Cynthia Hammond Davis thought she would be a nurse, until she walked in to a class and the day’s assignment was to dissect an animal.
She walked out and never went back.
The daughter of two pastors, Hammond Davis graduated from Maple Springs Bible College and Seminary majoring in Biblical Studies. She became an ordained minister and an associate minister at a Baptist church in Washington, D.C.
She later took a job as a documentations specialist with the Department of Defense, but the long hours did not jibe with a home life that included a husband and two small children. A friend suggested she look into the school system so her schedule would better coincide with her children’s schedules, which she did. In 1991, she landed her first job with MCPS as a front-office secretary at Sligo Middle School. “I loved being around the kids,” she said. She became vice president and president of the PTA. She also worked at Eastern and Argyle middle schools when a position as a college/career information coordinator (CCIC) opened up.
For years, she had been helping students with college applications. It started when her own son was applying to college in the late 1990s. She soon started helping some of her son’s friends and their parents with college applications, scholarship forms and FAFSA forms. It didn’t take long for her to start helping families at her church and organizing events for colleges to visit the church. “When it came time to interview [for the CCIC position], I was able to answer all the questions because I had been doing that work,” she said.
She spent eight years as the CCIC at Northwood High School; she began working as a CCIC at Wheaton High School in 2013.
“I had been trying to figure out my purpose in life and when I came here, that hit the nail on the head,” she said. “I believe I have one of the best jobs in MCPS,” she says. “I love talking with students and parents. I enjoy talking with parents about what their students want to do after high school. I talk with students about their abilities, their skills, the things they would do even if they didn’t get paid.”
She added that the Naviance web-based program helps students by offering a career interest survey, which can lead to a list of potential majors and colleges that offer those majors. Wheaton also has the Achieving College Excellence and Success (ACES) program, which focuses on students who are underrepresented in higher education, and the College Tracks program, which helps students understand their college options and navigate admissions and financial aid options.
“We have everything the student needs,” Hammond Davis said, referring to the college and career center where she works. “We offer essay help, SAT and ACT prep. We’re here in the summer; we do three-day workshops for students to come in and work on their essays.
“Parents always want to know where to find scholarships. I talk about them on the morning announcements. I email them to the students and the parents. When [students] let me know if they’re going to apply, I make sure their transcripts and recommendations are ready.”
There are all kinds of scholarships available, she says, but finding them can be daunting. State and local governments offer scholarships, as do arts, science and engineering companies and organizations and religious institutions. Colleges and universities also often offer scholarship money in specific areas.
Athletic scholarships can be tricky, and Hammond Davis says student athletes should find a way to make themselves noticeable to the coach, perhaps even emailing him or her.
“Students have to do their homework,” she says. “Look at college websites. Look at the sport’s roster. How many of those students are seniors and will not be there when you get there. If it’s a rebuilding season, what’s the win-loss record? Are you a need for that school or will you be average? You may be able to walk on, depending on the team.”
She also holds meetings with parent groups, especially during the summer.
“I will talk about money matters and let parents ask questions,” she said. “I give them ideas of where colleges may be more affordable. We talk about savings plans and budgeting.”
As Hammond Davis went through the college application process with her son, she always felt like there was plenty of information available to answer student questions, but not very much for parents. In 2001, she decided to write a book that could help other parents and direct them to resources. The book, If I Knew Then, What I Know Now!, is a guide on college and financial planning for parents.
In addition, Hammond Davis makes videos of herself offering advice and step-by-step instructions on a variety of topics, and posts them to YouTube. For five years, she also hosted a college and career information show on WOL-AM radio.
Hammond Davis says parents should start planning to pay for college as soon as they find out they’re having a baby. She also encourages them to have heart-to-heart conversations with their children, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school. Parents should consider where the child wants to attend college.
“Do they want to stay on the East Coast or do they want to go to UCLA?” she says. “How much will it cost you to fly them there and back? How much will it cost you to go visit? If possible, you should have a family conversation and say, ‘Let’s look at schools in a specific area.’”
“You should have a budget and have guidelines within that,” she says. “You should lay out plans A, B, C and D for your children. Plan A may be that the expensive school your child wants to attend and it’s part of the budget. You tell your child what you have to offer and that they will have to bring the rest of the scholarship money that it will take.
“Plan B is an in-state school that will cost less. Plan C calls for a student to start at a community college. Montgomery College (MC) is awesome; it’s so well-known, even outside Maryland, for the matriculation of credits that go from MC to a four-year-college.
“Plan D is you’re in economic crisis. Your child might have to work full-time or go to school part-time or vice versa.”
She also believes that college tours are imperative to ensure the reality of campuses matches with the glossy brochures they mail out and the websites they promote.
“This is where your child is going to be for four years. My daughter was interested in a school in Georgia. The website looked great, so we got on a plane and went to visit. When we got there, it was totally different. The dorms were old. It was not as it had been represented. We just thought, ‘No.’”
Students don’t have to know what they want to major in, but they should have a general idea of what they want to study or what characteristics they would look for in a career, says Hammond Davis. She also advises parents to allow the student to choose the college or career they would like, and to stay away from writing their children’s essays.
“College representatives know when an adult has written an essay, because the essay will not be in the child’s voice,” she says. “They are trying to understand the voice of a 17 or 18 year old, but what they’re reading has more context. It’s more polished. They want to see the child’s writing skills. They want to read about what challenges the student has faced and how they’ve overcome them.
“Sometimes, we see the parent leading and guiding the students. It’s hard sometimes to let Johnny talk. But the child has to find something that will interest them. My advice to parents is be the passenger in the car, not the driver.”
When she’s not at work, Hammond Davis says she enjoys singing at her church, cooking and reading inspirational books. She and her husband were bowlers for 36 years, even coaching Little League teams, but she has had to stop since developing knee pain.
She wants to retire in five years and do other things, like host scholarship conferences for parents and others on college planning. She held her first one in November through a nonprofit group she is involved with, which had about 150 attendees.
Tell Me More
Hometown: Aberdeen, Md.
Family: Husband Ronald, children Dana, 39, and Ronald Jr., 36
What is one thing you can’t live without: My faith in God
If you could do any other job for one day, what would it be: TV talk show host
What are three traits that define you: Passionate, compassionate, dedicated
What is your favorite place to be: Home in front of my fireplace reading a book
What book are you reading right now: Soar!, by T.D. Jakes
What was your first job: Cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken
If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be: Michelle Obama
Favorite sports team: Washington Redskins