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GEAR UP student Dakota Eddy focuses on helping others

Written by
Emily Stetson

April 6, 2023


Nathan Hickey first started mentoring 19-year-old Dakota Eddy three years ago, when she was a sophomore at Mill River Union High School. Working through the GEAR UP program, Nathan is part of a team of VSAC Outreach Counselors throughout the state who offer guidance and support to middle- and high-school students from modest-income households, or who, like Dakota, would be the first in their families to go to college.

“When I first met Dakota, she presented as a young adult with quiet confidence. She was eager to create opportunities for herself, while also giving back and making a positive difference in the world around her.” But, Nate adds with a hint of pride, “Dakota does not seem to be a quiet presence anymore.”

Dakota, now a freshman at the University of Southern Maine, has gone from an unsure and admittedly unfocused high schooler to a passionate student of sociology and criminal justice, determined to use what she learns to make the world a better place and to support others throughout her journey.

Growing up in Wallingford, Vermont, Dakota recalls that it was always expected that she would go to college.

“But the focus was more on just ‘going to college’ than about what I wanted to do with it,” she recalls.

This troubled Dakota, who didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. Without a focus, she says she wasn’t always super-motivated to get her work done. While she assured her parents she was going to college, when she got to senior year, she still didn’t have a plan.

“So I went to Nate. We met regularly, and we looked into the programs that different schools offered. He showed me where to get the information I needed from each of the schools, and he also helped me build the confidence to reach out to people from the schools with specific questions.”

Through VSAC, Dakota says, she was able to get a lot of the information that she felt she needed to make an informed decision. She says it also made her feel more in charge of the process, so she could make her own decision, separate from others’ expectations. “Nate helped me figure out what I was really interested in, and how college could help get me there. With that mindset, it became more of MY decision.”

While Dakota originally wanted to stay in Vermont, Nate suggested that she visit the University of Southern Maine in Portland. After a campus tour, she was sold.

Now that she’s at USM, she says, “I love every single bit of it.” This fall, Nate noted that she took time out of her schedule to share that love with several Vermont students, just a year or two behind her, when Nate organized a virtual meeting for some of his current advisees.

I think it’s cool to meet with prospective students, because there aren’t too many Vermont kids here on campus. I always notice when I see Vermont plates in parking lots,” she laughs. “It feels cool knowing there might be more kids from my area coming here. And it’s a great school, so it’s nice being able to recommend a place that they will likely do really well at.”

Dakota herself has found her place within the campus and wider communities at USM. She’s a community editor for the University Free Press newspaper, which recently captured the interest of the Bangor Daily News as one of the only schools that still prints and delivers a newspaper every week.

“It’s a good opportunity to get out and see a lot of things in the general area that I would not typically go to. Since this is a new area for me, it’s given me a way in,” says Dakota, who has covered events ranging from a gubernatorial debate to an LGBTQ+-community-sponsored craft fair.

She also mentors fellow students through her work in the Recovery Oriented Campus Center, known as “the ROCC.” This student-run organization offers general community support for students who may be struggling, for whatever reason, Dakota explains. “If a student needs support, the RAs can refer them to the ROCC, and we go meet with the student, to help them feel less alone, and maybe point them in some better directions.”

Dakota has a similar interest in guiding young people as a career, a realization that led her to declare her major in Sociology, with minors in both Social Justice and in Criminology. Her first introduction to sociology was through a course at Castleton during her senior year in high school, as part of the dual enrollment program. That class explored issues of race, gender and class ethics, topics that Dakota found really engaging.

“It brought out a lot of hardworking qualities in me,” Dakota says. “In high school, I was not interested in doing my homework. But now that I’ve found my area of interest, I’ll do my work weeks in advance because I just cannot wait.”

Eventually, she hopes to do restorative justice work with teens and juveniles. “Especially in the area I grew up in, I watched a lot of kids go down not-so-good paths,” she says, noting that she had friends not graduate on time due to drug addictions, and another student in her community was shot and killed in a drug-related incident next to her place of work. “Among their peers, [using drugs] was seen as ‘cool,’ and a lot of adults just saw these students as problems rather than people who were struggling. But I saw how that affected the other kids in my community, which really drives me to want to provide a safer space for students and juveniles to get help in recovery to avoid situations like that in the future.”

As far as her studies, Dakota says, “I really like the sociological approach to thinking about thingslooking at society and how it affects individuals. I think that’s really interesting. I love the idea that I will be able to use this information to help people.”


For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to and check out our online workshops and events. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at