Thanks to a unique partnership among CSM, St. Mary's County Public Schools and AmeriCorps VISTA, Kelsey Stewart is helping high school students become first-generation college students.

AmeriCorps VISTA Member Kelsey Stewart Helps CSM and St. Mary’s County Public Schools Close Workforce Gaps

News Release, College of Southern Maryland

Efforts Improve High School Students’ Knowledge of Higher Education

When Waldorf resident Kelsey Stewart graduated with her degree in Communications and Social Influence from the University of Maryland College Park, she knew she wanted to help communities better understand each other by engaging in meaningful activism. What she didn’t know was that her first job would be vigorously campaigning to teach high school students who don’t consider continuing their education about how to navigate the possibilities of attending college.

Through a unique partnership between the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) and the St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS), and funded by AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), CSM hired Stewart in August go into SMCPS high schools and help seniors become first-generation college students.

“Our goal for this particular grant is to impact poverty in St. Mary’s County where there is a big economic divide between the have and have-nots,” said CSM Special Project Director Lydia Williams. “We can accomplish this through higher education and workforce development programs.”

“I visit a variety of St. Mary’s County communities to make connections in community centers, libraries and high schools and let students know that a college education can be achieved,” Stewart explained. “The AmeriCorps goal aims to help close workforce gaps in the community, and to do that we start with showing students a path to build skills.”

Stewart said she learned very quickly that there is a lot of misconceptions among some student populations – and in some cases no information available at all – about what type of higher education is available.

“It is eye-opening to learn that students don’t know how to pursue a trade certification, or that community college is accessible and affordable,” she shared. “And I was surprised by how many students didn’t realize how easy it is to transfer to a four-year institution after enrolling in community college. Many students don’t know there are several ways to create a lucrative career.”

CSM and SMCPS secured the AmeriCorps VISTA grant for Stewart’s work for one year – and are pursuing additional funding. AmeriCorps has several charges: To end hunger, end poverty and end homelessness.

To that end, Stewart said her work is clear. First, she networked and identified students with whom to work. Now, she is pulsing those students to get a better idea for their knowledge of post-secondary opportunities. And next, she plans to host events in the community to put the potential students in the same room with financial experts.

“A lot of students have told me they have the desire to keep learning after high school,” Stewart said. “It’s not a situation where students don’t want to go learn a trade or some other type of career. In most cases, the students I am talking with explain there is a barrier to their thought process about continuing their education – whether it’s physical, monetary or emotional. In each instance, it has to do with the student not having the information about how to get ahead, let alone the network to help them get there.”

“I plan to host as many meaningful events that spread the word – as I can,” Stewart shared. “I want more people to understand their options. Today, we are opening up the world to high school seniors, and tomorrow we’d like to work with early ages in earlier grades so there is just no more confusion about all the options that are out there. We want the possibility of a secondary education to be engrained in the community itself.”

AmeriCorps VISTA are charged with bringing passion and perseverance where the need is greatest: To organizations that help eradicate poverty. AmeriCorps VISTA members serve as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to meet our nation’s most pressing challenges and advance local solutions.

“Our goal is to build on the great work that Kelsey is doing for the students in St. Mary’s County and replicate her programs in Calvert and Charles counties through subsequent grants,” said CSM Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Eileen Abel.

For her part, Stewart – a North Point High School graduate, and former CSM driver’s education student – receives a stipend from AmeriCorps and upon completion of her work, she qualifies for an end-of-service option called the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. That award is a lump sum of money to put toward college student loans.

Learn more about AmeriCorps by visiting https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.


The Southern Maryland Chronicle is a local, small business entrusted to provide factual, unbiased reporting to the Southern Maryland Community. While we look to local businesses for advertising, we hope to keep that cost as low as possible in order to attract even the smallest of local businesses and help them get out to the public. We must also be able to pay employees(part-time and full-time), along with equipment, and website related things. We never want to make the Chronicle a “pay-wall” style news site.

To that end, we are looking to the community to offer donations. Whether it’s a one-time donation or you set up a reoccurring monthly donation. It is all appreciated. All donations at this time will be going to furthering the Chronicle through hiring individuals that have the same goals of providing fair, and unbiased news to the community. For now, donations will be going to a business PayPal account I have set-up for the Southern Maryland Chronicle, KDC Designs. All business transactions currently occur within this PayPal account. If you have any questions regarding this you can email me at davidhiggins@southernmarylandchronicle.com

Thank you for all of your support and I hope to continue bringing Southern Maryland the best news possible for a very long time. — David M. Higgins II




© 2019 The Southern Maryland Chronicle. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.