Programs Aim to Help Students Succeed
As a high school senior, Donna Tham knew she was interested in health care as a career, but it wasn’t until she met a pre-med major at Nebraska Wesleyan University who mentored her for a year that Tham could actually visualize herself as a successful nursing student.
The mentoring by Nebraska Wesleyan junior Ashley Shurts prepared the young Vietnamese American student for her own college experience, and also helped her in obtaining a significant scholarship to Doane College in Crete, Neb., where she enrolled in fall 2010.
Programs that make higher education possible for disadvantaged students not only benefit targeted individuals, but also enrich the campus community as a whole, college and university leaders say. Read more
Serving the Underserved Students Many United Methodist-related colleges and universities responded to a request from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to report on programs, networks, and practices focused on supporting low-income youth in obtaining a post-secondary education.
The Foundation plans to use the information to develop a “How to” document about how faith-based organizations and networks can collaborate with K-12 and post-secondary institutions to provide incentives and support that would increase enrollment, persistence, and completion rates for low-income young adults. Find out more information.
The transition from high school to college can challenge any student, but it’s especially daunting for teens from low-income homes – who may also be the first in their family to seek higher education. Through a variety of initiatives, many of the 98 United Methodist-related colleges and universities are helping these students embrace college culture and learn what resources are available to help them advance their education.
“We try to get them to graduate from high school and get to college,” says Candice Howell, assistant to the provost for Student Success and Diversity at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln.
Academics brought Tham and Shurts together, but common ground built a friendship.
“We went bowling and to a step-dancing show. We found out we both like Starbucks,” said the 21-year-old Shurts, now a senior. “A lot of times we would just go out to eat and talk about her day.”
That meant when Tham shadowed her for a day on campus, she could ask questions she might not have felt comfortable asking someone else.
With 24 high school students enrolled each year, the mentoring program targets low-income students, first-generation college students, and racial-ethnic students underrepresented in higher education. It is part of a collaboration involving NWU, the University of Nebraska, and the Southeast Nebraska Area Health Education Center, Howell says.
Mentoring has been one of the most effective pieces of the collaboration. “It helps them through their challenges academically and gives them another piece to add to their career exploration,” she says. Nebraska is about 84 percent Caucasian, so bringing in racial-ethnic students also broadens the experience of faculty and students at Nebraska Wesleyan.
“Donna showed me some ways to better interact with people,” Shurts says. “And since her parents are from Vietnam, I got to learn about the Vietnamese culture.”
The Black College Fund
The 11 historically Black Colleges supported by the UMC have numerous programs aimed at meeting students where they are and shaping them into world class leaders, says Cynthia Bond Hopson, assistant general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Black College Fund and Ethnic Concerns.
“They do whatever it takes — whether that’s mentoring, executive charm classes, strategic tutoring and advisement, peer counseling, community service, internships and alliances with alums and local businesses,” Bond Hopson says.
Examples of programs to serve the underserved include the Call Me Mister Program at Claflin University — aimed at putting more African-American males into public school classrooms to provide sensitivity and support at the formative stages – and the Rust College community development program in which students, staff and faculty help build houses in nearby communities to improve the lives of potential students.
“Philander Smith College has four groups aimed at intervention, support and empowerment; and Bethune-Cookman support includes intensive advising to find weak spots in the nursing students so that every nurse who graduates has passed critical exams and is already licensed and ready to work,” she said.
North Central Scholars
At North Central College in Naperville, Ill., fourth, fifth, and sixth graders began participating in an academic summer camp program 22 years ago. Today, the Junior/Senior Scholars program has been expanded to include students of all ages – from eager first-graders to college-age students preparing to teach at underperforming schools.
“We have tutoring, study groups, weekend retreats, internships, and more,” says Jan Fitzsimmons, program coordinator. “The results are better attendance, more involved parents, improved test scores, and higher graduation rates.”
Naperville is 30 miles from Chicago, and students who join the Scholars program mostly come from Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood and Aurora’s Eastside, two urban areas where schools have struggled with high dropout rates and low test scores for decades.
The Scholars initiative started in late 1980s, when Amoco Corp. began trying to expand and diversify the area workforce and started an apprenticeship program for high school graduates.
“The first year, they only had one student who made it all the way through the internship. That’s when they decided they needed to start much earlier to build an interest in subjects such as science, engineering, technology, and math,” Fitzsimmons says.
The oil company approached colleges for help, and the summer camp program was born. The project expanded with invitations to youngsters from underserved neighborhoods to meet with North Central students on campus for tutoring.
“It’s an amazing experience, both for the younger students as well as for the college students – and for the college,” Fitzsimmons says.
About 16 scholars graduated from the program this year and are bound for college. One was accepted at Yale.
“One of the things I have seen over time is that these students are able to apply and be accepted at more and more colleges and universities. That partly speaks to the momentum we are helping to build and the networks the students are building,” Fitzsimmons says.
For North Central students, the collaboration is an opportunity to learn more about teaching a high-need population.
“So we have designed a set of experiences so that our education students across the board, both elementary and secondary education students, will be prepared and have an understanding of what it takes to address those challenges,” she said.
College Begins in Kindergarten
Nearly 14 years ago, Kristen Neff was in kindergarten when she got her first taste of college at Hamline University. Administrators at Hamline believe in starting young when it comes to introducing prospective college students to campus.
“We’d go there and visit, take tours to see the campus,” says Neff, who attended Hancock Elementary in St. Paul, Minn., through sixth grade and was part of Hamline’s “College Begins in Kindergarten” program. “We got the message to keep going for higher education.”
Neff, now 19 and a sophomore at Hamline, is studying Asian languages, a subject she became interested in thanks to the diverse neighborhood she lives in just two blocks from Hamline and Hancock.
For almost 20 years, the university has reached across the road to students attending Hancock Elementary, where a majority of low income, immigrant, and first-generation students attend classes.
It isn’t a one-way street. Education majors at Hamline learn what it’s like to work with a diverse population.
“An experience at Hancock helps them realize there are lots of kids in need who are smart and capable,” says Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, the university’s chaplain.
And work-study students, like Neff, enjoy giving back as part of a tutoring/mentoring relationship between students at the two schools.
“My old teachers seem surprised to see me back in the school,” she adds. “Some say they can’t get rid of me!”
*Elder is a freelance writer and communications specialist in Raleigh, N.C.