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Adult Career Pathways Team

Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon (Director) has a diverse professional background, including prior experience in high school, non-profit and university settings. She joined NOVA’s faculty in November 2001 as a counselor for students with disabilities. In November of 2005, Kerin was selected to lead the Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program, which under her direction has become a highly successful, award-winning college access and success program. Pathway was showcased by the New America Foundation and described in a May 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report as a national example for successfully transitioning and retaining more at-risk students into higher education. In August 2010, Kerin was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Service to the College Award by the NVCC Educational Foundation, and she received Recognition of Excellence Awards from the Virginia Community College System in 2009 and 2010. Kerin earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a Master of Science in Counseling from The Johns Hopkins University. She has also completed doctoral-level coursework at The George Washington University and George Mason University.

Christina Hubbard (Associate Director) has 15 years of experience in higher education. She has worked for Adult Career Pathways since its inception in 2011. Prior to her current position as Associate Director, she worked as both an access and success counselor for the program. Her career has also included a variety of roles working with adult college students for various universities as well as the federal government. Christina earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at University of Maryland University College, a Master of Education from Regent University, and a graduate certificate in college counseling from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in education, specializing in higher education and adult students at George Mason University.

Jolene Virgo (Program and Data Manager) graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in mathematics and since then has worked in education and nonprofit organizations serving nontraditional students and providing program services for underrepresented and/or at-risk student populations. She began her career at Syracuse University with the Collegiate Science Technology Entry Program working with minority students in STEM and pre-professional programs. After which she spent three years at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Virginia providing services for an inmate population out of the Goochland campus.   Before returning back to Virginia this year to work at NOVA, she most recently worked for Communities in Schools of Marietta/Cobb County in the metro-Atlanta area of Georgia helping with dropout prevention in the county schools. Her background includes grant and project management centered on student success.

Wende Ruffin-Lowry (Success Counselor) entered the fields of counseling and education more than ten years ago. She has worked with students of all ages from around the globe. Wende began her work as a NOVA counselor in 2009 and has been with ACP since the program’s inception in 2011. Prior to NOVA, Wende was employed as a teacher and as an admissions counselor for another university. Wende graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She holds a Master of Science in Business Administration from Strayer University and a Master of Education in Counseling and Development from George Mason University.

Theresa Gentile (Success Advisor) graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in government and psychology. After developing a deep passion for service learning as an undergraduate, Theresa joined AmeriCorps through the Virginia College Advising Corps to work as an advisor with first-generation college students. She served at the NOVA-Alexandria campus for two years, supporting students in the transfer process to four-year schools. Theresa has been with Adult Career Pathways since August of 2012 and is currently working on her master’s degree in school counseling at George Washington University. 

Erika Coddington (Success Advisor) has more than 10 years of experience working with student success in higher education. Her recent experience includes helping to launch an Early Alert program to support academically at-risk students. Erika also developed student success webinars while working as a Success Coach for NOVA’s Extended Learning Institute. Her webinars focused on math anxiety and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students". Prior to her work at NOVA, Erika worked at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. as a Campus Outreach Coordinator, where she launched initiatives on peer mentoring, first-year experience, programming and outreach initiatives involving time management, mentoring and tutoring support for returning adult students. Erika holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Saint Mary’s College and a Master of Education with a concentration in Counseling Psychology from Frostburg University.

Shawn Addison (Access Counselor) has nine years of diverse professional experience working with students in high-school, college and on military bases. His professional career began working with high-school students, educating them on post-secondary options. Before coming to NOVA, Shawn worked as professional counselor with Thomas Nelson Community College, advising adults from diverse cultural and academic backgrounds concerning their academic or work goals. He later relocated to Japan and worked for the Department of Defense, focusing on employment and career support for service members and their families. Shawn graduated from Liberty University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Counseling. He has completed graduate coursework in educational leadership from the University of Virginia.

Jennifer Merrill (Success Advisor) came to NOVA with 15 years of experience in higher education - student activities, residential life, and adult education.  Jennifer joined the Adult Career Pathway’s team as a success advisor in December 2013 and is utilizing her experience in meeting students where they are in the educational pursuits, walking with them to complete their goals here at NOVA, and moving on to the next phase of their educational and career goals. Jennifer obtained her Bachelor of Music degree in Music Marketing from Clarion University and her Masters of Arts in Higher Education with a concentration in Administration from Geneva College.

Melissa Harrington (Access Counselor) has nine years of professional experience in higher education in the areas of academic counseling, student activities and program management. She is passionate about issues and research that pertain to first-generation college students. Outside of work Melissa is an active volunteer in the Alexandria City Public Schools. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences with concentrations in Economics, Political Science and Communications from Virginia Tech, and a Master of Arts in Education, Student Personnel Services, also from Virginia Tech. She has completed doctoral-level work at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Sonia Ponce-Martinez (Office Services Specialist) grew up in Northern Virginia. She received her high school diploma in Spring 2012 through one of ACP’s partners, Woodson Adult High School. She is currently attending classes at NOVA to pursue an AA in Liberal Arts. She joined ACP as a student in Summer 2012 and began working for ACP as an office services specialist in Fall 2012. Sonia is fluent in both English and Spanish. She is an asset to the ACP team. Sonia brings with her seven years of administrative and customer service experience and three years of management experience.

Trasi Watson (Internship and Career Counselor) has more than 12 years of student affairs experience in higher education focusing on career counseling and academic and financial aid advising. She began her professional experience as a career counselor and graduate assistant in Career Services at Slippery Rock University. She went on to become an assistant director of the Career Center at the College of William & Mary. Her position focused on career advising, internships and multicultural outreach. She later relocated to Guam where she would become an academic advisor and program manager for the TRiO program at Guam Community College helping first generation college students and low-income families gain access to higher education opportunities. She also volunteered and worked in the Career Center at the University of Guam. Prior to working at NOVA, Trasi worked at the Navy College Office in Japan and as a federal employee providing life skills trainings at the Fleet and Family Support Center. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Science in Student Personnel from Slippery Rock University.

Gregory Bacourt (Grant Project Manager) has a multidimensional social work background, including prior experience in gerontology, substance abuse, health-care, adoption/foster care and early care and education. His professional and research opportunities primarily have been in non-profit and university settings. Gregory joined the Adult Career Pathways team in April 2014 as the project manager for the dual generation initiative. Gregory earned a Bachelor of Social Work at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, and a Master of Social Work at Florida International University. He has also completed doctoral-level coursework at Howard University and is currently drafting a dissertation proposal examining the relationship between father involvement and early childhood development.

Constantine “Dino” Merkezas (Grant & Data Manager) has more than 30 years of program management, database and workforce development experience in academic, non-profit and corporate environments. Prior to coming to the Adult Career Pathways program, Dino served Training Futures, a nationally recognized workforce development program, as a NOVA adjunct professor, database developer and intake coordinator. As a Regional Training Manager for CompUSA Training he provided program management for several federal government technical training initiatives, including national projects for the FBI, ATF and the IRS. His database development and project management accomplishments include several award winning data management and analysis systems. While at Training Futures, Dino was the lead developer and project manager for a system that provided reports and analysis of trainee performance and academic and employment success for a three-year Aspen Institute study. Aspen promoted his system as a prototype for other workforce development programs. Dino holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems from Strayer University.

Jennifer Pocai (Grants Project Manager) possesses numerous years of project, program, and database management. Prior to coming to NOVA’s Adult Career Pathways program in the fall of 2011, Jennifer worked for the National School Boards Association in their Information Technology Department for more than 11 years. Her primary focus at NSBA was database management. During her time with ACP Jennifer has held various positions and is now focused on project management for the program’s Dual Generational Initiative. Jennifer holds an Associate of Applied Science Degree with a specialization in Networking from NOVA. Additionally, she earned a Bachelor of Individualized Study with a concentration in Higher Education Administration from George Mason University, and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Higher Education at GMU.