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Great Story: #College by Thea Karakalos

I wouldn’t say that this is a “Great Story” but this is my story. 

After college I felt even more lost than when I had started. I attended three different colleges (in two different states), changed my major three times, and graduated almost six years later with high debt. I was motivated and driven, but I struggled to find my purpose.

Who would’ve thought that a post on Craigslist would change the trajectory of my life? 

It was the summer of 2018, and I had actively been searching for jobs since April. I was on vacation, but I remember not going outside that day because I decided that it was the day that I would find a job. I was immediately drawn to this post: An education nonprofit in Seattle that empowers low-income, first-generation students to enroll and persist through college. That’s what I needed when I was in college! And here we are three years later. As a coach at Mount Rainier High School, I was able to build relationships with 35 students and go through the college application process together. But it was so much more than that. 

Everyday my students provided another ‘Great Story.’ From completing the FAFSA/WASFA, to college acceptance letters, prom pictures, and Graduation, it was also all the smaller moments in between. When students would come into the office and ask, ‘Can I have a snack?’ to, ‘Can I talk to you about something serious?’ Either way, I was happy that they trusted me enough to come to me for whatever they needed. 

As my service term came to an end, I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave my students, or this work. And I found out that I didn’t have to. The college team was growing. It was the first year that there would be college coaches on college campuses supporting students in person and virtually! As a transfer student who attended two-year colleges and loved that experience, I knew this position was for me. I would be able to continue supporting some of my students from Mount Rainier, with the addition of 100 students from multiple two-year schools in the greater Seattle area. My favorite part? Having an office on Seattle Central’s campus in the Career Exploration Center, meeting other advisors who became an invaluable network of resources, and having conversations with students about their goals and dreams. 

Each experience continued to cement my passion for working with students. After two years of direct service, I knew that I needed to diversify my professional development, push my boundaries and gain new skills through capacity building work. So, for my third and final year I chose to apply for the VISTA position on the college team. This position allowed me to continually support students, by indirectly completing multiple projects. 

My proudest accomplishment was creating a 30 page Best Fit Institution Guide with resources specifically for our students. After the drama of losing half of my work (how does that even happen on Google Suite?), and completing it two-three months later, there now is a resource for our students for years and years to come. 

As a parting note, I would like to thank my managers, Italiana Hughes and Adriana Jackson, for being the ideal examples of what great leadership looks like by providing an environment of collaboration, feedback and support. I would also like to thank Valeria Villa, Sophia DiCarlo and Mary Tran (former VISTA and co-coaches) for always being available to answer my questions, continuously putting students first, and “dealing” with me personally and professionally. 

You will all forever be a part of my story.

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