Many of her students have already received college acceptance letters to schools including the University of Minnesota, Concordia College and Howard University in Washington, D.C.
A Future Continuing to Help Students
Telia has not yet decided what she will do at the end of her service term. She said she might do another term of AmeriCorps service or apply for a position as a full-time program coordinator with College Possible. Regardless, Telia said she is dedicated to making sure that students never feel disheartened when pursuing their dreams of college.
“I love the idea of helping young adults and adolescents apply for college and be successful because I know from my own experience how hard it can be,” she said. “It just feels really good.”
Do you want to lean more about service in College Possible? Visit their website and view openings and read the story of another AmeriCorps member serving in College Possible.