History Alumna Inspires New Generation of College Students

Author: Joanna Basile

Nicole Hurd

Notre Dame Department of History alumna Nicole Farmer Hurd ’92 was recently featured on NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams for her efforts to help disadvantaged high school students enter the world of higher education.

Hurd is the founder and executive director of the National College Advising Corps (NCAC), a program that strives to increase the number and graduation rate of low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation college students. NCAC is housed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Hurd also serves as a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education.

“In the Advising Corps, we talk about our core values as grace and humility,” she says. “There are no easy answers in education; there are no silver bullets. The NBC segment was a wonderful moment of gratitude in the Advising Corps story—it was a moment to say that we do not have all the answers, but if we work together, we can make a difference.”

Providing Opportunities

In 2011–12, 321 NCAC-trained college counselors will reach more than 110,000 students at 368 underserved high schools across the country.

“It is incredibly rewarding to visit a high school, hear from a parent, work with a counselor, or hug a student who just found out he or she will be the first one in the family to go to college. It is an awesome process to witness,” she says.

“It is also rewarding to see our recent college graduates finish their service as advisers and go off to graduate school, work for transforming nonprofits, or commit their careers to education,” Hurd adds. “They are the next generation of leaders in this sector, and I find their commitment and passion inspiring.”

In many ways, she says, NCAC is modeled after the program she founded while serving as an assistant dean and director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of Virginia. That initiative, called the College Guide Program, earned her the 2007 Virginia Governor’s Award for Volunteerism and Community Service and is part of NCAC.

Hurd has also received other recognition for her work. In addition to the NBC “Making a Difference” segment, she was recently named one of 44 American Marshall Memorial Fellows for 2011. The fellows are part of a program that educates emerging American and European leaders on the importance of the transatlantic relationship and encourages them to collaborate on a range of international and domestic policy challenges.

Educational Impact

Hurd says it was her own experiences as an undergraduate in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame that helped nurture her commitment to social justice and the idea that every child deserves access to an education that will prepare them for the future.

It also allowed her to develop the skills she relies on every day to help fulfill that mission.

“As a history major, I had to write, ask questions, research, make convincing arguments, engage in scholarly debate, and appreciate others’ narratives and stories,” she says. “My College of Arts and Letters education taught me communication skills that have been invaluable to my career. From fundraising to developing new programs, training advisers, or working with our team, communication is critical.”

Hurd, who says she “fell in love with history” during her time at Notre Dame, went on to receive her master’s from Georgetown University and a doctoral degree from the University of Virginia.

“Whether it was earning a Ph.D. in American religious history and teaching or working in the education/nonprofit sector,” she says, “the constant curiosity and love of learning has stayed with me.”

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