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Meet Tela Thigpen

Tela Thigpen headshotTela Thigpen
Director of College Success
Freedom Preparatory Academy (TN)
Co-Leader of the African American SIG

What drew you to the world of college counseling?
I was one of those students in high school that did not have a college counselor that motivated them or even help them remotely. When I finally decided to college with an option for me my guidance counselor basically told me that I was too late. I waited until the end of the year during my senior year to even make a decision. From that moment on I was on my own. I had to figure out how to get myself to college. Thankfully my story has a happy ending and I ended up being a first-generation college student/graduate. I vowed that no kid would ever have to go through what I had to go through in order to make their postsecondary dreams come true. And that is why I became a college counselor.

What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is working with students and families that have no idea of the amount of resources and the varied options that they can have an order to prepare for successful future. So often the students that I work with are products of their environment and I just love to help change their environments. In essence, for some of my students, going to college will save their lives.

How did you get involved with the African American SIG?
I remember attending a NACAC conference a few years ago and learning about special interest groups. I thought that it would be so cool to be in a room full of professionals who look like me. I was right! I had never seen such and it was electrifying. I then became more and more interested, began to work on my local affiliate level, and was asked to lead a SIG group at one of our regional conferences. From there, talking with the previous leaders of our SIG, conversations turned into actions, and all of a sudden, we were named as co-chairs.

Why is this SIG important to you?
As stated before, being a minority is already considered a disadvantage. The empowerment that comes from meeting with those who can identify with your own personal struggles in the profession gives you a greater sense of accomplishment and motivates you to continue going because you understand that there are others who feel the same way as you. The SIG creates a space where we can freely discuss all that we feel openly and without judgment.

Why should counselors and admission professionals get involved with a NACAC SIG?
Involvement with a SIG Is nothing short of something that I would consider to be self-care. Our professional work is hard and it’s taxing to our minds, bodies, and souls. Joining a SIG feeds certain parts of you that could otherwise go hungry. We can’t be our best selves for our students if we are not our best selves for our own self! Participating in a SIG can help provide that support system that everyone needs from time to time.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
The biggest challenge that I see facing our profession is a lack of diversity in leadership. I believe that there are people on the horizon that have amazing stories and have amazing ideas that will never be heard because of lack of opportunity. Some of our professionals could change the face of college admission, but there has to be a want for the change. And I don’t think that we are at a point yet where everyone is open to the radical changes that need to happen. 

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Most people know that I am a singer. I have been singing since the age of 4 and I had continued all of these years. I love to sing for my church as well as perform out in my community.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?  
There was a hit tv show that was on in the late-‘80s/early-90’s called  “A Different World” which focused on college life at an HBCU for a group of students. One main character named Whitley Gilbert, played by actress Jasmine Guy, was the epitome of southern class and charm. But her experiences in college changed a lot of her “not so liked” ways. She was the perfect example of what a college experience can do to change, shape, and broaden your horizons.

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