• Ashley Johnson

Q&A with Our NCAN Student Advocacy Fellows

By Olivia Tubaro and Lindsay Regalado

This month we are excited to highlight Kalani Olatunji and Christian Hill, DCAN’s student representatives for National College Attainment Network’s Member Advocacy Fellows Program. Kalani and Christian, along with 66 other students, were chosen to inform lawmakers on decisions regarding college access, affordability, and attainment.

We asked Kalani and Christian a few questions about their experiences with advocacy and their plans for the fellowship. (We’ll refer to them as KO and CH, respectively).

Name: Kalani Olatunji

High School you attended: Cass Technical High School

College you attend: Henry Ford College

Year in School: Junior

Major: General Studies

Name: Christian Hill

High School you attended: Voyageur College Preparatory High School

College you attend: University of Michigan- Ann Arbor

Year in School: Junior

Major: Sociology & a sub major in Law, Justice, and Social Change

What kind of leadership involvement did you have prior to being selected for the fellowship?

KO: To be honest, I haven’t had much leadership involvement. I was involved in making my own club at my school. At my college, Henry Ford College I started a creative writing club as there was no representation for writing at my school. My creative writing teacher helped me formulate my club and inspired me to want to do more within my field of interest.

CH:Before the fellowship, I had the opportunity to have small leader roles in a few of the organizations I am/ was a member of. My favorite leadership opportunity so far has to be the role I played in MOSAIC. MOSAIC is an org that provides social and political support for minority residents in Stockwell Residence Hall, and I had the chance to hold a position as Chair which was so much fun!

What are you most excited about as a student representative?

KO: I’m most excited about being a student representative as it’s going to help me get out my comfort zone and interact with others, I don’t use social media and I’m not really a people person. I really want to communicate with others and hear their ideas/thoughts. As well as, I’m excited to learn about policies and give my thoughts on them.

CH: I am most excited to have this opportunity to speak up for students like me! I never imagined for my voice alone to have such an impact, but now I am watching it do just that. I am also excited to learn the process that goes into making decisions or more specifically, the process that goes into trying to change the opinions of people with such power.

What issues do you want to tackle in the fellowship?

KO: The issues I’m most concerned about tackling within the fellowship is loan forgiveness and student support. Though I consider myself lucky to have a college and scholarship program that has provided me constant support and is always there to assist, others lack that. Through my friends who attend college/universities that feel overwhelmed and unmotivated, they feel their school doesn’t support them and help them feel relief especially in these times. I feel there needs to be more stability in higher education and a passion for students to succeed. There is way too much pressure on students and all they want to do is make their dreams come true instead of feeling stuck and wanting to give up.

CH: I have never done anything this massive, so I honestly am not 100% sure about what I want to address in the fellowship. I want to bring up my personal experience because I know that is something unique I can bring; although I know many students with similar situations, no one's story is a Christian Hill story.

What advice do you have for seniors applying to college next fall?

KO: The advice I have for seniors applying to college next fall is really think about what you want to do, you. Not your parents, friends, or counselors. What do you want? College is great sometimes, for me it opened me up to a side of me that I never was in touch with when it came to school. It has granted me opportunities that have/will be great. However, it’s hard work and you have to be committed to the process. If you do it just do it, it’s not worth it. Do what you're passionate about and expand on it. Believe in yourself and dreams, then put that into action.

CH: If I could give any advice to upcoming seniors, it would be to reach out to students. I had so many questions and while I did reach out to a few of my teachers and staff members, I never thought to ask people who recently graduated from my high school or even people in my class. I think it's important to get those personal experiences from people in your generation. Speaking of people in your generation, if you have any questions about the process of applying to school, financial aid questions, or just general college atmosphere questions you can DM me at :).

What are the greatest challenges of being a student in 2020?

KO: The greatest challenges of being a student in 2020 is having the ambition to keep working. Being in the house this pandemic, just doing school work and for me going to work is difficult to balance both of these things. It’s really hard for me to want to keep going and doing work in general as I felt uninspired and tired as well as worried about COVID-19 and its effects. However, it was important to understand that I’m lucky and grateful to be healthy and alive. Therefore, I prospered on and did what I needed/had to do to make a better future for myself, and others.

CH: The hardest thing about being a student in the middle COVID-19 is that you still have to function as if life is normal. You have to show up to class, show up to office hours, all while being at home and having those types of distractions. By the grace of God, my professors were very understanding whenever things came up, but I know everyone didn't have this blessing. Another challenge is a lack of motivation. When you're sitting in class, everything around you screams focus but being home you have a sense of relaxation (which is what home should feel like). It's just a lot.

Read more about NCAN’s Member Advocacy Fellows here.

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