Student Persistence

Bess Fuertes

Bess serves as the Assistant Director of Student Persistence at Columbia College Chicago and is a dedicated student advocate. As a first-generation college student, she received an A.A. from Elgin Community College and went on to earn her B.F.A. and M.A. degrees in Art History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One of her greatest joys has been working with Columbia students since 2015. Having learned some lessons from her own non-linear journey, she recognizes that the path toward degree completion looks different for every student. Bess wants to help strategize a plan for outsmarting any barriers that you encounter.

Assistant Director of Student Persistence, 312-369-7929,


Chloé Nailor

Chloe Nailor is the Coordinator of Equitable Student Success at Columbia College Chicago. She has over 7 years of experience working with young adults in underserved communities. Chloe is passionate about increasing equity and awareness for BIPOC and First-Generation students at Columbia through Scholars Project. During her time at Columbia, she has enjoyed connecting with staff and students both 1 on 1 and through time-management and creative planning workshops. She believes, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”– Maya Angelou

Coordinator of Equitable Student Success, 312-369-7516,



Jessica Socarras

Jessica Socarras is the Associate Director of Student Persistence. She is a proud first-generation college student where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary Education History and Middle School endorsement from DePaul University and a Master of Science degree in Academic Advising from Kansas State University. She has worked throughout the education field as a teacher, tutor, admissions representative, and academic advisor. Jessica is passionate about higher education and helping to remove barriers so that students can achieve their educational goals.

Associate Director of Student Persistence, 312-369-7344,


LaVance Walker

LaVance Walker is the Assistant Director of Equitable Student Success. LaVance has worked in higher education for more than 7 years. A majority of his experience has been within Residential Life. However, LaVance is glad to work back in Academic Affairs. LaVance received his Bachelors in Sociology and his Masters in College Student Personnel Administration. LaVance is currently pursuing his second Masters in Sociology while also obtaining his Doctorate degree in Leadership, Equity in Inquiry. LaVance views and assists students holistically where he enjoys engaging in meaningful conversations with students in order for them to do introspection so they can become better versions of themselves, not only in higher education but also in life. 

Assistant Director of Equitable Student Success, 312-369-7833,


Rachel Smith Horton


Rachel Horton is the Director of Student Persistence at Columbia College Chicago. One of her greatest joys is helping students get back on track toward graduation, after they have experienced a personal or academic setback. Rachel earned her B.A. in Rhetoric at the University of Illinois, her M.A. in English from Loyola University Chicago and her M.F.A. in Poetry right here at Columbia College Chicago! She is now working toward an Ed.D. in Higher Education, focusing her research around the strategies that Black students use to persist and graduate from creative majors.

Director of Student Persistence, 312-369-7621,