College Advising Corps, Juntos 4-H Celebrate Statewide Partnerships

Diana Urieta, director of Juntos, stands at a podium and smiles at a crowd

On Thursday, Dec. 9, the NC State College Advising Corps (CAC) and Juntos 4-H program hosted a partners luncheon at the Stateview Hotel. Educators, college advisors, alumni and others from across North Carolina came together to celebrate both programs’ achievements, look ahead to the future and enjoy a great meal. 

Nicole Ditillo, program director for the NC State CAC, and Diana Urieta, Juntos program national director, gave opening remarks and an overview of each program.

Carrie Zelna, associate vice chancellor of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, talks with Juntos and College Advising Corps partners during lunch
Carrie Zelna, associate vice chancellor of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, talks with Juntos and College Advising Corps partners during lunch

College Advising Corps Changing Lives

The NC State CAC assists low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented students from rural North Carolina in navigating the process of finding colleges that are the best academic, financial and personal fit for them.

NC State CAC launched in 2014-2015 as the result of a generous gift from the John M. Belk Endowment, which aimed to expand the College Advising Corps in North Carolina. The inaugural cohort of advisers consisted of nine recent NC State graduates serving nine rural high schools across North Carolina. Now in its seventh year, the NC State CAC has 20 advisers serving in 21 high schools across 11 counties.

Sierra Dixon serves as one of those college advisors and works at North Duplin Jr./Sr. High School in Mount Olive, N.C. As a native of Duplin County herself, Dixon enjoys the opportunity to serve the community that once served her. At the luncheon, she shared some of her strategies as a college advisor and what makes the program successful. 

“We’ve been able to matriculate more first-generation college students through the College Advising Corps simply because we provide a college advisor who can take the time to meet one-on-one with students and really break down the college application process,” she said. “A lot of times I’ve seen with my students that having that initial conversation makes them more comfortable with coming and asking questions about the process, whereas they may not be as comfortable going to their high school guidance counselor.”

Sierra Dixon (center) with Amira Alexander and Nicole Ditillo
Sierra Dixon (center) with Amira Alexander and Nicole Ditillo

Dixon also praised the program’s “Near-Peer” model and college advisors’ ability to relate to and empathize with students and their families.

“Most of our advisors are recent graduates themselves. I just graduated last May from North Carolina Central University, so we’re able to build relationships with students because we experienced the same challenges not that long ago,” Dixon said. “So we’re able to come to them and say ‘I graduated college last year, so I know what you’re going through and you’re not alone.’” 

“Some of my most impactful moments in the College Advising Corps is really getting to hold the hands of students and parents that are looking for someone to hold their hand and the other school staff just don’t necessarily have the time to do that,” she continued. “Being able to build partnerships with those families and increase the overall college knowledge in their households has been such a rewarding experience.”

Juntos Family Keeps Growing

Since its founding in 2007, Juntos has touched the lives of thousands of students and family members across North Carolina. Currently, it serves Catawba, Lee, Bladen, Sampson, Wake, Orange, Greene and New Hanover counties. Its mission is to help Latino students achieve high school graduation and attend higher education through four components: family engagement, Juntos 4-H clubs, success coaching and its Summer Academy. 

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Juntos has extended programming to several new school systems in North Carolina, and there are currently 13 other land-grant universities with Juntos programs through Extension and 4-H investments. The Juntos program has graduated 100 percent of its high school seniors for the past five years. Its 2020-2021 academic report revealed that 72 percent of seniors had enrolled in higher education, with 83 percent enrolling in their local community colleges. Staff members have also worked diligently to get parents more involved in programming. One parent recently said, “Juntos improved our knowledge of college options and the college application process, and improved our communication with our children.”

Michael Nunez (Computer Engineering ’24) shared his personal story with the Juntos program at the luncheon. Nunez’s mother signed him up for Juntos in middle school, and he was not enthusiastic at first. As he got more involved, though, he found himself becoming part of an extended family and embraced the sense of “togetherness,” as the program’s name implies.

“Once I started getting involved with Juntos and the more programs I showed up to through 4-H, I saw the reason why Juntos was there,” he said. “I remember taking part in the group activities, talking with the staff members there and seeing that they really did care about our futures. They took the time, they got to know us and we formed a family with them as well. There were visions and dreams being created along the way, and I knew that mine was being formed there with them as well.”

Through his participation in Juntos’ summer academies, Nunez was inspired to become an engineer and go to NC State. He is now a Goodnight Scholar and is helping others like him achieve their dreams. 

“I love giving back and being in a position where I can help others get to where I am or even better,” he said. “But it’s not just me that can help. You guys can help too. You can help provide the experience that helps students get to where they want to be to build a better future, better communities and to make the Juntos family even bigger.”

This post was originally published in DASA.