Torrance Winder, TMA’s new Alumni Program and College Associate, opens up about how the work TMA does to ensure our students have a college career is invaluable. He recently set a new school record by overseeing the College Success Foundation DC Achievers application process in which 88% of the junior class completed scholarship applications for up to $63,000.
In Part 1 of this Q&A Series, Mr. Winder acknowledges TMA’s mission to prepare students to succeed in college. He, along with the College Counseling Department, cultivates lasting relationships with alumni to support their journeys through college, graduate school, and full-time employment.
TMA: Tell us more about the importance of incorporating a college counseling and alumni programs option into a college preparatory school.
A: The support that our department gives to our students and alumni is a reflection of TMA’s knowledge of how important these resources are to our students and their future as college-goers. Throughout the year, we help seniors find and apply for scholarships, complete FASFA applications, enroll in college, and we chaperone all-expense-paid college tours. For juniors, we ensure that they’re all taking SAT prep courses, learning about the intense college application process, and attending college fairs. For every grade level, we provide resources that get the students not just thinking about college, but putting forth the effort that ensures they get into one. Because TMA understands that resources aren’t always readily available, our goal is to support students at school. Rather than having a need to go elsewhere to get support, at TMA, students figure out their next steps after graduation. Once they’re alumni, the department is just as invested in making sure that our students have a definite resource no matter what school, job, or program they join after high school.
TMA: What is the most popular trend that you see among students with regard to the college application process? How do you adjust to those trends and provide students with educated advice?
A: For juniors in particular, I’ve noticed a trend that I call an “instant-gratification-mindset.” While most of them realize that college is a lot closer than it was in the 9th grade year, some of them see the feat as a 2-year plan that’s further away. Therefore, they think they have more time than they actually do to get their grades up or to start college planning. But that’s where the College Counseling Department comes in at and that’s why college planning is actually part of the curriculum here at TMA. A lot of efforts that are voluntary at most schools are required at TMA. Juniors go to mandatory Law Firm Tutoring where they have a set amount of time to complete Homework assignments and other projects that are mandatory for the college planning process. We also host a mandatory Junior College Night, in which 11th graders and a parent, guardian or loved one, are introduced to the college application process. Just a few weeks ago, we coordinated a Case Studies Program activity that all juniors were required to participate in. Students acted as admissions counselors and accepted and denied applicants based on cognitive and non-cognitive factors that gave them a real-life look inside what it takes to get accepted to a college.
TMA: What are some of the challenges that you have with families and what techniques do you use to get them more involved in their student’s college journey?
A: Typically, challenges include a lack of parents’ inclusion within their child’s academic and collegiate search process. It is our responsibility as a department to introduce the college experience not only to students, but to their parents as well. College decisions are contingent on both the students’ and parents’ wisdom so both parties need to be informed about financing college, academic programs and majors, school culture, location, and ultimately if it’s a good fit. Many of our students are first-generation college-goers, so it’s increasingly important to introduce their families to this new journey since, whether directly or indirectly, they will all be part of it. This year, we have piloted a Family Engagement Program that works with the students’ families to give them an opportunity to become more invested and hands-on in their child’s college journey.
TMA: Being new to the TMA team, how do you plan to connect with alumni? A lot of your job involves stewarding TMA alumni and ensuring their seamless progression through college. How do you plan to show that you’re here for them?
A: The most meaningful part of my work is that the college team travels to see the students after they have made it to their college/university. While I may not have known many alumni while they were students, this element of the position gives me an extended opportunity to bond and connect with students while they’re at college. I’m a recent graduate, and because of that, I feel that I can relate with students, particularly those who are college freshmen and college seniors. Freshmen experience a lot of new changes, especially if they decide to go to school far from home. Sometimes the adjusting can be a bit overwhelming. I went to school about five hours away from home so I can understand that pressure of not being able to come home for small breaks or non-major holidays. But by visiting them, they get a piece of home right on campus. For seniors, I understand the value of internships and having an exit plan after graduation. For me, I took on a volunteer position that landed me at TMA. A year later, I was hired. Another part of my position is to share internship, job, and other opportunities with students on a regular basis. This is another touch-point that introduces me to students and helps to keep me connected. Social media is another resource that the College Counseling Department uses to stay in touch with alumni. By making myself present and visible on the TMA Alumni Facebook Page, I hope to create a comforting space for them to contact me through social media or at the school.
Next week, be sure to check out Part 2 in this Q&A Series where Mr. Winder discusses TMA’s college culture and personal accolades that make him feel well equipped to take on this new role as Alumni Program and College Associate.