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Finding the Bright Spots

By Chelsea Krieger, College Adviser at West Bladen High School | November 30, 2016

One county away from the South Carolina border sits Bladen County, North Carolina. In a small town called Bladenboro, with a population just shy of 1,800 residents, is my high school – West Bladen High School. Bladen County is historically underrepresented in terms of higher education, given the mere 11.5% of the population that has obtained a Bachelor’s degree and 25.6% poverty rate ( The reality is that Bladen County is known for agriculture and industry more so than its production of post-secondary educated individuals. Nevertheless, a spark of change towards higher education has been lit. The NC State College Advising Corps has served in Bladen County since the 2014-2015 school year, making this school year its second in existence. Following the lead of former College Adviser, Taylor Locklear, and the efforts of guidance counselors, teachers, and school staff, this year has already given countless success stories to share. Yet, there are two stories that shine brightest to date.

I’ll start with the story of Tate Sykes. Tate is a senior at West Bladen High School, the Lieutenant Colonel and Battalion Commander of the Army JROTC and twin brother of Ian Sykes. Tate has performed well academically in high school, yet had never thought about college as part of his future. When we first spoke during our senior 1:1 meeting in early September, his plan was to enlist in the Marines straight out of high school. I asked him why, to gain further understanding of his goals, and his response was that “my brother is the one who is going to college. We live in a single parent household and can’t afford it. I’m joining the military and he’s the one going to school.” His response was challenging but inspiring at the same time. Since that conversation in September, I enlisted the support of Col. Ballard and 1SG Gillespie here at West Bladen to back up my efforts to change his mindset. Shortly after, Tate was not only accepted by Campbell University into the Homeland Security program in October and but also into the University of North Carolina at Pembroke during on-site admissions in November. Now, he has decided to enlist in the National Guard and pursue his education while serving our country.

Following his lead, another senior, Isaac Arellano, has recently made life-changing decisions. When Isaac and I first spoke, he had already made plans to enlist in the Army active duty following graduation. His plans were concrete, with a date and location for basic training already set. Nevertheless, Isaac was very curious about his options to pursue education while serving in the military. We talked about Green to Gold, ROTC, the GI Bill, online courses, amongst other options. However, knowing himself well, Isaac told me “my best chance to be successful in college would be taking classes in person.” We were both stuck. His predicament presented quite a challenge, given that it would be years before he could likely take a course on a college campus. Following the Veterans’ Day Ceremony in early November, Isaac spoke with an Army active duty soldier who was visiting that day. The soldier spoke to him about his experiences with college in the military and further elaborated on his options with the military and post-secondary education. After this conversation, Isaac was full of joy. He had never considered applying to colleges straight out of high school and thought it was “too late” to change his plans. Well, the next week UNC Pembroke came to our school for on-site admissions and low and behold Isaac Arellano was accepted. He now has one acceptance under his belt and is sure there will be more to come.

Through both of these examples, I hope that it is evident how teamwork and persistence can make an impact. To further fan this spark into a flame, our senior class submitted over 440 college applications during College Application Week 2016! These events have demonstrated my belief that the College Advising Corps has the power to change destinies. I hope you will learn from these bright spots and turn them into inspiration to find your own. In the words of Chip and Dan Heath, the co-authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, “These flashes of success – these bright spots – can illuminate the roadmap for action and spark the hope that change is possible” (48).

“Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015).” Bladen County North Carolina QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print.
Tate Sykes, Senior, West Bladen High School
Isaac Arellano, Senior, West Bladen High School

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