A program to encourage students to consider post high school education or other training that started with one advisor in Evanston has grown to 12 advisors state-wide. “We started with one advisor for half a year,” said Laura Wespetal, “and last year there were six. And now we have 12 advisors all over the state.”
Wespetal is an advisor in the Wyoming College Advising Corps, which is a federally funded program through the US Department of Education whose aim is to help students access higher education and achieve their goals.
Wespetal said what she does is different from what traditional school counselors typically do. “School counselors do a lot of scheduling and working with the students if they have problems with things they’re encountering that are affecting their education (today). I help the seniors with applications, scholarships, figuring out what schools they want to apply to and things like that,” Wespetal said. “I’m also doing a lot more outreach.”
Wespetal works with juniors, freshman and sophomores to get them thinking about how to build a long-term education plan. She boils her job down to helping students think about and plan their education as it relates to their future.
She works with individual students at Casper high schools each week. She also speaks to classes about her service. “I do a lot of classroom presentations,” she said. “This week, for example, I’m going to present to all the freshman. I’ve got a fun, interactive game that I play with them during their gym classes at NC to get them thinking about ‘what am I going to do once I graduate’.”
Wespetal said for a lot of opportunities, for example a Hathaway Scholarship, planning is absolutely necessary. “If you don’t start planning as a freshman or sophomore you’re going to miss out on that Hathaway success curriculum, and then that money. So really it’s a four-year process.”
Wespetal sees a lot of students in her office. “They know about my position because it’s been advertised in the schools.”
Some students seek out Wespetal with very specific questions. Some are looking at specific schools or schools that offer specific scholarships. “I had a student come in the other day that wanted to look at cosmetology schools in Georgia. So I help them find things like that,” she said. “So that’s a large part of my day, meeting with students individually.”
Wespetal gets students to start thinking about how to pay for college. “I’m going to present to a personal-finance class on how you save for college and how you pay for college,” she said. “Have you ever heard of Choose Your Own Adventure stories? It’s where you give an example, a little scenario menu of things you could do or you could be.” Wespetal said students follow the stories thinking of themselves as the main character. “It helps them make decisions,” she said, “like to go to a two-year school, no school, four-year university, vocational school; things like that,” she said.
Wespetal encourages students to consider skills-based schools as well as college. “I promote whatever the student wants to do and whatever will help them get there. It’s a lot of problem solving,” she said. “So if a student says ‘I can only afford this much and I want to go out of state’, we look at their options and then you can talk about WUE scholarships and things like that.” The Western Undergraduate Student Exchange is a conglomeration of western state universities that grant some students tuition that equals about 150 percent of that state’s in-state tuition. “So if a student wanted to go to, let’s say CSU, they’ll pay 150 percent of what Colorado residents paid to go to CSU,” Wespetal said. But Wespetal cautions that WUE scholarships are highly competitive and not all students can obtain one.
Wespetal said Hathaway scholarships do not typically count towards private vocational schools. “If you want to go something like Wyo-tech, which is a 100 percent true vocational school, no, it won’t count for that.” But she said a student can use a Hathaway scholarship for vocational education if they attend a Wyoming community college. Casper College, for example, offers a diesel technology program which is very vocationally focused. “It’s a lot of hands-on,” Wespetal said. “So in that sense, yes, if you do a kind of vocational program at a community college (where you take academic classes like English and math) but you really focus on your diesel tech, the Hathaway applies.
Wespetal said she sees a lot of interest in vocational programs from students. “Auto body and diesel technology have quite a bit of interest from students,” she said. “We have a couple culinary programs and a cosmetology school at Eastern Wyoming Community College. Interest in those type programs are definitely there. Students are thinking about that,” she said. And Hathaway scholarships can be used at the community colleges for that purpose. “An associates degree in cosmetology is about how that works out,” she said.
Wespetal has a variety of interest inventories and other tools to help students and their parents to decide on a student’s strengths and what careers may be of interest.
“Parents have questions,” she said. “And we work with them. Sometimes parents themselves want to go back to school. I can help parents and other nontraditional students who want to go back to school with that process.”
“I’m available to students,” Wespetal said. “If the student is looking at something really specific or an out-of-state school that they might not be as familiar with, we can help them explore the possibilities.
Contact Wespetal by phone at 253-1589 or 253-2072, or email her at