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laura-sellers-college-counselor

Magazine of CA

The Right Fit

August 18, 2023

Ask nearly any alum to recount one of the most valuable relationships they had as a Charger, and you’re likely to hear “my college counselor.” That resounding compliment is, in no small part, thanks to the efforts of Laura Sellers, CA’s long- time Co-Director of College Counseling. (Sellers is quick to shrug off the praise, pointing instead to her predecessors and current colleagues—Leya Jones, Brandon Carter, David Sayaki, and Becca Haque— who undoubtedly also share in the credit).

But humility aside, Sellers has been instrumental in shaping CA’s college counseling approach for over two decades. “College counseling is not framed as a separate discrete process at CA,” explains Sellers.

“We approach it as just another part of a student’s educational journey—of their lifelong learning journey, really. CA offers students so many avenues for discovery, and so many phenomenal leadership possibilities—even from Middle School—that by the time they get to us, they are prepared and empowered to do some important reflective work and really own their college process, just as they own their learning elsewhere on campus.”

In Sellers, “college counselor” is shorthand for a role that is equal parts thoughtful therapist, inspiring coach, tireless cheerleader, trusted guide, and sage mentor. In those myriad capacities, she has shepherded hundreds of students through countless moments of self-discovery on a journey resulting in their right-fit institutions.

What does that look like? It might mean helping students tune out the noise of peer voices, societal pressures, and preconceived ideas in favor of an introspective focus on personal values that homes in on the college experience they hope to have. Or it might require gently pushing students a bit outside of their preconceived expectations—or even comfort zones—to consider a university they may not have heard of. (Sellers takes the ever- growing list of colleges and universities across the globe that have received CA graduates as a particular point of pride.)

At the heart of her philosophy is a strong belief—shared by her fellow CA college counselors— that there is no single, perfect college choice for any student. If CA alums “bloom where they are planted,” as Sellers likes to say, she sees her role as helping them find the growing conditions where they are most likely to thrive.

Sellers’s near-encyclopedic knowledge of the university landscape and background in
college admissions certainly doesn’t hurt. (“It’s like having an insider to college admissions,” notes alum Andrew Tie, ‘11.) However, it
is her relationship-forward approach, and her capacity to connect meaningfully with students—and their families—that is perhaps her most appreciated gift.

“Ms. Sellers was more than a college counselor to me, she was also my biggest advocate and supporter throughout my time at Cary Academy,” reflects alum Michael Friedman, ‘19. “What makes Ms. Sellers truly incredible is that she takes an active interest in every aspect of her students’ lives and makes
a genuine effort to get to know each of us on a personal level.”

“She epitomizes everything you want in a college counselor: authenticity, empathy,
expertise, kindness, and more,” adds Punith Upadhya, ‘16. “Ms. Sellers has played a
key role in the impressive array of schools represented by Cary Academy alumni, but more importantly, she has made a massive difference in so many students’ lives beyond just their college decision. Without her, and the advice she’s given me along the way, I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

“Ninety percent of what we do in college counseling is one-on-one,” offers Sellers. “You really do get to know the students—to see them for who they really are—and what they hope for their future. When they’re vulnerable and open— about what is important to them, what they care about—that is powerful. I’m honored to be part of that journey.”

It is that passion for working closely with young people that originally drew Sellers to CA. A former English teacher turned Duke University admissions officer, Sellers was excited by the prospect of returning to more face-to-face interaction with students.

After a series of near-comical missed connections (right job/wrong time and wrong job/right time), at last, alignment and serendipity appeared with the opening of a part-time college counselor position at CA. Like so many of her future students, Sellers had found her institutional “right fit.” Within a matter of years, Sellers had shifted to college counseling full-time.

“For me, the magic is the people, our community, and the shared commitment to our students. From our board to our leadership team to our faculty and staff, every member of our community is incredibly mission-driven,” offers Sellers. “It creates an environment where others are constantly pushing, constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to live the mission, to support each other and our students—it’s an inspiring place to work.”

It was in that spirit of innovation that Sellers originated Career Connections. The program, in which alums and other members of the extended Cary Academy community come to campus to discuss and answer questions about their respective professions, gives students
an important opportunity to explore and test interests in a low-pressure way.

“Life is not a linear path from A to B; there are so many paths to success. Too often, we see students putting far too much pressure on themselves. You don’t have to know your college major when you are in ninth grade; you don’t need to know what you are going to do with your entire life. But you should be curious,” says Sellers. “You should be open to exploration—that’s the best way to learn— and that is what Career Connections was all about. It’s also why the experiential learning opportunities offered by our Center for
Community Engagement that expose students to real-world professionals and environments— our X Days, Discovery Term, and Work Experience Program—are so important.”

For Sellers, who retired this June, looking back on a career defined by countless cherished memories—far too many to recount—inspires nothing short of immense gratitude. But the feeling that has kept her coming back to CA all these years? A genuine sense of awe.

“I was recently listening to a podcast with Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley, who studies the science of happiness,” shares Sellers. “He explained that the most common way for people to experience awe is through other people—in observing their strengths, witnessing their experiences, their triumphs.

“That just sums up what I have loved about working at CA: I have spent the last 22 years in a state of absolute awe. I feel immense joy in observing our students—in their care for others, their resilience, and in their courage to do things I would never, ever have done. I have loved watching them follow their passions as they discover what they want for themselves, and for their futures. It has been a true privil

Written by Dean Sauls

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COVID-19, self-discovery, and the college search process

April 9, 2020

Ask most college counselors what they love about their job, and we guarantee they’ll respond with fervor, “The kids!” Here at CA, we’re no different: we delight in the daily rush of energy that comes from being around students in an active learning environment – their excitement, ideas, goals, challenges, and triumphs. Most of all, we love the time we’re privileged to spend developing individual relationships with students as they embark on a culminating experience at CA: the rite of passage that is the college search.

Our entire approach to the college search process is grounded in two basic premises. The first: that a successful process is a journey of self-discovery that leads to finding more than one place that will share a student’s values, stimulate them, and help them achieve their aspirations. The second: that finding these places begins with genuine self-searching to identify the qualities the student values the most. While helping students and families discover colleges is certainly a significant part of our work, by far the more interesting part is helping students discover themselves.

We’ve found ourselves thinking about how COVID-19 affects these processes – the process of self-discovery and the college process. And, although we share the sense of loss COVID has brought, we see some silver linings. 

We all have had to pause, to pivot, to reflect.

Students, as we’ve talked with you, we’ve loved hearing what you’ve been up to, the ways you’re spending your time, the old hobbies you’ve renewed, and the new interests you’ve developed. You’ve been reflective, generous, and inventive: you’ve created collaborative music videos; posed thoughtful questions to your peers, reminding each other of the importance of kindness; devoted yourselves to supporting your families, neighborhoods, and communities – and encouraged all of us to do the same.

What you’re doing right now? There is no better example of owning your learning. We understand that it’s tempting to dwell on what opportunities we’ve missed this spring, but we urge you to look at the unexpected windfall of time as a gift. There is absolutely no better opportunity to consider who you are and what matters to you. 

Still searching? For starters, you can never go wrong reading a book, spending time with your family, getting outside, bestowing a random act of kindness. Looking to learn something new? There are tons of free resources if you’d like to try coding, meditating, cooking, exercising, art-observing, language learning – to name just a few.

Whatever you do, do it with gusto and revel in it… and know that in the eventual college process, you will be valued for who you are and what matters to you. 

To borrow from the encouraging words of Tulane Director of Admission Jeff Schiffman in his March 24 blog post

“We totally get it. There are no sports. There is no spring musical. There is no dance recital. Listen, if you include on your Common Application activities section a list of all the books you read for pleasure during your social distancing, I’ll love it. Get creative. Maybe you love to paint and you go Instagram Live a few times and teach people to paint? You could be the next Bob Ross. Or maybe you’re a soccer player and you do a live video teaching people how to dribble a soccer ball on your own? Teaching guitar lessons? Yes please. We will love seeing anything you did during this whacky time.”

 So will we. Promise. Now, if you’ll excuse us, the outdoors awaits.

Written by Leya Jones, College Counselor

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Magazine of CA

Dream Team

August 16, 2019

CA’s college counselors are in the business of dreams—helping students pursue theirs by guiding them on a process of self-discovery that, hopefully, ends with the best college fit.

Ask any of our three college counselors—Brandon Carter, Leya Jones, and Laura Sellers—and they will tell you the same thing: that they have the best jobs at Cary Academy.

“The fact that I get to be a part of a student’s journey in developing into their best selves is a pure blessing,” offers Carter. “I look forward to work every day—that’s not an exaggeration—because I get to work with some of the brightest, funniest, most caring, respectful, and appreciative students in the world.”
Strike up a conversation with nearly any of our alums and it will reveal equal admiration from the other side of the equation. Interviews offer warm recollections replete with gratitude for the pivotal role that the college counselors played in their college selection journey.

Said one alum in our recent biannual alumni engagement survey: “I would send my kids to CA for the incredible college counselors and the amount of guidance they provided me during the college process. It truly is unparalleled in comparison to what other students at other high schools receive.”
Other alums point to the counselors’ deeper impact—not just on their college processes, but on their broader lives—crediting the counselors for believing in them when they didn’t quite believe in themselves; for nudging them towards a better version of themselves; and for helping them to discover who they wanted to be in the world.

The depth of the relationships these anecdotes reflect isn’t all that surprising. At Cary Academy, the college counseling process is a true partnership between student and counselor. Working closely as a team, they explore interests and talents, consider current strengths, and identify future ambitions and goals—all in hopes of discovering that post-high school holy grail: the strongest collegiate fit.
“Research shows that the number one reason why a student chooses to remain at their respective college is a sense of belonging,” explains Carter. “If they feel they fit well within the academic and social fabric of that institution, the student is more likely to stay, thrive, and graduate. My goal is to find that institution that fits them best so that they can thrive on the next level and beyond, whatever that means to them.”

“As counselors, we’re lucky—luckier than most—in that our philosophy as an office is fully supported by CA’s leadership,” adds Jones. “We have colleagues at many other places who are driven by pressure to have a certain number of students admitted to/attending certain colleges. We don’t have that.”
On the contrary, as with all things CA, our college counseling process is mission-driven, grounded in a commitment to learning that is personal, flexible, and relevant, and driven by our community values of compassion, respect, and integrity. As in the classroom, students are in the driver’s seat—encouraged to “own their learning and process”—with the counselors offering sage counsel to steer them in the right direction.

Between them, Brandon Carter, Leya Jones, and Laura Sellers represent a whopping 29 years (!) worth of combined CA college counseling expertise, having successfully guided three classes (Carter), eight classes (Jones), and 18 classes (Sellers) to bright futures at their right-fit colleges and universities.

It’s a process that lends itself to introspection, often becoming a transformative learning experience for the student. “Seeing those ‘a-ha’ moments when a student sees something about themselves through the process, when they connect the threads and understand themselves better, that’s one of the things I love most about my work,” comments Sellers.

Indicative of all those “a-ha moments” and a point of pride for the team, a review of CA’s college matriculations reveals a lengthy and diverse list of educational institutions. Over the last three years, CA students have gone to nearly 100 different colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, where they thrive, grow, pursue their dreams, and, hopefully, get one step closer to becoming the people they want to be.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Lex-Jordan Ibegbu (‘08) Alumni

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College Chronicles: Lex-Jordan Ibegbu (‘08) University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill & University Of Miami Law School

August 16, 2019

Vision, ambition, and will

Lex-Jordan Ibegbu transferred into CA from public school his freshman year.
“College choice is all about what you are exposed to,” Ibegbu explains. “Prior to CA, I didn’t really know what college I wanted to go to. I had always assumed I’d go to Shaw University. My parents attended Shaw University. I grew up across the street.”

Over the course of his four years at CA, however, his horizons broadened, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill rising to near-mythical status in his mind.

“I had never been to Chapel Hill. I didn’t know anyone that attended Carolina” says Ibegbu. “But, CA was sending a lot of students to Carolina. I researched and discovered the kind of professionals that Carolina was producing. I wanted to be an attorney and I knew that Carolina had a strong political science department. I also knew that the Carolina name would open doors for me later in my career. Going there became one of my prayers.”

The transition to CA had been an academic adjustment, but one that he was able to manage after a year. Still, some thought Carolina might be a reach for Ibegbu. He credits his mother and college counselor Laura Sellers for believing in him enough to encourage him to pursue his dream and apply.

“Ms. Sellers was such a blessing. She told me exactly what I needed to do to make it happen. I took the SAT twice to attain a sufficient score” Ibegbu recalls. “I only needed to see the blueprint. Once I learned the process I could then apply it. I believed in myself. I believed in my spirit that I would go to Carolina.”
With clear goals, guideposts, and a healthy boost of confidence, Ibegbu threw himself into the application process, while also pursuing scholarship options. His clear-eyed tenacity was rewarded, and he was admitted to Carolina on a full scholarship as a Covenant Scholar.

As an African American student in a then-predominantly white CA community, the promise of Carolina’s diverse student body had also been a tremendous lure to Ibegbu. On campus, he took full advantage, immersing himself into academic, social, and extracurricular experiences through which he weaved a broad social network that would pay dividends throughout his college career and beyond.

His eyes set on law school, Ibegbu pursued a degree in political science. He also continued the student government work he’d enjoyed at CA and was elected as a student body congressman. It was an experience that afforded the opportunity to collaborate with an ever-widening circle of students, while also providing practical experience that he could leverage for law school.

He pursued his other passions—music and drama—via dual minors. A rapper, Ibegbu used his music as a networking tool, performing for various student groups across campus and always making connections along the way.

“I credit Carolina with teaching me how to maneuver in different environments,” offers Ibegbu. “Every week I tried to connect with people from different insular communities throughout the campus. That might have been going to plays with my drama friends, or performing at events hosted by Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity (a Latino fraternity), or working on legislation with members of the Muslim Student Association, or seeking out mentor opportunities within Carolina’s vast alumni network. I was always consciously trying to broaden my horizons, to build that social capital.”

Ibegbu graduated from Carolina in 2012 and was admitted to the University of Miami School of Law, from which he graduated in 2015. He is now a practicing attorney in both Florida and North Carolina with the law office of Kurtz & Blum, PLLC. He currently has a focus in criminal law, with an eye for music/entertainment issues, and engages in political consultant work for various candidates and politicians.

“As for the future, I am always seeking growth and knowledge. I want to become an immense legal mind, perhaps start my own practice that spans the eastern seaboard. I hope to exercise some influence over this country’s politics and economic policies.”

As always, Ibegbu is making a plan and charting a course for success: “I am setting the foundation for my dreams and working towards creating a lasting legacy.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Andy Walsh (’09)

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College Chronicles: Andy Walsh (’09) North Carolina State University & University Of North Carolina Law School

August 10, 2019

Something to Prove

By his junior year at CA, Andy Walsh was grappling with his future.

An accomplished hockey player, he toyed with the idea of taking a gap year to play competitively. He credits college counselor Laura Sellers, his fellow students, and a newfound passion for political science and law—courtesy of RJ Pellicciotta’s advanced United States government class—with helping to set him on the college track.

“CA helped push me to focus on my educational outcomes and to think broader,” explains Walsh. “My friends were all getting into college and I got to a place where I wanted that for myself, I wanted to be part of a great college experience.”

And what did his ideal experience look like? He knew that he wanted to look at local cost-effective options—those that offered a big school experience, flexible curricula, a strong athletics culture, and competitive sports teams. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University were obvious choices.

Walsh got into State early action, but Carolina rejected him. “Not even the waitlist,” he laughs. “Initially, it was a little hard to take, but, truthfully, that rejection was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It made me even more appreciative of the opportunity at State, and it also gave me a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove that

Carolina missed out by not admitting me.”

Right then and there, Walsh made three goals that would define his undergraduate college experience: to participate in clubs, get academic honors, and get into law school.

On campus, Walsh declared a political science major and immediately joined the club hockey team, a familiar experience that had the added benefit of providing an instant friend group. Wanting to get involved in something that would help with law school admission, he opted for student government, winning his first senate seat his freshman year. It would be the beginning of a student government career that would span all four years and include three senate seats, an appointment to the executive branch, and, ultimately, election as student body president his senior year.

Still, the transition from CA’s small community to the enormous 35,000+ student population was daunting in those early semesters; it didn’t always feel like the right choice. After considering a transfer, he decided instead to “double-down” on what it was that he liked most about State: the traditions of  the university.

“My parents never went to a four-year college, so growing up I didn’t have that immediate allegiance to a school that a lot of other kids did,” he explains. “I always thought that connection, that sense of pride was cool. I wanted to help cultivate those feelings for students that, like me, didn’t have them walking in the door.”

Over the next few years, Walsh oversaw a variety of traditions-driven projects, including getting a living mascot for the athletics department; overseeing the “Coaches’ Corner” project that unveiled statues of retired basketball coaches, including Jim Valvano and Kay Yow; and creating “the brick,” a living scrapbook/guide to State’s traditions that is given to every incoming freshman as an invitation to engage.

On graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors in 2013, Walsh focused on acquiring work experience in preparation for law school. He interned first at SAS, in the Government Relations Department, before transferring into a full-time position at Smith Anderson, one of the largest firms in North Carolina. His mentors at Smith Anderson encouraged his application to law school and in 2016 he was admitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Law.

Walsh graduated UNC’s School of Law in 2019 and is currently studying for the bar. He looks forward to stepping into his new role in the Charlotte, NC office of the international law firm Cadwalader where he’ll be working on fund finance and corporate law.

His reflection on ultimately being both a member of the Wolfpack and a Tar Heel? “I think State and Carolina do a really good job of identifying the right people for their campuses. I’m so grateful for that,” Walsh reflects.

“Having been there for grad school, I can say with certainty it would not have been a good fit for me as an undergrad. At State, I had just what I needed and every opportunity to prove myself. If you work hard, there are amazing opportunities that will open to you.”considering a transfer, he decided instead to “double-down” on what it was that he liked most about State: the traditions of the university. “My parents never went to a four-year college, so growing up I didn’t have that immediate allegiance to a school that a lot of other kids did,” he explains. “I always thought that connection, that sense of pride was cool. I wanted to help cultivate those feelings for students that, like me, didn’t have them walking in the door.” Over the next few years, Walsh oversaw a variety of traditions-driven projects, including getting a living mascot for the athletics department; overseeing the “Coaches’ Corner” project that unveiled statues of retired basketball coaches, including Jim Valvano and Kay Yow; and creating “the brick,” a living scrapbook/guide to State’s traditions that is given to every incoming freshman as an invitation to engage. On graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors in 2013, Walsh focused on acquiring work experience in preparation for law school. He interned first at SAS, in the Government Relations Department, before transferring into a full-time position at Smith Anderson, one of the largest firms in North Carolina. His mentors at Smith Anderson encouraged his application to law school and in 2016 he was admitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Law. Walsh graduated UNC’s School of Law in 2019 and is currently studying for the bar. He looks forward to stepping into his new role in the Charlotte, NC office of the international law firm Cadwalader where he’ll be working on fund finance and corporate law. His reflection on ultimately being both a member of the Wolfpack and a Tar Heel? “I think State and Carolina do a really good job of identifying the right people for their campuses. I’m so grateful for that,” Walsh reflects. “Having been there for grad school, I can say with certainty it would not have been a good fit for me as an undergrad. At State, I had just what I needed and every opportunity to prove myself. If you work hard, there are amazing opportunities that will open to you.”

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Ritu Prasad (’10)

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College Chronicles: Ritu Prasad (’10) : University Of Chicago Northwestern University, Medill School Of Journalism

August 10, 2019

Following her heart

The importance of college was always at the forefront of Ritu Prasad’s CA experience.

“My parents immigrated to the United States from India when I was child,” Prasad explains. “It had always been important to them that I attend an American college—it was one of the big reasons they decided to leave. They wanted me to have the best opportunities, and the Indian education system was a lot less choice-based, a lot less flexible.”

Themselves unfamiliar with the American college system and application process, Prasad and her family appreciated the strong support system offered by Laura Sellers, Prasad’s college counselor.

“As newcomers, it was easy to freak out about all the details, the wealth of information to sort through—the SATs, the applications, the deadlines, the overwhelming choices. Ms. Sellers was always the voice of calm and reason, helping to set out the facts and requirements and providing important guidance.”

Working with the college counselors, Prasad made a list of what attributes she most desired for prospective colleges. “Throughout my time at CA, I had the opportunity to build great relationships with my teachers. I’m still friends with some of them today; Vic Quesada, Donna Eason, and Dr. Robert Coven changed my life!” gushes Prasad. “For college, I wanted small classes that offered similar opportunities to form those deep relationships and to grow and develop alongside my teachers.”

A lover of both science and English, she also wanted a college that prided itself on the well-roundedness of its students—one that offered a strong interdisciplinary curriculum and the flexibility to explore multiple disciplines simultaneously. An exceptional study abroad program rounded out her list.
She created her initial college prospect list—adding in the University of Chicago on the advice of alum Brent Rappaport (’10)—and culled it by taking full advantage of CA-hosted visits from a variety of college admissions officers. “Those visits with the admissions counselors from all those different schools that CA offered was really useful and played a role in shaping my decisions” notes Prasad.

One such meeting with a Columbia University admissions counselor made it clear that Columbia was not a good fit, while others affirmed her interest in Northwestern and the University of Chicago. A later campus tour of the University of Chicago would prove that it was the school for her. Excited, she applied early decision and was accepted.

Both of Prasad’s parents are physicians and following in their footsteps had been an early goal that she set for herself. During her first couple of years, she pursued her tandem interests, taking pre-med classes while also majoring in English. A study abroad to Paris to explore astrophysics would be a highlight of her undergraduate years.

In her senior year—just one credit away from securing a double major in biology, while signing up to take the MCAT—it hit her: she didn’t want to be a doctor. “I had been warring with my two passions, science and writing, for my entire undergraduate career. I suddenly realized that my true love was writing.”

Just like that, she changed gears, graduating with a degree in English and a minor in biology. “It was jarring,” Prasad admits. “I’d had a ten-year plan for years, but, suddenly, I didn’t know what would come next.”
Soon after graduation, after a less-than-gratifying internship and foray into communications work, Prasad began to investigate graduate schools. She was accepted to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism after a last-minute application and awarded an academic scholarship.

She completed her master’s degree in journalism in 2016. A journalism residency with the BBC in London would prove life-changing, leading to her current full-time position with the BBC’s North American bureau in Washington, DC. There, she’s living her dream as a multimedia journalist covering features and general news: “It’s work that I believe in, work that means something.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Ben Hatfield (‘14)

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College Chronicles: Ben Hatfield (‘14): United States Air Force Academy

August 10, 2019

Lifelong dreamer

When Ben Hatfield was a toddler, his parents took him to an air show at Andrews Air Force base. He immediately loved seeing all the planes flying in the air and his love of all things aeronautic was locked in.

When it came time to consider college, the path to his dream of being a pilot and soaring the skies was stronger than ever. It was no surprise that he set his aim on a United States service academy, with the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) being top choice.

Acceptance into a U.S. service academy is decidedly different from the typical collegiate process. In addition to an application to the academy, candidates must receive a nomination from their U.S. Senator or Congressman. It’s a complex process, involving many moving parts and copious amounts of essay-writing. Hatfield credits his college counselor, Leya Jones, with helping him navigate the process and keeping him sane and organized.

Hatfield began his Air Force journey in the summer of 2014. By his own account, his first year was arduous mentally, physically, and emotionally. USAFA places a heavy value on well-roundedness, and his first-year curriculum was a heavy lift of liberal arts coursework in tandem with Air Force-specific classes like aeronautical and astronautical engineering and leadership.

Despite the challenges, Hatfield found himself academically well-prepared, his experience harkening back to the classrooms of CA. “I found myself emailing my CA teachers—even my seventh-grade teachers—to tell them how my experience in their class was still playing such a big role in my life,” laughs Hatfield.

Ben Hatfield (‘14)

And, bolstered by confidence from his CA experiences, he was able to find what some might consider a daunting campus culture and ethos, inspiring.

Opportunities within USAFA—what courses you are eligible to take, what clubs you can participate in, what planes you get to fly, and, ultimately, your placement post-Academy—are all driven by class rank, which is distributed publicly every semester.

“While the environment is extremely competitive, everyone also knows that there is no way to make it through alone,” explains Hatfield. “You have to have people to lean on, to help you. The result is a unique environment where everyone is driven, constantly pushing themselves to be better, but also helping each other and pushing each other to be better.”

It was in his sophomore year—when cadets declare their majors (he chose Operations Research/Statistics), join clubs, and have more control over their coursework—that Hatfield truly began to hit his stride. He joined the United States Air Force Skydiving Team, “The Wings of Blue.” It was an intensive, but gratifying experience (requiring up to three-hours of practice time each day) that would ultimately take him all over the country and the world to perform in air shows to demonstrate the Air Force’s capabilities. On campus, it meant that, at nineteen-years-old, he was also responsible for teaching first-year cadets how to do their very first solo jumps out of planes. He credits that experience of “helping other cadets get over their fear” as one of the highlights of his time at USAFA.

Another highlight? A senior capstone project in which he investigated the resiliency of U.S. satellite networks and how the United States might be able to respond to various threats. He presented his research at a conference to professional Air Force statisticians, who were able to leverage his research and take it to the next level in the field.

Hatfield graduated USAFA in May 2018 and is now living his dream, training alongside officers from all over the world in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Ziyana Greene (’18)

Alumni Spotlight

College Chronicles: Ziyana Greene (’18): Agnes Scott College

August 10, 2019

A New Perspective

Ziyana Greene knew what she wanted for college: a small private school with resources on par with a larger university and a diverse student community. She’d always assumed that she’d find that experience at a historically black college or university (HBCU). It was a shock, then, when touring, she found that “despite being great schools, they just didn’t feel right. They didn’t click for me.”

Sensing her mounting frustration, college counselor Brandon Carter suggested she check out a school she’d never heard of—Agnes Scott College—a small liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. While not an HBCU, it did tick a lot of her boxes. She booked a last-minute trip, a final stop on her college tour before heading home.

On arriving, her first contact was a student tour guide from the Republic of The Gambia who’d never been to the United States before attending Agnes Scott. “She’d applied from abroad and her very first experience in the United States was her move-in day,” marvels Greene.

“She was so courageous. It made me feel brave and made me recognize my privilege. To that point, I had these ideas of what diversity was, what it would look like, but Agnes Scott gave me a whole new lens. It has a huge international population and I was excited to hear all those different stories and perspective. I knew that this was where I wanted to be.”

Greene—who is pre-law, majoring in political science, minoring in human rights, and pursuing a specialization in leadership development—has made the most of her first-year college experience. Highlights have included a study abroad in Ghana to research women in leadership; working in the admissions office where she enjoys interacting with the diverse community and has developed close mentorship relationships with senior faculty; induction in the Leadership Society; and her successful campaign and election as Public Relations Coordinator for the Pre-Law Society.

Greene credits Agnes Scott and, more broadly, the women’s college experience as giving her a newfound sense of empowerment and confidence. “It is inspiring to see other women supporting each other and really going after what they want, letting no one stop them. At Agnes, we don’t have to compete. Each woman’s accomplishments are seen not just as hers, but as opening doors for everyone.” She adds, “Don’t get me wrong, competition is important in the professional world and we learn how to compete. But, when you know your worth, you can compete in the world a lot differently and more successfully.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Deming Haines (’17)

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College Chronicles: Deming Haines (’17): Colorado College

August 10, 2019

An alternative approach

By all accounts, the last few years of Deming Haines’s CA experience were challenging ones. In 2014, he had transferred into CA as a junior—a tricky transition in and of itself—made all the more difficult by a serious medical condition. He was grappling with post-concussive syndrome which left him with debilitating daily headaches. The headaches would prove so disruptive as to necessitate repeating his junior year.

“It was one of the hardest times of my life,” recalls Haines. “Here it was my junior year, when I’m supposed to be applying to college, when I want to be able to present the best version of myself. My headaches knocked all that down.”

When it came time to apply to colleges, he found himself in uncharted waters. “I was a first for CA; no one had ever repeated their junior year. We weren’t sure how colleges would respond or what my realistic options were.” He also still had severe headaches to contend with and uncertainty around what would be feasible for him, physically and cognitively.

Despite the looming question marks, guided by college counselor Leya Jones, Haines threw himself into the process. His essays, a cathartic opportunity for self-reflection, focused on his challenges and the personal growth he’d achieved as a result.

“My headaches are a hardship, but, in many ways, I think it strengthened my applications,” he explains. “Colleges could see my perseverance. They could see everything that I had gone through and that, despite it all, I was still doing well academically, and I was still excited to go to college.”

At CA, Haines had loved physics, but an independent study mentored by media arts teacher Steven O’Neill strengthened his passion for photography. He knew he wanted a school where he could explore both, preferably in small classes with ample opportunities for faculty connection, a dimension of his CA experience he had always appreciated.

It was ultimately Colorado College—a small liberal arts college in Colorado Springs that offers a nontraditional block curriculum—that captured his interest. Jones had initially hoped the alternative approach might help to ease Haines’s transition to college.

Colorado College’s block curriculum offers an intensive, experiential deep dive into one subject at a time. Students complete the equivalent number of credit hours as a typical semester-long course in just 3.5 short weeks thanks to daily classes ranging from three to six hours long. When one block ends, students enjoy a brief four-day break before jumping into the next.

“It’s really rigorous, perhaps even more so than traditional classes,” says Haines. “There is a constant grind, but the structure lends itself to rewarding and immersive learning opportunities, like field trips and collaborative projects, that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

Challenging? Yes, but Haines enjoys it. He’s now settled in as a studio arts major and is taking full advantage of the wide-ranging interdisciplinary offerings that will round out his requirements for graduation.

“The liberal arts requirements are designed to push you out of your comfort zone, to encourage exploration and discovery. I love that aspect of CC,” explains Haines. “You are exposed to subjects you might never have otherwise considered. For my social inequality credit, I took a block on nonviolence; it was the most eye-opening class I’ve ever taken.”

Another highlight has been collaborating with a team to invent and pitch an event-finding app—a concept he originated in an earlier design-thinking block—at CC’s Big Idea Competition, an entrepreneurial pitch competition that awards $50,000 to the top three teams (Haines’s team was among the top five).

Next fall, when he returns to campus, he will launch his first on-campus photography exhibition thanks to being awarded a $1,000 Venture Grant. “I’ve been so blown away by all the resources Colorado College has, all the many ways that it can help me do what I love.”

As for what comes next, Haines is certain that it will involve photography— a series of Haines’s nature photographs completed as part of his senior CA capstone project are on exhibit in the Center and Math and Science—but beyond that he’s not sure. “Right now, I am interested in aligning product photography with fine art photography, but, who knows, as I continue to learn I might go in a whole new direction.” He adds confidently, “I’m open to possibilities.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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