For some first-generation university students, the college application process can be overwhelming. But a group of dedicated faculty at Western Connecticut State University have developed a summer program aimed at paving the way for high schoolers looking down the barrel of a long application process.
The new Summer STEAM program is the brainchild of Dr. Jennifer Duffy and Dr. Marcy May, both professors of history at WCSU and former first-generation college students themselves. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics and focuses on rising juniors and seniors form Danbury and the surrounding region.
“For two weeks from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., students will take a college course taught by college faculty and receive transferrable credit, which will hopefully really prove that they can handle the workload when they apply to the college or university of their choice,” says Dr. May. “Those credits will be fully transferrable, so they’ll be able to start off with something already accomplished,” she added.
However, the goal is not just to give students a leg up on their college credits—students will also benefit from enrichment sessions where the faculty will key in to different aspects of college life and the application process. “For instance, we’ll go through what a successful college application looks like,” says Dr. May. “If they get a financial aid offer, we’ll go through how to understand it, so that they’ll know which part of the offer is a loan, which part is an outright grant, and what their work-study component looks like.”
While college preparation and familiarization is a major focus the deeper mission of Summer STEAM is to spark curiosity and a love of learning in students. “I don’t remember when I began to love learning, and I think that for many students coming into college, they don’t have that love for learning for an array of reasons,” Dr. Duffy says. “We want to be able to spark that, to get students really curious and excited about learning.”
Both Dr. Duffy and Dr. May see Summer STEAM as a way to acclimate other first generation college students to the college environment. “A lot of us at Western really understand that experience, that when they step on a college campus, they may not understand many things that a lot of folks take for granted,” says Dr. May. “Like, what’s a registrar, or what’s a syllabus? I didn’t know those things and I don’t assume that students will know them either. We want to get them oriented so that when they really start, they’ll be comfortable and familiar and be able to take advantage of all the opportunities that are in front of them.”
“I think that one of the things a number of us here at Western have started to understand is that we’re the open door,” says Dr. May. “We want them to be prepared to apply to college and have some sense of their own ability to do that and be ready to do that.”
The goal is to foster a relationship with students and for students to foster relationships with each other—what educators call a ‘cohort experience’—so that they feel supported and confident in their ability to attend and succeed in college, regardless of where they decide to go.
“A number of studies suggest that early college programs work better for students when college faculty teaches the courses and you bring the students onto a college campus,” says Dr. May. “Students get a real experience of what college is and what the expectations are when they’re taught by college faculty on campus.”
Running August 1 to August 12, Summer STEAM is comprised of four courses this year.
According to Dr. May:
“For [Biology 107: Scientific Inquiry in Field], Dr. Dora Pinou, who is an extraordinarily gifted teacher, is going to be taking students into the field so that they can get their hands dirty and really understand what biology means in the local environment.
Dr. J.C. Barone, who’s teaching [Communication 146: Basic Video Production], is very well credentialed—he directs the student media broadcast of political campaigns, which runs each fall.
Dr. Greg Jackson, who’s teaching [History 100: Introduction to History], is the most lively and engaged professor. He does sports history in Colombia—he can talk about Latin American and South American history, U.S. history, and can frequently use a metaphor of sports, which we think will be extremely attractive to young students.
Finally, Dr. Carina Bandhauer, who is teaching [Sociology 101: Social Problems], has a lot of experience working with immigrant communities here in Connecticut.
We thought very carefully to determine who are good teachers, who brings a solid set of interests that would be interesting to new college learners—really, who shares the idea of this open door.”
The choice of which course to take is up to the individual student, but all students will gather and discuss the themes that connect their coursework each day. “It’s a technique that educators use to make sure you continue to focus students on the fact that it’s not just about them or the material—that what you’re learning has broad implications, that what you’re learning you can apply in the real world,” says Dr. May.
Many of the students who have applied will need support—the cost of the program is $1,011, less than the cost of a WCSU summer course—so the program is currently seeking both small and large donations. If you are interested in supporting Summer STEAM, you can help by donating as little as $10, which would provide a student with a video packet for the two-week course, or you can donate the full amount of a summer session for a student. For more information or to submit a donation, please visit the Summer STEAM webpage.