Summer Engagement Academy targets underrepresented students needing college transition support
University of Houston-Clear Lake has launched a pilot “bridge to college” program called the Summer Engagement Academy this month, with a goal of offering credited classes and an array of academic resources designed to help students in need of support make a successful transition from high school into a traditional university setting.
“The goal of the Summer Engagement Academy is to help close the achievement gap,” said Associate Vice President of Student Success and Initiatives Tim Richardson. “Through data-driven processes and analyses, we have targeted populations of students who are not retaining or graduating from college, and with funding we have received from the state, we have piloted a program that we hope will address this achievement gap.”
Richardson said the SEA would last eight weeks, providing students with both a comprehensive student engagement component and an academic component, including two credited core classes with embedded tutoring, peer mentoring, and the opportunity to live in Hunter Residence Hall.
“Research tells us that these bridge programs are highly effective,” he said. “We are implementing all best practices in this pilot. This is not in place of a regular college orientation. This is a very intentional and in-depth program that is meant to last all four years to completion.”
After receiving Comprehensive Regional University grant funding from the state of Texas, the Division of Student Affairs, along with the Office of Admissions, Hunter Residence Hall, Counseling Services, the Student Success Center, and other university departments, combined efforts and resources to create and implement the program. The funding covers costs for students, including housing, food, tuition and books.
Together, Director and Assistant Director of the Student Success Center Dorsey Thomas and Jorge Tennin took the lead in recruiting high school seniors from underrepresented populations in Houston-area school districts to participate in UHCL’s program.
“The Summer Engagement Academy is a good start to helping retain those student populations that need additional support,” Thomas said. “There are many obstacles for some students; some obstacles we weren’t even aware existed. For those who do get here, we are working to do a more intentional job of keeping them here.”
He said the achievement gap can be wide, it includes many student populations, and it exists here and across many other institutions.
Tennin said that of the most important pieces to the bridging experience is not to be found in a classroom or book.
“These young men get to see us as Black men in higher education. When they see others who look like them at that higher education level, they will begin to see it’s attainable,” Tennin said. “Fostering that sense of belonging is critical. Research shows this very clearly. Young Black men excel when they see others who look like them excel. Success becomes attainable to them. When they see us, they can follow in our footsteps.”
Thomas said that the hands-on element of the program, which includes regular interaction with five UHCL student peer mentors, would help SEA participants develop a sense of belonging and establish the connections that could sustain them through graduation.
“In addition to the mandatory tutoring embedded in the courses, we have success coaching, and discussions about services that our departments offer,” he said. “We have discussions about things that could become obstacles in their academic journey forward, and we bring in some subject matter experts to talk more about what they need to know.”
Thomas added that a mandatory discussion component had been added to the program, to ensure students would have the opportunity to speak openly about their journey and listen to others discuss current topics as well.
Tennin and Thomas said they began working on this project in April.
“We put this together in just a few months,” Tennin said. “If we receive funding again, we can start planning now for next summer. We are willing to hit the road, get out to the high schools, talk to all the high school counselors, and be passionate and represent UHCL.”
For more information about UHCL’s Summer Engagement Academy, visit www.uhcl.edu/student-success-center/summer-engagement-academy.