Portis helps LBWCC students take ‘next step’ in college

Published 12:12 am Friday, November 21, 2008

Students who attend Lurleen B. Wallace Community College may not give much thought to continuing their education at a university, but new “transfer adviser” Candace Portis hopes to change some of those minds.

Portis, a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, came to LBWCC in October as a part of a grant-funded adviser program that is being instituted at several of Alabama’s two-year colleges.

“If you look at the state as a whole, not enough of our two-year students are transferring to get a higher degree,” Portis said. “We’re right about 4 percent as a state, and with the number of students with associate degrees and who attend community colleges, that number is just too low.”

Portis explained that her responsibility at the school is to help advise students who are about to graduate from LBWCC, and show them the advantages to continuing their education. Portis graduated from the University of Alabama in August 2008, so she is often able to connect with students because she is close to their age.

“We’re trained in the art of advising, because it is an art form,” Portis said. “A lot of students come in and they say, right off the bat, I want to make money. Well, you can show them that the difference between an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree right now is about $10,000. That sounds like a lot of money, but you can then also show that the difference between degrees over a person’s lifetime can be as much as a million dollars.

“If you show it to them like that, then maybe they’ll say, ‘Wow, I can make a million more dollars over my lifetime just by going to school for two more years.’”

The Transfer Advising Corps, the proper name of the program in which Portis participates, is a state-wide program that sends 12 recent University of Alabama graduates to various community colleges in the Wiregrass and Black Belt regions of the state. The Transfer Advising Corps is a member program of the National College Advising Corps, which is funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Guide Program.

“We don’t have anyone currently on our payroll designated specifically as a ‘transfer’ counselor,” said Wayne Bennett, interim president at LBWCC. “(Portis) helps us take our transfer advising to a new level. It’s a great thing for our school and it’s an even greater thing for our students.”

Portis said she has only been on campus for about a month, but already students have taken advantage of the unique service she can provide.

“In the beginning, the students were a little like, ‘well what is she doing here?’ But now, they know that if they see Miss Candace, then she’s going to want to talk to them about college or about their grades and how they’re doing in school,” Portis said. “My first week here, I wanted to try and get to as many classrooms and student organizational meetings that I could. I probably saw about 15 students that first week and I’ve seen about 50 now since I’ve been here, and for a month, that’s pretty good.”

Portis, who grew up in Mobile but attended high school in Indianapolis before attending the University of Alabama, added that the process of transferring to a college after LBWCC can be a confusing one.

“I think that’s what this program does best,” she said. “We’re kind of like one-stop shopping. We can help you with admissions essays, we can help you with getting publications about a school, we can help you with financial aid, we can help you with getting scholarships, and so on. Instead of having to maybe go to two or three different offices, we’ve been able to streamline the process and we can help students now, from start to finish, get into college.”

The Transfer Advising Corps is fully funded for three years, and Portis is guaranteed at least one year at LBWCC with an option to return for a second year. However, no transfer adviser can serve for more than two years at the same college.

Already, Portis has made a positive impression on the faculty and staff at LBWCC, as well as the students.

“We are extremely pleased to have Candace with us,” Bennett said. “She is very bright and articulate and relates to the students well. She is extremely proactive; she seeks out the students rather than waiting for them to come to her. She fits in with both students and administrators alike and she’s just really fit in as a member of the LBW community.”

Portis, who admitted she “didn’t even know where Andalusia was” when she learned she was being sent to LBWCC, said she has already enjoyed her time at the college and helping students.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” she said. “I am an advocate of the idea that college is really for everyone. I believe that the college years can affect the rest of a person’s life, and I want to do what I can to help kids make the right choices.”