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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sambat Kim, a college access adviser with the Utah College Advising Corps, speaks with students Zayleen Coto, Sam Morales-Madrid and Jocelyn Sanders at Hunter High School in West Valley City on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.

WEST VALLEY CITY — It wasn't all that long ago that Sambat Kim walked the halls of Hunter High School as a student.

He now occupies an office in the school's counseling center, helping students make successful transitions from high school to higher education as college access adviser with the Utah's College Advising Corps.

"When I was a student, a lot of my counselors spent a lot of valuable time with me. That's the reason why I really love this school and I love this community. When you have some that passionate say 'I believe in you,' you go from losing hope to you have hope," Kim said.

Kim, a recent graduate of the University of Utah, was guided by Utah College Advising Corps advisers when he was a student, which was another reason he wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of Hunter High students.

"I will be there to support them 100 percent, even if I have to sacrifice my lunch, I will do that. If I need to walk them to class or if I need to talk to their parents, I will do that," said Kim, who was a first-generation college student.

Kim is one of 12 college access advisers in high schools from St. George to Salt Lake City. They help students register for and complete college entrance exams, submit college applications, apply for scholarships and financial aid. Once they're admitted to a college or university, the advisers connect incoming freshman to first-year experience programs to ensure they have a successful transition to college.

On Friday, the Utah State Board of Regents will consider an initiative that will eventually place a permanent, full-time college access adviser in every high school in Utah, an expansion of the advising corps, which is headquartered at the U.

The goal of the plan is to scale the advising program statewide by the 2021-22 school year.

The estimated cost of the program is approximately $7 million, nearly $6 million that will be part of the board of regents' 2019 budget request to state lawmakers and the rest from an internal reallocation of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education budget.

Jocelyn Sanders, also a 10th-grader at Hunter, said all students need someone like Kim to guide them on the path to college.

The regents' proposal "is a really, really, really good idea," Jocelyn said.

"We all need someone to help us go through transitioning to college from high school. That's going to be really scary for me because I'm going to be on my own and everything is going to be so different. He helps you on a path. You get what's going on and how you're going to get there," she said.

Walk into Kim's office and the walls speak to accomplishments and possibilities. His diplomas from the U., Salt Lake Community College and his study abroad experience at National Taiwan Academy hang on the walls. On another wall, there are pennants from all state and private colleges in Utah.

Kim, who is from Cambodia, relocated to Utah when he was in the sixth grade. He was a top student at Hunter, its Sterling Scholar in science in 2013.

Not only did Kim have a rewarding college experience, he graduated debt-free. That's something else he enjoys teaching students — about scholarships, grants and tuition waivers that can make college highly affordable.

Samuel Morales-Madrid, a 10th-grader at Hunter High, likens Kim to a lighthouse.

"He lights the path. You could go your own route but it would be a lot more work and confusing and it might make you want to give up. Sam just lights the path for you so you know what you're doing and it's much easier," said Samuel, who would be the first person in his immediate family to attend college.

Zayleen Coto, who is a senior at Hunter High School, said Kim's youth is a boon because he recently completed college and knows a lot about what it takes to succeed.

He's also empathetic with teenagers' struggles, she said.

"He understands when we go under stress. He's always there for us. We come to him often about scholarship information or our college research or our personal portfolio to send out and he helps us," Zayleen said.

When she feels overwhelmed, Kim helps her work through her challenges, she said.

"He says, 'I get it. Don't stress. Just focus,'" Zayleen said.

Claudia Travis, who directs Hunter High's counseling center, said Kim teams with the schools counselors on large meetings to help families navigate the college financial aid process. He also accompanies students on college campus tours.

While Travis also helps students prepare for college or postsecondary technical education, she makes a point of encouraging them to schedule an appointment with Kim, because he was awarded 15 scholarships and had his pick of public colleges and universities when he graduated from high school.

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"He can spend more quality time on that where I have 385 kids just in my alphabet. So for him to be first generation, the first going to college, helping them through the process, it's invaluable to us to have him here in as big a school as we have. We have over 2,600 kids, ninth through 12th grade. So for him to be able to answer questions from anyone is wonderful," she said

Hunter High School Principal Craig Stauffer said teachers and administrators give students similar advice and encouragement to go after their dreams.

"They don't necessarily believe it until they've seen someone who's done it recently, so that makes a big difference," Stauffer said.