Peters-Lewis, '96, Gets Middle Schoolers Thinking About College

Instilling that mindset early on is one facet of her leadership role at Jackson nonprofit

Admission tour guide Branden Miller, '17, talks with Jackson eighth graders as they head into the Science Complex.
Admission tour guide Branden Miller, '17, talks with Jackson eighth graders as they head into the Science Complex.

March 24, 2015 | By John Perney

Nancy Peters-Lewis, '96, has always found a way to make an impact—from working as a French translator in the Social Security Administration to private grant writing, or more recently as an Albion Community Foundation staffer and helping high school students in Albion make their transition to nearby Marshall High.

Nancy Peters-Lewis, '96
Peters-Lewis, '96

For the last seven months, as executive director of the College and Career Access Center (CCAC) of Jackson, she has connected with students and families from 13 schools in the community, providing them resources for college and career planning as well as for scholarships and financial aid. While of course the organization works extensively with 12th graders ("We sit down with every single senior in Jackson County—1,550 this year," according to Peters-Lewis), the reaching out starts much earlier: middle school.

Through the Kids2College program, eighth graders visit a college campus as the culmination of a six-to-eight-week, grant-funded program based on a curriculum provided by The Sallie Mae Fund. On March 19, more than 230 students from Jackson Northwest's R.W. Kidder Middle School were given a half-day introduction to Albion College. They attended an admission session and a career seminar, engaged in a question-and-answer session with a panel of current Albion students, and toured the campus.

"I hadn't been able to bring anyone back to Albion in a couple of years, so it was really neat to show them what a liberal arts college looks like," Peters-Lewis said. "And the feedback I've received already has been great. They were so excited. It was very neat how the admission folks put the program together."

Peters-Lewis' time at Albion included a study-abroad experience in West Africa, and she graduated with degrees in economics and management and international studies. The fact that many of the students CCAC reaches would be the first generation in their families to attend college resonates with her deeply.

"For so many of these kids, it's their first exposure to a college campus. It's a great first experience and plants a seed for future careers," Peters-Lewis said. "When I think about equal access, and what I had the opportunity to be a part of, that is what drives me. And when I see students experience for the first time what many of us take for granted, it's really gratifying. It makes all of the administrative tasks, and making sure we have the funding we need—it makes all of that worthwhile.

"It's all of our responsibility to be able to guide young people to where they need to be in life," she continued. "It's very meaningful work, and I'm passionate about it."