Program Prepares Public High School Students for College

August 12, 2001

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: (504) 865-5714

This is not a test. But the students in Ed Higginbotham's English 101 class are as quiet as if it were. Everyone is seriously writing, but no one appears panicked. These participants in the Tulane College Summer Transition Program have traded essays and now are intently following a handout, point-by-point, to critique the writing of their peers.

"Pay attention to the claims in the essay," Higginbotham, adjunct instructor and English graduate student, tells the 13 students from five New Orleans public high schools: Karr, McDonogh 35, McMain, Warren Easton and Abramson.

All will be high school seniors in the fall; and they are devoting seven weeks this summer to learning the ropes of university life and discovering how challenging college coursework can be. Funded by a $250,000 Mellon Foundation grant and Tulane University, the three-year program's primary goal is to maximize the students readiness for college and to assist local schools in preparing students for college, says Erec Koch, associate dean of Tulane College.

Koch wrote the grant proposal to secure funding for the program, which he now directs, because he says that he cares about "our institutional relationship with the city of New Orleans." While recruitment of these students to Tulane is not the program's basic purpose, Koch hopes some of the students will come to Tulane in fall 2002. The strength of the program, says Koch, is that it's "not a one-shot deal."

The first two weeks of the program, the students lived on Tulane's campus in residence halls with Tulane College upperclassman, who served as mentors. They attended workshops on everything from note-taking and time-management to using the library and the Educational Resource Center tutoring services. They also toured the Newcomb Art Gallery to view the Auguste Rodin exhibit. And they attended the Shakespeare Festival production of Richard II.

As the students soaked up the ambience of Tulane, Koch says, "They expressed a sense of amazement that there is so much to do in a university, not just in class, but outside class, too."

With the five-week, summer-session English 101 under their belts, the students will enroll in a University College course this fall, while attending their high schools. If they earn a stipulated average of C or better in the two courses, they are guaranteed admission to Tulane College next fall. They also will have earned transferable college-credit hours.

Next summer, program participants will take a math course; and they will serve as peer-mentors to a new group of rising high school seniors in the program. To clue the students into how a professional life can be forged from a liberal arts education, Koch invited Tulane College alumni --doctors Robert Dawson (77) and Ernest Sneed (86), lawyer Doug Carey (91) and social worker Derrack McGowan (98)--to a luncheon.

Koch says, "It means a lot for students to see former students in professional roles." The students responded "extremely well," to the alumni, Koch says. And the alumni "enjoyed talking to the students, too."

The alumni told the students that "their liberal arts education at Tulane prepared them in a way that nothing else could."

Koch and Robert Carrier, assistant dean of Tulane College, recruited the students, who are top-ranked in their high schools, to the program by making presentations to guidance counselors and parent-teacher-student associations. After a rigorous application process, a committee comprised of Koch and university faculty members and staff selected the students.

"In all cases," says Koch, "they manifest tremendous desire and admirable drive." Program participant Joel Jones, a Warren Easton High School student, says he likes the program because hes meeting new people from different schools.

McMain High School student Carl Irvin, says, "It's a new experience." And Karr High School student Stephen Turaud finds the program "enriching." Vinh Nguyen, also from Karr, and Gerard Randolph, from McDonogh 35, agree that the experience this summer has been rewarding. Randolph adds, "It helps you learn what to expect in college."

This summer, after Higginbotham's five-days-a-week morning class, the students go to afternoon study sessions with Jennifer Young, adjunct instructor and English graduate student. And, throughout the whole program, students have access to Tulane College's academic advisers. Higginbotham says, "I tell them the same thing I tell Tulane students: You are the best students in your high school, but now you are in a room full of students who are the best. The bar is raised."

After the students partake of the preparation offered by the program, Higginbotham says, "It's perfectly possible they could come to Tulane and do well. They won't be cowed. They might well have been cowed without this program."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000