Don’t let choosing a college spook you!

By Brittany Davis 

I hardly make it to the door of the school most mornings before I am greeted by a barrage of questions from eager seniors. This is the time of year when their ‘when I grow up’ dreams take the first step into actuality. This is my favorite time of year. Before the applications, paperwork and testing can begin there are several conversations that seem to be on replay in my office.   

Choosing a College is like buying a car

After working at higher education institutions for the past eight years I have seen firsthand how we try to sell students on our schools however we can; it is a business after all. I once had a student tell me that what sold him on our school was that we had a build your own waffle station in the dining hall….my point being students often get caught up in the details — the fresh strawberries and whipped cream instead of the academics and degrees. So — to reel students back in from the beautifully glossy pages of college catalogs and the build your own waffle stations — I compare choosing a college to buying a car. You wouldn’t go into a dealership unprepared without doing your research or having an idea of what you want, and the same should go for choosing an institution where you will spend the next two to four years. Students should be prepared to answer the following questions before choosing a college:

  • Big school or small school?
  • Public or private?
  • How far are you willing to go from home?
  • What teacher to student ratio will you be most successful in?  

College major or degree plan is a major factor in this equation, yes, but according to the National Center for Educational Statistics roughly 80% of students change their major at least once. It is just as important for the campus as a whole to be a good fit. A resource I love for this is the Big Future College Search created by The College Board. It asks students all the hard questions and then provides them with a list of schools that fit their criteria.  

Explore Your Career Interest

Students feel pressured into being definitive in their major choice from day one of senior year and often times that can be counterintuitive as they may overlook an opportunity for which they may be better suited. We had 4 seniors last year that had their minds made up about studying dental hygiene and after visiting campus to tour the program, one of the four was still committed to the program, and the other three couldn’t even finish the tour before they were pale faced and ready to toss their lunch. Which is why I encourage students not only to take campus tours when at all possible, but also take every opportunity to explore his or her career interest. We are so lucky to live in a community where businesses and community members rally around our students and are eager to help them. Students can reach out to professionals in our community to shadow them and ask them questions about their field of interest. Academic Advisors at your campus can also help students get connected. Take the opportunity to get connected, volunteer your time, and you will not only be more sure about your major but also more motivated to complete a degree you are truly interested in. 

Ask for help, and ask often!

The college application and financial aid process is a challenge to navigate and can differ by college. For a first generation college student, this can be daunting and discourage them from college altogether. Thankfully in Waco, we have several campus-based as well as community engagement pieces that are in place to help students overcome these hurdles. Most campuses in our area have a designated college counselor or advisor. University High, Waco High, and La Vega High School have the Project Link program, MAC foundation, and CAP program is also available to McLennan County students. These programs help students through every step of the application process. However, for many students, the application process is just one of the many barriers they will have to overcome to be successful college students and eventual graduates. Just like high schools, colleges also have student-focused resources to help students be successful. After all, colleges are in the business of getting students graduated and if there are significant barriers inhibiting students from completing degree plans it is in their best interest to offer resources to help them be successful.  Most colleges offer, at the very least, supplemental instruction, writing labs, counseling services, and career centers. All of these services are completely free to students! Community Colleges often offer specialized services as they typically serve more non-traditional students with unique barriers such as on-site daycare, student care clinics, and crisis intervention services. Ask for help students, these services are grossly underutilized in most schools. The tools and services are there for you to be successful, you just have to ask! 

Your education is an opportunity to change your corner of the world, be brave and make bold decisions with your future!  

brittany-davisBrittany Davis is an Academic Advisor at University High School. She was raised in a small Texas town and is a recent transplant to Waco, and loving it! As a first generation college student, Mrs. Davis understands firsthand how overwhelming and intimidating the process can be, and strives to use her 9 years of higher education experience to help students feel capable, brave and significant in setting out to achieve their goals. Her favorite thing to do in Waco is going to documentaries on Mondays at the Hippodrome with friends.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.






On Reclaiming Joy

By Jennifer Alumbaugh

I have a confession: I’m not entirely certain that the pursuit of happiness is a necessarily useful or wholly possible endeavor.

Now, before you grab your pitchforks or rotten tomatoes, stay with me a while inside this idea.  I’m a much bigger fan of the pursuit of joy.  You might think I’m just arguing semantics.  And you may hold to that thought by the time you reach the end of this blog.  But I propose that the difference is significant and goes much deeper than mere language.

Clarification: I’m not entirely certain that happiness—pure, unadulterated, levity—is attainable for everyone.

Yes.  That’s better.  A more true representation of my thesis.

Caveat: I am someone who has lived with chronic grief her whole life, a pervasive soul sorrow that has cast a shadow over so many moments.  My exploration is absolutely colored by this experience.  I also write as someone who has carried an immense amount of shame and guilt around my difficulty with experiencing happiness.  I realize that there may be some readers who have difficulty grasping this notion and for that, I am sincerely grateful.

It’s important for us to take a look at some of the mechanics that go into how people feel the emotions they encounter.  Personality types and nervous system settings influence the ways in which we experience the world.  Some people self-identify—through a process of self-discovery—as Empaths or Highly Sensitive individuals.  This is a personality type, a biological setting, people are either prone to or not.  These individuals have emotional feeling receptors which operate at a much broader frequency than others of us.  They can attune to what others are feeling, experiencing the feeling with another vividly and in real time.  A person’s capacity for compassion also influences happiness.  Identity and lived-experiences are significant contributors or detractors of happiness—if one moves about the world with little conflict regarding their personhood, this is a kind of privilege that contributes to increased levels of happiness while those for whom safety, rights, and access to life’s necessities and bounty are limited often exhibit difficulties with sustaining happiness.  Certainly our location—geographically and socially—influences our ability to experience happiness as do our experiences in the world from freedoms, to traumas, to exposure to violence, to attachments, to opportunities, to privileges.

The teachings tell us that we could be happy if we just choose to be.   Choice.  Such a tricky word.  There is a great deal about our identities and our experiences that we have no agency over to accept or decline or even change.  Some of us have more wiggle room than others in changing certain aspects of our circumstances—but even those with the most resources are limited, fundamentally, in what aspects of self and life they can alter.  And while all of us have some choices, we don’t all have the same choices or the same access to changing our circumstances.

As a white woman I can choose to engage—or not—with news and social justice issues around race; my Black kindred do not have this choice.  They cannot decide to not be Black one day because it would be easier.  As an ally, I choose to remain engaged, aware, connected, and present with feeling the viscera of race trauma in the US today.  I don’t know it first hand, but empathically I remain open to the grief, sorrow, horror, outrage, and despair experienced by my friends of color.

I acknowledge that it is a choice I make to keep my self, my heart, my soul open to the effects of being aware of social (in)justices occurring in my community, my country, and globally.  I realize that this choice puts me at risk for experiencing reduced instances of happiness.  I could tune out.  There is indeed a certain bliss that accompanies ignorance.  For me, that path is not an option because it is out of line with my authentic being and becoming.

But here is the thing, in the very midst of grief, of sorrow, of pain, I continue to experience life-giving joys.  While happiness is a fleeting moment, dependent up on circumstances—a job promotion, a favorite flavor of ice cream, a silly joke, reciprocated affection of a beloved—joy abides, even inside the darkest night.

Joy is a kindred of contentment, of feeling fulfilled, of deep gratitude.  Joy can be dancing delight.  Joy can be great belly laughter.  Joy is awe-struck wonder.  Joy is a heart full and over-flowing.  Joy is doing what we love—a resounding satisfaction.  Joy can show up in our tear-stained storms radiating rainbows.

My intention with this post is not some doomsday moratorium on happiness.  My hope is that maybe we open the circle a little wider and before reposting that next “you could be happy if you really wanted to” meme, you pause a moment.  Consider those in your community who are beared down in grief.  Those who have survived unspeakable losses.  Those who navigate the challenges of mental or medical health issues.  Consider our kin in war zones and those surviving hunger and home and financial insecurities daily.  Hold for a moment those who move about the world inside identities that are bullied, threatened, mocked, and misunderstood.  Make some room for their difficulties with happiness and allow for the possibility of joy.  Happiness is so much more luck than choice; joy is a practice.

Wherever you may be in this moment, whatever burdens you bear, whatever lightness you relish, may an extraordinary joy show up for you today, and linger a while in your heart.

Jennifer Alumbaugh-2Jennifer Alumbaugh, MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist providing clinical and professional development consultation services at Enrichment Training and Counseling Solutions. She has extensive experience working with adolescent and adult survivors of psychological and spiritual abuse, trauma (sexual violence, childhood trauma, interpersonal violence); and complex PTSD. These, along with grief and loss work are her areas of specialization.  Jennifer practiced as a mental health clinician throughout Los Angeles County working with children, youth, and their families from 2007-2012. In Central Texas, Jennifer has worked as a Site Coordinator with Communities in Schools of The Heart of Texas at G.W. Carver Middle School; as an independent consultant and professional development trainer; and conference speaker. In 2016 Jennifer created an implemented a therapeutic creative writing program, Brave Young Voices, at Klaras Center for Families and at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department correctional campus at Mart, TX.  She may be reached at: or 254-405-2496.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



How Do We Get There From Here?

By Lucas Land

How do we get there from here?

Not to spoil the rest of the article, but the answer is… together.

The two major party candidates for President have spent precious little time talking about the greatest threat faced by the United States, and the rest of humanity. It’s not ISIS, immigration, health care or the economy. Climate change and environmental degradation threaten the very existence of our species on this planet. The transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy involves rethinking many of the things we take for granted in modern society. There is so much work to do that it can often feel overwhelming and impossible.

That’s when I return to a favorite quote from Wendell Berry for solace:

“The question that must be addressed is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.” [1]

This is why I love local politics. It’s easy to get distracted and become polarized by our national politics. It’s much harder to do that when the issues are local and the debate is with our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. When you have to see each other in the grocery store, there is a greater incentive to find common ground and build relationships across many of the lines that divide us. It’s also harder to care about polar bears than the plants and animals in our own backyard, not to mention we have more control over the latter.

So often we fall into the trap that change only happens by creating an “us versus them” narrative. One side has to be the evil corporation or corrupt government and the other are the righteous, do-gooders who are on the right side of history. This tickles our lizard brains and makes us feel better about ourselves, but in the end it creates and/or perpetuates as many problems as it solves.

I do believe that there are times and places that require us to stand up to injustice and even protest actions that are evil. We should never forget that Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and others believed non-violent civil disobedience worked, because of the inherent dignity and humanity of those they protested against.

I’ve discovered recently how much can be accomplished in our community by treating people on all sides like human beings that deserve respect, while also speaking up about what I think could make our community better. This is why we need better models and frameworks for making change in our community. One group doing this work in our community is Baylor’s Public Deliberation Initiative.  They gather diverse groups of students and community members to discuss and dialogue around difficult issues (such as racial reconciliation, gun violence, and politics). Their approach to these conversations can help us listen better to each other and work towards solutions rather than deepening the divide. They will host a post-election forum November 14th at the Bobo Spiritual Life Center on “Getting American Politics Working Again.”

On November 9th, regardless of who is elected, we will still have a lot of work to do, and we will have to work with people who did not vote like us. Conversations and actions are already happening in our community about how to make our city more walkable  and bike friendly . Groups in town (  and ) are tackling the challenge of a sustainable energy future for our community. Groups such as World Hunger Relief, HOT Urban Gardening Coalition, Baylor’s Campus Kitchen, and many others are working on issues related to local food, food insecurity, and health. You can find more opportunities to get involved in working on sustainability at

I love this “human and natural neighborhood” we call Waco, McLennan County and the Brazos watershed. Learning to love this place is the task we have been given and the only way to do it… is together.

Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

[1] Berry, Wendell. What Are People For?: Essays. San Francisco: North Point, 1990. p. 200.