VSAC alumna Nikiah Viger pays it forward

Written by
Sabina Haskell

Date
April 2, 2021

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Nikiah Viger

“Without VSAC and my guidance counselor, I wouldn't be where I am right now.”

Nikiah Viger’s experience with VSAC shaped her career. Now as the senior financial aid officer at Castleton University, Nikiah works to make college possible for all students, including first-generation college students like herself.

Nikiah grew up in Fair Haven and attended Fair Haven Union High School. After graduating, she decided to attend the College of Saint Joseph. The decision to attend college was not straightforward, however. 

“Before joining VSAC, I didn't want to go to college. I didn’t even consider it to be a possibility, given the financial hurdles I knew I would face. I was only focused on how I could support my siblings.”

Nikiah got involved with VSAC at a young age. In middle school, teachers identified her as a potential fit for VSAC services.

“In 7th grade I got involved with GEAR UP. After a phone call to my classroom, I got pulled out of class. I was intimidated at first. I didn't even know what college really was until I started that process. VSAC made me feel comfortable about college.”

Taking part in college visits and VSAC trips was an opportunity for Nikiah to meet fellow students. One of the trips was an overnight Long Trail camping trip hosted by VSAC the summer before high school.

“We had to learn how to pack backpacks, how to purify water, and how to make tents. I learned so many things that I wasn’t aware of, including that you shouldn’t wear deodorant because it attracts bears. It was not a typical trip, but we learned new skills and it was a great opportunity to be with other people throughout the VSAC program. Being from a small school, it was really nice meeting kids from other schools and learning about their goals for the future in a non-academic setting. It was one of my favorite trips.”

Nikiah was an organized student before getting involved with VSAC, but didn't have a grasp on how to prepare for college.

“I have always been an organized person. Everything that I participated in helped me hone those skills. VSAC helped me learn how to weigh options. Creating pro and con lists is something I still do. I had to take notes on everything. Having those support systems definitely improved my ability to stay organized.”

The support systems and community that Nikiah built through VSAC by the time she applied to college made the process stress free.

“My process was pretty easy. I had a really good experience applying to schools. I enjoyed applying to colleges because I had a lot of support from VSAC and my teachers. Even my friends helped support me.”

Nikiah bounced around a number of interests. She credits VSAC for giving her the space and support to explore different career paths.

“I wanted to be a lawyer at first, then a hairdresser and even a radiologist,” Nikiah added. “When I arrived at the College of Saint Joseph, I switched to psychology. My goal became supporting students. I had so much help from my VSAC counselor Monda that I wanted to be a guidance counselor so I could help students, too.”

After completing her undergraduate degree at the College of Saint Joseph and serving as class president, Nikiah left Vermont and attended graduate school.

“I got my master's degree from Suffolk University with a certificate in college guidance.”

Now, Nikiah is putting that degree to work administering scholarships, including VSAC scholarships, to incoming college students at Castleton State University.

There was one bittersweet part of getting a job as a financial aid officer at Castleton University: Nikiah lost her mother before she was able to see Nikiah’s achievement.

“My mom would be really proud of me. She was very proud that I always continued to push myself and do what was best for me, but also take into consideration who was around me. She would never have ever, despite our circumstances, held me down. She wanted better for me than what she had. I am a first-generation college student on both sides of my family.”

Nikiah's advice for students considering using VSAC? “I would say absolutely use it. Dive in head first. Utilize all the tools and avenues you can. It doesn't hurt to explore different areas and discover something is a no or yes. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer and then realized I didn't. Jump in so you can get a good understanding of what’s out there and available. If you don't, you're missing out.”

Need help with pursuing your career goals and education needs? VSAC is here to help you. Serving our community is at the heart of all we do. During this ever-changing time, we remain available and committed to help you navigate all your career and education needs.

For information on college and career planning and help with financial aid, go to www.vsac.org/FAFSAfirst and check out our online workshops and events. For an update of how we can help during the COVID-19 crisis, click here. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and online at info@vsac.org. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch. We’re here for you.