Holly Lawrence joined Valdosta State University as its new Educational Talent Search Director (ETS) in November 2013.
As a former participant of two highly popular TRiO funded programs, Upward Bound and Student Support Services, Lawrence expressed excitement to work with the program and assist students in obtaining higher education.
“Growing from a participant to a professional really speaks volumes about what these programs do,” said Lawrence. “I find it humbling and rewarding to be a part of a program that has opened the doors of success for generations of people. These programs have proven since the 1960s that with support, counseling, enrichment and exposure to college readiness activities, students can be successful in and after college.”
Lawrence joins Valdosta State’s ETS program with more than nine years of experience as a TRiO professional, and has worked with roughly 1,000 students in rural South Georgia. She began as a work-study student for the ETS program during her time as an undergraduate at Thomas University.
“Two semesters before I graduated I was asked to stay and serve as a program advisor for Education Talent Search and GEAR UP,” said Lawrence.
She worked at Thomas University for three years before accepting a position as a guidance and academic specialist for the Upward Bound program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), which served nine area counties. She served ABAC’s Upward Bound program for six years.
“When I realized there was an opportunity here (Valdosta State) to expand the knowledge, direction and services of this Educational Talent Search program, I decided to pursue it,” said Lawrence. “With my experience, I feel like I have gained the expertise to make it well-respected in the communities that it serves as well as on the VSU campus.”
As the new director, Lawrence oversees all ETS programmatic activities. The core of the program is designed to assist at-risk students who have the potential to succeed in a college or university.
Funded by the TRiO grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program serves students by providing academic, career and financial counseling. Services provided by the ETS program include career exploration, aptitude assessment, exposure to college campuses, assistance in completing college admissions and financial aid applications, assistance in preparing for college entrance exams, mentoring programs and workshops for the families of participants.
The goal of the ETS program is to increase high school graduation rates as well as college enrollment and graduation rates of its participants.
“This program not only helps students achieve academic success,” said Lawrence. “It provides them with the resources to become productive members of society. They gain a sense of responsibility and understand that as they move up, they help others do the same. Many times we have graduates of the program come back to help out and they don't mind giving back because they appreciate what the program did for them and they know it works.”
VSU’s ETS program currently serves 500 students at seven schools in the Valdosta City and Brooks County school systems, which include Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA), Valdosta Middle and High Schools, Newbern Middle School, Pinevale Learning Center and Brooks County Middle and High Schools.
The program has kicked off the year with a financial workshop and plans for its after-school tutoring program. Lawrence has also expressed plan for future activities including Saturday Academy and Summer Enrichment Program.
“I look forward to immersing myself in the rich culture at Valdosta State University,” said Lawrence. “I believe my experience as a graduate and professional have granted me a key understanding and strong level of sensitivity toward the students that we serve and youth in general. I don't see this job or any of these experiences as work. I see it as paying it forward.”
A native of Boston, Ga., Lawrence holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in community counseling. She is the current vice president of the Georgia Association of Special Programs Personnel and is a member of the Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel.