Westside has college adviser as part of program

Mamie Harper knows all about the challenges high school students face when preparing for college.


She's not that far removed, being a 2009 University of Georgia graduate, and she's the college adviser at Westside High School.

Ms. Harper's position is new to Westside. She is one of four college advisers in Georgia as part of a new initiative funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation in collaboration with UGA's Institute of Higher Education.

"Our main goal is to provide access to college, what folks may not normally get on their own," Ms. Harper said.

The program is part of the National College Advising Corps, which wants to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students entering higher education, according to its Web site.

Thomson's Watson-Brown, a nonprofit corporation, awards more than $1 million in merit and need-based college scholarships annually to area students and awards grants once a year in support of Southern colleges and universities.

After a foundation official read a recent story in The Augusta Chronicl e noting that Georgia had not received a grant for the program, Watson-Brown decided to offer its own startup funding.

Sarah Katherine McNeil, Watson-Brown's director of scholarships and alumni relations, said her organization approved $600,000 for four years.

"It's a no-brainer," she said. "You don't have to sell this program. It sells itself. It's such a necessity."

As part of the agreement, Ms. McNeil said, two of the four advisers are in the Augusta area: Ms. Harper at Westside and another at Thomson High School. The two others are at schools in the Atlanta and Athens areas.

Ms. McNeil said college advisers are badly needed in high schools, noting that the national ratio of high school students to guidance counselors is about 400 to 1.

"The counselors are wonderful, but they are in charge of so many different areas; college is just one of them," she said.

Ms. Harper said Westside has two guidance counselors and one focused on helping at-risk students graduate.

Ms. McNeil said a key component of the college adviser program's success is that the advisers are all recent graduates from UGA and have a lot in common with students.

Officials say there is an ongoing fundraising effort to keep the program alive and expand it to other schools after its four-year initiation in Georgia ends.

The Watson-Brown Foundation was founded in 1970 by Walter J. Brown. It is named for Thomas Watson of Thomson and his friend John Judson Brown. Watson, who served as a Georgia legislator, congressman and U.S. senator, ran for vice president and later president on the Populist Party ticket. Brown served five terms as Georgia's agriculture commissioner in the early 1900s.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.