Ready to ASCEND

Ready to ASCEND

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Freshmen in Pre-College Institute, a Rowan tradition, get a jump start on their academic careers
Rowan junior Mary Roldan, a supplemental instructor in the Pre-College Institute, works with freshmen in the program.

In four years, Stephanie Scott attended four different high schools. But when she began the Pre-College Institute (PCI) at Rowan University this summer, the aspiring psychologist knew immediately she was part of something special.

“To see where you can end up and to see the success of the program is inspiring in and of itself,” said Scott, a freshman psychology major who was one of 221 students on the Glassboro and Camden campuses to complete the University’s six-week Pre-College Institute.

The program, which has been offered at Rowan for more than 40 years and has a devoted, involved network of alumni and professional mentors and supporters, prepares Rowan freshmen for the rigors and expectations of college and adult life.

PCI is part of the Achieving Success through Collaboration, Engagement and Determination (ASCEND) program, which includes students enrolled in EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) and RISE (formerly Maximizing Academic Potential).

Both are alternative admissions programs specifically designed to provide access to higher education for highly motivated, mostly first-generation college students who meet certain financial eligibility criteria. Students who successfully complete the program earn between three and six Rowan credits and qualify for at least $3,000 in scholarship funding.

‘There’s a sense of community here’

“A lot of us have had to overcome some type of adversity,” said Scott, who was honored for being a high-achieving psychology student in the program. “There’s a sense of community here. We’re one big family. And we understand that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

PCI students in the Glassboro program live on campus five days a week from June through August. They complete rigorous classwork in areas such as writing, pre-calculus, chemistry, psychology, sociology, Africana studies and anthropology—all taught by Rowan professors. Arts courses—acting, digital photography and dance—also are offered. The Camden program, which boasted 33 students, was non-residential.

Led by a dedicated staff of PCI alumni who serve as professional and student mentors, the program establishes a culture in which students hold each other accountable as they navigate academia together.

While they’re on campus, PCI students do not have access to their cell phones. That requires them to learn to engage with others—from peers to professors to professional staff—on a more intimate basis, said Dawn Singleton, director of ASCEND. In addition to academics and community building, PCI emphasizes the importance of having strong interpersonal skills and professional polish.

“We want them to know each other fully—without a cell phone in between them,” said Singleton, noting that the program received 2,058 applications this year.

‘They’re making a difference for themselves and for their families’

“We’re here to support them…to coach them…to motivate them. Most of our PCI students are first-generation college students. They are making a difference for themselves and for their families.

“We talk about how life is going to throw every curveball and we help them to realize they can succeed with support,” added Singleton. “Through PCI, they are able to learn the University inside and out. They get a jump start as they begin their academic careers. And, most importantly, they learn to depend on each other.”

PCI students also gain access to a network of professional mentors—all alumni who share a passion for the program and for Rowan.

The institute includes an annual weekend Leadership Conference. This year’s was structured as a professional conference with keynote addresses—Camden Mayor Dana Redd was one of the speakers—and breakout panel discussions. Friday’s sessions included talks by professional staff members and professors on issues related to leadership, mentorship and maturity, while Sunday’s sessions were led by Rowan students who gave frank advice on time management, campus involvement and interpersonal relationships.

The Saturday session—known as Alumni Day—gave freshmen and alumni a chance to mingle and share their experiences in the program.

“There are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers…all here to talk to you,” Associate Vice President of Diversity and Organizational Effectiveness Penny McPherson-Myers, a PCI alumna and 20-year coordinator of the EOF program, told the students. “When you look at them, you’ll see yourself in 10 years.”

‘There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this program’

Dozens of alumni—some as far back as the 1980s—returned to campus to share their insights and professional advice with this year’s class. They shared memories as well.

“Six weeks in Evergreen Hall…just sweating it out,” Rowan public relations alumnus Saleem Wright said as he recalled PCI 2002. “It was no joke. It was like boot camp.”

Yet, Wright’s eyes danced as he spoke. Today, the 2007 alumnus is a pastor in Souderton, Pa. and also works with at-risk youth with Communities in Schools of the Lehigh Valley.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I would have dropped out of college. PCI taught us discipline, focus, respect, accountability…to look out for people other than ourselves. We became a family. Everything was about each other. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this program.”

Nyjeer Wesley can relate. A senior sociology and disaster preparedness and emergency management major in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Wesley attended PCI in 2014. This year, he was an interpersonal skills mentor in the program and met with students in a classroom setting three times each week. Forty-five peer staffers worked this year as either interpersonal skills instructors, programmers or supplemental instructors.

The value of meeting and knowing PCI alumni is immeasurable, Wesley said.

“When I met alumni as a freshman, I remember thinking, ‘I have a lot of big shoes to fill.’ I didn’t look at that as a negative. It was a positive to me,” said Wesley, an aspiring international aid worker who plans to attend graduate school.

Rowan junior Mary Roldan, PCI 2015, was a supplemental instructor, assisting students in the classroom. While the work was great preparation for her future as a health and physical education teacher, her PCI experience made all the difference as she embarked on her college career, she said.

“The program helps you in all aspects in terms of interacting with others. I have peers who wish they had done PCI. Other freshmen don’t get that experience.

“I want to be like our alumni,” she continued. “Seeing them come back and seeing their success career-wise made me push even more.”

Joyful work

PCI courses are challenging and are taught by Rowan professors who have a keen devotion to serving first-year students. The work is joyful, said Anthropology Professor Maria Rosado.

“The students inspire me to be a better teacher. They pose creative and insightful questions,” said Rosado. “I enjoy their awe as they are exposed to new discoveries.

“I teach in the program because I can help prepare students for the rich college life and learning they will experience. I provide insights into career paths and I can help them be more aware that it is important that they start gaining skills for future professions.”

PCI students’ transitions, just in six weeks, are the foundation for their future success, McPherson-Myers said. It’s inspiring to witness, she added.

“It’s so wonderful to see the transformation in each and every person,” said McPherson-Myers, who was honored at the conference for her leadership of PCI and EOF.

In addressing the students, she noted, “We have such successful alumni because of our foundation. That legacy will continue through all of you. This opportunity is not just for you. It’s also for the people who worked hard to make sure this existed.”

The message wasn’t lost on the class, known affectionately as PCI 2K17.

In July, Dushawn London had his midpoint evaluation—Singleton refers to it as a “circle of love” infused with a “give-it-to-them-straight” message—and realized he needed to step up his game academically.

“They told me I needed to get my act together,” said London, who worked hard to pull up his “D” grade in Rosado’s class to a high “B,” earning an award for his academic turnaround. “I did not want to go home and tell my mom that I didn’t complete the program.

“PCI taught me study habits. I know now that I can succeed in college.  It’s a special program…100 percent special.”

An exploratory studies major, London said he’s poised to take this year’s class theme to heart. It states: “Learn. Lead. Rise. Leaders of tomorrow ready to thrive. We ASCEND.”