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Helping Disadvantaged Students Break the Cycle

Audrey Fresques

2004 BS in Psychology; 2007 MA in Psychology

Earning an undergraduate degree, let alone a graduate degree, is difficult for anyone: for first generation students, however, it can be particularly challenging. In fact, according to US News & World Report, 89 percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without a degree, and more than a quarter leave after their first year. But Audrey Fresques, who received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Northern Arizona University, beat those odds. As a first-generation student who grew up in a low-income household, she excelled academically. And, says Fresques, her journey continues to inform her experiences.

"Growing up, our family struggled tremendously; we had our lights shut off, and we would sell our clothes to pay rent," she says. "Now, in my work as a high school counselor, I don't hesitate to advocate for continued education. I've seen how a person's quality of life improves once they've achieved their educational goals."

"Goals" is the key word for Fresques, who speaks to every student at Genesis Academy, a charter school in downtown Phoenix dedicated to empowering at-risk youth and families to acquire an education. "I meet with all of them, every one of our students, and we start a 'life plan,'" Fresques says. "The whole point is to help them create goals: they don't know what they're interested in because they've never experienced anything else."

According to Fresques, one of the key aspects of her job is to guide students through the transition out of high school and make sure they are prepared for their future—ideally, a future that includes continued education. She also brings her own life experience to her educational role. "I might not have gone through a lot of the things that they have," she says. "But, I've experienced firsthand the poverty and the struggle without an education."

Fresques also has direct experience with the positive impact that good counseling can bring. It was the university's Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR) program that Fresques attributes, in large part, to her own success. Through the program, Fresques was able to gain access to a diversity waiver, stellar mentors, and academic support. Combined with her own motivation, Fresques says the resources she received from the STAR program helped her discover what she really wanted to do.

"I had intended to work as a substance abuse counselor," she says. "But when I began helping adult learners access post-secondary education, I realized that my whole reason for pursuing an education and ultimately a master's degree was because I saw what life was like without an education."

Now, in her work at Genesis Academy, Fresques takes pride in her role as a mentor, and in helping students invest in their own education. It is a role that she intends to develop further: her personal belief in education has led her into ASU's three-year doctoral program—for current teachers, educators, or administrators—which has a special emphasis on urban schools.

Going forward, Fresques is committed to continuing her work with students who are severely disadvantaged and at risk. After all, she knows what it takes to beat the odds. "I hope to work for a university transition program like STAR someday," she says. "I want to take my work in helping students to the next level. I have a lot of great ideas that I want to integrate into the education system at either the secondary or post-secondary level." Hoping to one day work for a university transition program like STAR, and aid students like her students at Genesis, the future Dr. Audrey Fresques will bring her story full circle—helping students who are at high risk for dropping out, beat the odds, just like she did.