Alumni Volunteers

Become a UVA Admission Ambassador

Spotlight on a few VAAN Volunteers

Joanne Brown (Col ’86) Associate Director of Admissions at Pace Academy – VAAN Atlanta


What was your career path that led you to your current role?

I practiced law for several years in Atlanta before entering into the world of education administration, specifically that of admissions. It was my passion for education and personal experience in navigating the private independent school arena that led me to my current position. The skills I acquired as a trial attorney certainly help me in being effective at my job. As a civil litigator, I was called upon to counsel, advise, persuade as well as engage in tough but honest conversations. As an admissions director, I find myself having to do any number of these things as I walk families through the admissions process.

What is your daily routine?

Right now [fall 2014] I am in the busy admissions season! Everyday is different. Some days I spend touring families, and other days I spend in my office returning calls, emailing families or scheduling visits for prospective students. Because it is important for me to tell the Pace story, I also remain fully engaged in my school community. I may observe a history or science class, attend a special assembly, and participate in a service project with students. The heart of my daily routine is to share the Pace experience with the families I meet.

Any words of advice for alumni parents who may have students thinking about the college application process?

Breathe. The process is much more stressful on your high school student. Our children put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves. Even more so because of their parents successes which include having attended a top tier university like U.Va. Parents need to support, encourage and listen. Hopefully your children are in an academic environment similar to Pace where their college counseling is individualized and tailored. Help them to keep the end goal in mind which is to engage in the process that will result in finding those college choices best suited for them.

What do you look for in a competitive student for admission at PACE, and how might the PACE Academy admission process prep students for the college admission process?

I look for students who will not only meet the high academic standards at Pace, but can also do that while contributing to our excellent arts, athletics and extracurricular programs. Our motto is “to have the courage to strive for excellence,” and I hope to see glimpses of that in a prospective student. The Atlanta private independent school market is extremely competitive. I jokingly tell families all the time that if they can successfully navigate the Atlanta market, then they will be able to navigate the college process.

Maceo Willis (Col ’93) Dean of Students at Pro Vision Academy in Houston – VAAN Houston

Maceo WillisWhat was your career path that led you to your current position?

I have worked as an instructor, writer/producer, filmmaker and administrator in my brief time on planet earth.  I have worked in Washington, DC; Los Angeles, and currently work in Houston as Director of Counseling for the Pro-Vision Academy.

What is your daily routine?

I teach ACT/SAT Prep, manage/coordinate college field trips, assist with applications, scholarships, and financial aid.  I also edit correspondence, conduct college and career fairs, advise parents and students and serve on the school’s leadership team.

How do you manage expectations of students as they begin thinking about the college search process?

I manage expectations by using the “4 or more” approach.  They should have a “longshot,” a couple of “good match/fit schools,” and a “safety” school at the minimum.  Students should pick colleges that mirror their interests, potential majors, personality, and budget; this process gives them the best chance of academic success.

How do you ensure no student is left behind?

I provide all the scholarship/grant/financial information in advance, chart their progress, give periodic reminders, make announcements, invite guest speakers, take college visits, discuss college life and involve parents/guardians.  I try to ensure that all students apply to at least one college, whether they intend to enroll or now.  I also show the disparity between salaries for high school graduates versus Bachelors, Masters, Doctorates, JDs and MDs for example.

Could you talk about a difficult situation you’ve encountered?

Sometimes it’s difficult to convince parents to release their student/child onto the world.  For example, I went on an exchange program to Indonesia and lived away from home for a year prior to college.  Some families do not wish their [children] to be away from home that long.  What they don’t always realize [however] is that the world of opportunities opens up when you study abroad or travel in general.

Safety is a common topic of concern at universities.  What safety measures are available at your academy?

We ask all staff to speak on everything they see.  Any small infraction that gets overlooked could snowball into a more serious situation.  We encourage students to enlist staff to help them resolve conflicts to avoid escalation as well.  Even good intentions can have (unforeseen) bad results.


Chad Horton (Educ ’99) Counselor at Gifford C. Cole Middle School – VAAN Los Angeles

What was your career path that led you to your current role?

I became a guidance counselor as a result of volunteering at a local elementary school through my fraternity. I worked closely with the counselor in providing assistance to needy families.  I was impressed by the impact she had on her students and the surrounding community.

What is your daily routine?

College readiness is at the core of my daily duties.  My role involves challenging my students to see college admission and attendance as the goal after high school.  I encourage my students to assess their interests, strengths, and academic habits.  Lastly, I encourage my students to understand how to build a strong academic foundation and student profile that will help them reach their college goals.

Do you/how do you encourage students at a young age to begin thinking about colleges?

Most of  my career has been focused on economically impoverished areas.  As a result, many students feel that college is something that is not a realistic or obtainable goal.  Changing this mindset involves exposure to the college environment, educating students of the benefits of a college education, and debunking many myths associated with going to college.  Projecting themselves into the future into a positive collegiate experience is a vital first step in promoting a college going culture.

Based on your experience are students intimidated as middle school students about the college-app process? Are they even thinking about the process?

Most of my students will be first generation college students.  As a result, they do not have any understanding of the college application process, what it takes to be an attractive applicant, or how to choose the college that is right for them.  My approach with middle school students is the same approach I had with high school students.  My hope is that they develop habits that will translate to their high school career by remaining academically competitive, involved in community service, and being active in their school.  I also want to destroy negative misconceptions my student may have from lack of exposure or parental support.

Is exposure to college via college fairs helpful to students at this age?

Exposure is vital in educating my students on the college experience.  Many students at this age may have formed ideas about college as a result of what they have seen on television or what they may have read about.  This age group affords an excellent opportunity to talk about their impressions of college, fears about going to college, and what they think a college education can do to help them in the future.  Our school supports this by offering a variety of field trips to local colleges and through participation in local college fairs.

How do you engage students as middle schoolers to begin prioritizing academics?

I fully embrace the premise of educating the child as whole.  I strongly believe that out-of-class involvement can equally contribute to the academic success of the child.  The skills developed through extracurricular activities can create a student that is coachable, is better organized, and has better time management skills.  Academic performance is always the most important aspect of a student’s profile.