The process of applying to college is often strenuous for many high school students. But for pupils in underserved schools, just figuring out how to apply to college can be a challenge in itself, according to Regina Abesamis MS ’06.
As a postsecondary coach at the University of Chicago, Abesamis collaborates with Chicago Public Schools to provide pre-college counseling to high school students in order to improve graduation rates, college acceptance rates and overall academic achievement.
“My priorities lie in creating a college-going culture in schools,” said Abesamis, who graduated from the USC Rossier School of Education. “The goal is to create social capital lacking for many students in their schools and neighborhoods.”
At the University of Chicago, Abesamis works with the School of Social Service Administration’s Network for College Success to strengthen school leadership, improve teaching and implement data and research to best serve high school students.
“There are a total of 18 schools in the Network for College Success,” Abesamis said. “We work to bridge the gap between low-income, first-generation students and higher education.”
As a first-generation college student herself, Abesamis found preparing for standardized tests, applying for financial aid and completing other college application prerequisites in high school to be difficult. Although Abesamis’ parents, who emigrated from the Philippines, encouraged her to succeed, they weren’t familiar with all of the resources she needed to prepare for higher education.
“My parents always expected that I was going to college, but the application process was hard,” she said. “They even paid for a college preparation program, which ended up being a scam. It was difficult because they wanted to help but didn’t know how.”
Growing up in West Covina, Calif., Abesamis attended Rowland Heights High School. She said that students learned more about the college application process from their peers than from teachers and counselors. This lack of support was a driving factor in Abesamis’ interest in counseling students for college preparation.
After navigating the college application process and being accepted to the University of California, Irvine, Abesamis was able to help her younger cousins understand college applications and financial aid, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“I think that if I had better support from my school, I would have been able to navigate the college application and financial aid process much better,” Abesamis said. “I didn’t even complete the FAFSA throughout college because I didn’t know any better, and my parents didn’t know about it either.”
While working with preschool-aged students as an undergraduate at UC Irvine, Abesamis became interested in counseling as a career.
“I really liked working in urban education,” she said. “But I was more interested in postsecondary education.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and social behavior in 2003 and enrolled at USC Rossier in 2004 to pursue her master’s degree in counseling psychology.
During her studies at USC, Abesamis became a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. The alumna credits her education at USC Rossier with preparing her to work with data and apply research in practical ways.
“So much of what we do at the University of Chicago is data-based,” she said. “I really learned to socialize data and translate it so that it benefits students. It’s important to bridge the gap between research and practice.”
Working in the third-largest school district in the United States, Abesamis said that the diversity of her education and the internship experience she gained in urban school settings during her time at USC Rossier also prepared her to become a leader in Chicago.
“My background in urban education is certainly relevant to what I’m doing, and educational reform really ties into my education at Rossier,” Abesamis said. “A lot of what a counselor does is personal and social, so I really took a lot from my marriage and family counseling classes at Rossier, too.”
After graduation from USC Rossier, Abesamis served as a school counselor in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Following budget cuts, which eliminated many faculty positions in the district, Abesamis decided that she wanted a change and chose to continue her counseling career in Chicago.
“I chose Chicago randomly and went to a job fair there,” she said. “Having USC on my resume really made schools want to hire me.”
Following five years as a counselor with Chicago Public Schools, Abesamis was asked to join the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago, and though she no longer works with students on a day-to-day basis, she said that being able to address issues in education on a larger scale is just as fulfilling.
“I get to help a broader scope of students now,” she said. “It’s a very rewarding role.”
After moving to Chicago, Abesamis was also able to advance another of her passions — yoga — and became certified to teach.
“Counseling is a very stressful and demanding job,” she said. “Yoga is a nice balance.”