Kogod in the Community

Kogod’s Center for Business Communications peer consultants connect and instill confidence in DCPS eighth-graders through virtual workshops and one-on-one tutoring.

Miguel Wilson and Kyle Bardell

When students at Kogod need help with projects, papers, and presentations, the peer consultants at the Center for Business Communications (CBC) are ready to lend their expertise. In addition to providing the coaching, support, and feedback that helps Kogod students feel confident in their work, peer consultants empower them to push beyond personal limitations to uncover new ideas and goals.

Since the peer consultants who volunteer with the CBC are so skilled at bringing out the best in their classmates, it only made sense for them to take their talents to the community by working with students at one of DC’s public schools.

“For four years now, the CBC has partnered with LaSalle Backus Education Campus through DCPS’s Adopt-a-School program,” says the director of the CBC, Caron Martinez. “Three times per year, peer consultants, including those with second language skills (Spanish) and a heart for service (they volunteer their time), run workshops and one-on-one coaching focused on eighth-graders to help students know and communicate their value.”

Many of these eighth graders are working on applications for the high school magnet programs in DC that they hope to attend the following year. “We help them write an elevator pitch highlighting their strengths and skills, we give them feedback on their personal statements, and we engage in mock interview practice,” says Martinez. “These skills build their confidence and make them competitive applicants.

“LaSalle Backus provides free and reduced lunch and breakfast for all of its students,” she adds. “Families are in the lowest socioeconomic tier nationally and don’t have access to specialized tutors or have family members with the time or knowledge to guide them in the ways that we do.”

Kyle Bardell, a senior majoring in accounting, joined the CBC this year to give back to Kogod in a meaningful way. When he heard about the volunteer opportunity with LaSalle Backus, he jumped at the chance to get involved. “The process of applying to high schools is about selling what you have to offer the school. Each person is different, and that is their superpower,” says Bardell. “If a student has trouble, I help them discover a little more about themselves from an outside perspective.”

Peer consultants often coach different students at each virtual meeting. Understandably, students may come into the video call feeling shy at first. “By the end of the call, I see a real increase in confidence and openness with the students that I work with,” adds Bardell. “They really show off their personalities in a beautiful way.”.

Sometimes just speaking with someone who is older and acts as a role model or a mentor can really put a smile on these kids’ faces.

“Our first virtual workshop of this year was simply a ‘how are you coping with COVID-19 as a student?’ sharing session between our Kogod students and the eighth-graders,” says Martinez. “Our students shared honestly about feelings of isolation, uncertainty, lack of motivation, and the ways they’ve found to combat those feelings. The teachers and administrators from LaSalle Backus who attended said that their students were incredibly engaged and brought up wisdom shared for days after the event.”

The eighth-graders who attended the event also saw that the young adults they look up to were facing the same struggles living through the pandemic. Hearing that they weren’t alone and having some external guidance was invaluable to them.

Miguel Wilson, a senior majoring in business administration with a customized concentration in sustainable change analytics, started working with students at LaSalle Backus as a sophomore two years ago. “Getting more connected to DC and its residents has been an integral part of my time at AU,” says Wilson.

He has been able to coach many students from the same class at LaSalle Backus, which creates strengthened bonds. “Similar to working with our peers as consultants at the CBC, building connections with students over multiple interactions is when you really begin to see the value of your work,” says Wilson. “After visiting campus (pre-COVID), we really saw students’ eyes open up to the reality of college life and the fact that it is more attainable than they originally thought.”

“Our Kogod students are doing such good work to truly make a difference in the lives of these DC middle-schoolers, primarily children of color, who may have limited-to-no exposure to college and college students through their close family networks,” says Martinez.

The students at LaSalle Backus enjoy their time with the young adults from Kogod’s Center for Business Communications just as much as these peer consultants love spending time with them. Even just one hour of being heard during the one-on-one virtual sessions can instill the confidence and skills these students need to apply to their magnet high school of choice, paving the path toward university and an opportunity to one day give back to others like them.

Learn more about Kogod’s Center for Business Communications.