Sibling advisers inspire high school students

As members of the Carolina College Advising Corps, Elijah and Ilianamaria Brown help low-income teens plan next steps.

Ilianamaria and Elijah Brown film CCAC promos with Iliana wearing a yellow shirt and khaki pants and Elijah wearing an all-black suit.
(submitted photo)

Working with a sibling can be tricky. But the risks haven’t deterred Elijah and Ilianamaria Brown, a brother and sister who are members of the Carolina College Advising Corps. Their work helps underserved North Carolina high school students in low-income areas prepare for next steps in their academic or professional careers.

“We meet one-on-one with students on an almost daily basis,” Ilianamaria said. “I want to make sure that my students know that I want to find a purpose and place for them.”

While the two siblings joke around with one another, the work they do for CCAC is serious. Launched in 2007, CCAC trains recent college graduates in a four-week summer program at Carolina before placing them as advisers in high schools across the state. Here, they immerse themselves in the community and develop strong relationships with the student body and faculty.

“In the two schools I work at, North Edgecombe and Tarboro, they’re in a very rural area where it’s hard to receive resources,” Elijah said. “When they implemented me there, they recognized my integrity and that I could help reach out to those resources not afforded to them.”

Applications are now open for next year’s cohort. Advisers are employed by UNC-Chapel Hill, not their respective schools’ systems. Both Elijah and Ilianamaria say this helps establish a certain level of honesty and frankness with the students they interact with. Since they’re not serving a greater school system or even pushing a specific college, they provide a comfortable form of mentorship.

Ilianamaria Brown outside wearing, posing with a pink shirt and brown jacket.

(submitted photo)

Ilianamaria received a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2023. She credits a CCAC adviser she had at Nash Central High School — where she now serves as an adviser— as the reason she applied to Carolina and why she joined the corps.

“I thought highly of my adviser,” Ilianamaria said. “She sat with me for two hours as I wrote my essay to get into Carolina to meet the application deadline. She’s the reason I got into Carolina, and it’s a full- circle moment for me to work for the same kids.”

Elijah’s decision to join wasn’t so clear cut. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music industry at Chowan University, he was on the hunt for a job when his sister suggested the CCAC. He happily applied and credits his mom for encouraging him and his seven siblings to find any life opportunity, be it college or not. It’s not something he takes for granted.

“Sadly, some of the biggest discouragement comes from the students’ parents,” Elijah said. “Some of them don’t even feel comfortable providing documentation needed for us to help their child apply to colleges.”

Elijah Brown poses outside with suit and purple tie.

(submitted photo)

According to Elijah and Ilianamaria, that’s at the core of CCAC’s mission: providing mentorship and support to students who need it most. The pair are just glad they don’t have to face these challenges on their own.

“Elijah and I are right here for each other. If we need anything, I call him and he calls me,” Ilianamaria said. “I know that he’s making a change in his school and that I’m doing the same.”