The first thing people noticed about Lawrence Harris was his infectious smile matched with a humble approachability. Yet, while his personality led to impactful relationships with his students, Lawrence’s path to College Advising Corps was a success story worth sharing.
Born in New York, Lawrence was raised in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. While his parents struggled to make ends meet and later divorced, Lawrence, with the help of mentors and counselors, graduated near the top of his high school class in Hoover, Alabama. He then matriculated to the University of Georgia.
His freshman year at UGA, however, was hard, daunting, and stressful. Struggling academically, Lawrence transferred to Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida. Yet, a month after arriving, his grandmother asked him to leave her house, unwilling to wait for Lawrence to obtain a job while he attended college. Finding his belongings strewn across the front lawn, Lawrence took up residence in a homeless shelter until he found work. After that year, he returned to UGA, where he graduated with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Spanish.
As his senior year drew to a close, mentors referred Lawrence to UGA College Advising Corps. He recalls, “There was no doubt in my mind that this was the position I wanted. I would have the chance to give back to a school and community similar to the one I was raised in. I felt a personal desire to ensure that students pursue higher education at an institution that is their best fit and best match.”
“The number of students whose lives I touched every day and the smiles I saw walking out of my office with confidence knowing that there is an option for them is simply indescribable…[I]t didn’t hit me that I was making a difference until a senior assembly, [when the head counselor said], ‘You can visit our college adviser, Mr. Harris, and all of the seniors stood up, applauding and screaming. After the assembly, the principal and the counselors said they had never seen the students so excited about a staff member and that if I ever doubted I was making a difference, I just needed to think back to that moment – and I do.”
Lawrence’s success as an adviser was, in part, due to his ability to draw on his own experiences to connect with his students. “Life could have been different if I’d had somebody to sit down and talk to about college and taking the SAT… Not having that support when I was in high school influenced my job every day because I saw students that were in the same situation [I was in]. I felt a lot of what my students [felt]. I had students who come to me who have never heard of some [colleges], hadn’t heard of the SAT or ACT, or didn’t know how to access applications, and they reminded me of me.”
Finding power in his own journey, Lawrence opened up with his students so they feel comfortable confiding their fears in him. Thinking, “If I had me when I was in high school, the places that I could have gone,” energized him to perform his job well every day. Lawrence helped hundreds of students navigate the college admissions process. Indeed, he was so effective that in his second year, the high number of students wanting to meet with him forced the school to move his office to a space where he could address large groups of students at once. “The best feeling for me was when a student came up to me smiling and he’s showing me [test scores] or saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Harris, I got in.’ I love it. I think there are so many different ways to reach students, but every school is different, so you really have to know your population and what will get them motivated and interested in going to college.”
Lawrence’s story gets better. In the spring of 2014, Lawrence was selected to accompany College Advising Corps CEO and Founder, Dr. Nicole Hurd, to a summit on college access hosted by the White House. At the event, President Obama recognized Lawrence and commended him for his work in college access. Not long after that, he met the President and the First Lady. After this unforgettable experience, Lawrence then met the Vice Dean and Director of Admissions at Penn who encouraged Lawrence to apply to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his master’s in Higher Education Administration from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2015. He received his Doctor of Philosphy in Education from the University of Georgia in 2021 and today serves as Director of Client Relationships and Success at TregoED.