The Counselors That Change Lives Award recognizes those whose dedication to the college counseling profession reflects the CTCL ideals. By helping students frame their search beyond the ratings and rankings to find a college that provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life, these counselors change lives.
Since 2009, we have recognized the tireless work of individuals who counsel students in the college search process with this award, and we offer our sincere congratulations to the 2022 recipients!
Jesse changes lives both in his direct work with students and via his advocacy on their behalf. He champions liberal arts colleges and challenges himself to stay updated and engaged so that he can better direct more of his students to them. He is a cheerleader and ambassador for both his students and the colleges he believes are best for them. Jesse writes highly personalized recommendation letters—the kind that leave you feeling as though you really know the student. His nominator shared, “When I think of the importance of building partnerships across the desk in order to help students find their best college fit, I think of Jesse.” He’s a supportive, accessible resource, partner, and guide for his college admission colleagues and advisees. As a leader on active legislative campaigns with the Southern ACAC Government Relations committee and a grassroots coalition of college counselors, Jesse continues to fight for lower student-to-counselor ratios across Georgia, equity and access in college admission and state-sponsored need-based financial aid. Jesse’s efforts are ongoing because he is profoundly invested in all students and the professionals who are in the trenches with them.
Frank Branch — Jim Hill High School (MS)
Nominated by Susan Margaret Barrett of Millsaps College
Major Frank Branch (Retired) believes preparation is the foundation for success and he coaches his students to start that preparation as early as they can in their educational careers. He is a standout role model for them and the elementary and middle school students he inspires as a mentor and health and wellness program coordinator. He chairs several scholarship and community-based education awareness efforts to support as many students as possible on the road to college. Every August he facilitates a college planning series that includes an orientation and a goal-setting workshop to launch students into college admission and financial aid journeys. He empowers his advisees through intrusive intervention, pushing them to look beyond their comfort zones for the greater opportunities and options he knows they deserve. Frank believes in them until they can believe in themselves. His kinetic optimism motivates and uplifts the students and colleges to which they are introduced; it fuels his drive to get them to recognize the potential, talent, and tremendous impact they can have on their communities and world.
Randy Fong — Sacred Hearts Academy (HI)
Nominated by Jenna Sciarrino of Saint Mary’s College of California
Adjusting back to in-person learning has been easier to navigate because of the care of Sacred Hearts counselor, Randy Fong. Randy always goes above and beyond for his students and their families, many of whom come from Native Hawaiian and limited income communities. For over 20 years, he’s shepherded his students through the college admissions process with his trademark sense of humor and beaming smile. Almost every year he coordinates an extensive trip for students to visit schools on the mainland to introduce them to the diversity of their college options. Randy knows that sometimes students need to see themselves on a campus before they can claim their space on a college campus. He guides students to those college communities that will celebrate them as individuals by supporting and challenging them. His lived commitment to help each student discover their “reason why”, what they value, and what’s best for them is unparalleled. Randy and his work reflect the spirit of service, community, and family that defines the charism of the religious order that founded Sacred Hearts Academy.
Her nominator said that Jessica came to mind as a standout for the CTCL Counselors That Change Lives award in large part because of how she contributes to a student-centered college search in her many roles OUTSIDE of St. George’s. She strives to spend much of her “free” time in service to students across the region but also to enhance her own expertise. She is active as a Board Director for the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling and has organized and facilitated several college admission camps. As a leader with the National Association for College Admission Counseling Memphis College Fair, Jessica directed a group of college and high school counselors to plan, advertise, and execute a College Fair that invited students from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
Under her leadership, the event coordinators secured financial grants to sponsor the participation of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They increased attendance from rural schools in Arkansas and Mississippi and also expanded the number of Memphis public schools that use buses to come during the day. Her nominator also commented that it’s easy for Jessica to help students see beyond the “bumper sticker” schools because she can provide examples from her own undergraduate experience at a small liberal arts college. And because she is fortunate to have the time to get to know her students personally through college appointments, mentorship through clubs, and an advisory cohort, she focuses on helping students get to know themselves first and then works closely with them to determine what kind of school will serve them best.
Patty Hart — HighSight (IL)
Nominated by Dave Wagner and Seda Bagiryan of St. Olaf College
Patty sees students as whole people. She honors students for who they are, she sees what they need, and she works tirelessly to make sure that they find institutions that will nurture their potential and help them grow. She consistently goes above and beyond to serve her students: She knows them incredibly well and is focused on helping each individual student intentionally find a school that is a good match for them. Patty always thinks about what the best-case scenario for her students would be—expertly balancing and matching students’ wish lists, options, and financial realities when curating lists of schools to apply to and guiding them through the admission process. A college admission counseling leader in Chicago and the entire Midwest, she is respected by students, parents, college representatives, counselors, and other CBO leaders. Patty maintains intentional relationships with admissions officers in order to help her students stay on track and college bound. And she forms lifelong connections with her advisees: She counsels them through the critical transition to college and then frequently checks in with them, identifying resources as needed to support their continued progress all the way to degree completion.
William Kibler’s mission is to ensure his students know about higher education options beyond their backyard. His faculty bio says he is focused on preparing students for college, career, and life. He is fiercely committed to creating and sustaining a college-going culture in a school community where most students are first-generation college bound from historically excluded and limited income backgrounds. While he teaches a full array of AP social studies courses and coaches the Academic Decathlon team, he motivates and encourages post-secondary dreams by creating spaces for their confidence, dreams, and world view to grow. He regularly offers students personalized and aspirational guidance, introducing them to a variety of liberal arts colleges and the financial aid options that make them within reach. William opens his classroom to college admission counselors, prepares students for interviews, and edits résumés that really highlight students’ generational and cultural strengths. He identifies and connects with schools that will care about his students—places that will see them as individuals with unique and sometimes complicated histories. And then he gets his students in front of those schools by arranging transportation to college fairs, setting up school day meetings with admission officers, and introducing them to competitive scholarships. William strives to launch his students and families into futures they could not have imagined for themselves.
Gabrielle Matthews — College Advising Corps (Boston University) for Community Academy of Science and Health
Nominated by Rhea Bennett of Clark University
After pursuing an undergraduate major in community building for social change, Gabi embraced introducing students to how they could benefit from the transformative power of higher education. She remains passionate about college access and admission counseling work because she believes that all students deserve the chance to pursue their college degrees. Intensely focused on each individual student as well as keen to honor their personal history and unique journeys, she provides the tools and knowledge for students to develop and execute their own college admissions plans. Gabi offers her counselees a full range of programming on topics ranging from career and major exploration to scholarship resources and self-advocacy throughout the admission and financial aid process. Because she recognizes that so many of her first-generation students may not know how to get conversations started, she even provides scripts for them, so they feel confident asking questions and following up. She practices intrusive intervention, serving as a role model and guide. Gabi knows that building and maintaining strong working relationships with students and families is critical: she happily shares her educational experiences so that students feel comfortable sharing their dreams and goals. During the COVID pandemic, she quickly moved to using various platforms in creative ways to make sure her students stayed connected and on track in a virtual environment. Gabi took being “student-centered” to a whole other level!
Delia Olmos-Garcia — Willamette Academy (OR)
Nominated by Karla Gutierrez-Hernandez of Willamette University
As the Program Director for an out-of-school college access program housed on the Willamette University campus, Delia devotes herself to creating and sustaining collaborative relationships with school counselors, students, program alumni, and families. She understands that this network of relationships will empower students who may not see themselves as college bound and help them to directly address the real and perceived barriers they face. Delia knows that former program participants can inspire and uplift current ones and help them envision success in a college environment. Because she recognizes the power of this peer-to-peer guidance, she charges program alumni with facilitating workshops and serving as mentors. This world changer knows that creating community is critical, especially for students who are mostly from populations that are historically excluded in higher education. While Delia and her team deliver timely sessions on all the transactional things program participants need to know about how to get to college, they are also engaging them in conversation and experiential learning around social justice, equity, and access. Students become more equipped to navigate the challenges the application process and college experience may bring. As a result, students grow more confident, self-aware, and prepared to do well at the four-year college or university of their choice.
Pedro Zuniga — Gear UP at Harlingen High School (TX)
Nominated by Andres Vasquez of Austin College
Pedro Zuniga is a life coach, cheerleader, academic advisor, career counselor and college admission guide for his students. Because he is so deeply personally invested in helping them discover their interests and shape their post-secondary educational and career goals, he actively recruits community members and professionals to share their experiences and advice with them. Pedro is a champion networker who devotes an incredible amount of time and energy to outreach efforts that connect students to what is possible with higher education. He is driven to help his students look beyond just getting a degree and a job—to help them plan for a lifetime of engaged learning and a meaningful vocation. He regularly takes students to visit schools and work sites so that they can envision themselves being successful and confident in those spaces. Pedro also recognizes how critically important parent engagement is to a student’s success: He knows that the family goes to college and the family graduates from college. And he makes space for social and emotional learning, understanding that fostering healthy identity development, the creation of supportive relationships, emotional intelligence, and responsible, caring decision-making means his students are more likely to thrive academically and personally. Pedro’s nominator benefitted from his student-centered guidance when he was in high school; he praised his commitment to growing as an educator and challenging himself to keep adapting and revising his programming to reach more students and impact more lives.