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Exploring CollegeHelping High-Achieving Students Along the Road to Success

Poughkeepsie High School senior Chiara Cassone plans to become a doctor someday, and she’s been taking advantage of some programs run by Vassar College to lay the groundwork for her future. Cassone was one of more than 20 local high school students enrolled in a two-week, on-campus summer learning program under the auspices of Exploring College, a component of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative (VCUEI). The summer session is part of a four-year enrichment program that helps high-achieving area students prepare for college.

Exploring College students get a taste of biology in a class taught by Associate Professor Kelli Duncan.Photo: Karl Rabe

In addition to the academic and informational sessions they attended on the Vassar campus this summer, Exploring College students receive instruction throughout the school year on financial aid, essay writing, and entrance exam preparation.

Cassone says she learned about Exploring College while she was in middle school and enrolled in a tutoring program run by VCUEI. She and her fellow Exploring College classmates took courses on mass incarceration, video editing, and neuroscience this summer. She says the experience was both challenging and fun.

 “I learned a lot in the class on mass incarceration because the course taught us how events in history are connected,” Cassone says. “And I created a video on my plan to become a doctor. “

Cody Harmon, an Exploring College program manager, says the program was designed for students who are seeking the tools they will need to enroll in college and succeed when they get there. “The program offers high school students the opportunity to experience what college is like and to assess how well they can handle college-level classes,” Harmon says. “It also provides them with information they will need to guide them through the process of finding a college that is right for them.”

Exploring College counselors and participants took time to explore local sites like Bannerman Island.Photo: Stephen Palencia

Kevin Cedillo, who will begin his senior year at Math, Engineering, and Science (MESA) Charter High School in Brooklyn this fall, says he was grateful for the opportunity to tackle challenging academic subjects while living on a college campus. “It’s beneficial to be able to be away from home for an extended period of time and learn to function on your own,” Cedillo says. “We were all given the freedom to manage our time, and that’s something I’ll need next year when I’m in college.”

The students enrolled in this year’s summer program had a chance to meet two Exploring College graduates currently enrolled at prestigious institutions. Poughkeepsie High School graduate Jawaun Walters, who will be a senior at Pomona College in California this fall, was enrolled in Exploring College programs for four years.

 “I realized the program would be helpful in enabling me to gain the skills I’d needed to apply to college and to be successful,” Walters says. “I was in the summer program after 10th grade, and I really enjoyed the classes and the dorm life. Vassar has played a large role in my success at Pomona; the students and faculty really helped me with my writing skills.”

Abby Robinson, who will be a sophomore at Bard College this fall, agreed. “I joined Exploring College in 2014, and it really helped me,” Robinson says. “I learned the application process and got help with SAT preparation. I’m the first in my family to go to college, and my parents weren’t familiar with the process. Exploring College really helped.”

Associate Professor of Education Erin McCloskey, who taught a course, called “The Power of Small Moments,” that culminated with the making of a video, says she was impressed with the depth and breadth of the subjects her students addressed. “They were incredibly creative and hardworking,” McCloskey says. “They tackled issues of racism, immigration, and reflected on the importance of family. 

 “The students in Exploring College are enthusiastic about the future and that enthusiasm is contagious, she adds. “It's a pleasure to learn and grow with them.”

Images courtesy of Stephen Palencia