Students in the first Summer Scholars Institute learned about life at Lehigh during their three week program. Tyrone Russell, director of the office of multicultural affairs, organized the program. (courtesy of Tyrone Russell)

Summer Scholar Institute lets first-year students dip into college experience

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Over the summer, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Provost’s Office hosted the Summer Scholars Institute, which helps first-year students get a taste of college life before the official school year begins.

This three-week experience helped students by getting them involved not just with academics, but social life as well. Some of the students that attended were first-generation college students. The students that were asked to be a part of the Summer Scholars were involved heavily with their communities, performed well in high school and had leadership skills. The program was meant to enhance the students’ achievements in academic and personal success.

Out of the 40 students that were accepted, 34 completed the program. The program involved taking three courses over the three weeks, which were based in departments such as English, biology and theatre.

A small group of students had initially presented the idea of the Summer Scholars Institute and then went on to organize it. The students involved with the program were Rawle Sterling, ’14; Ryan Rhodes, ’15; AJ Visconti, ’15; Alexis Martins, ’17; Lyasha Bishop, ’16; Brenda Martinez, ’15; MyTresa Taylor, ’15; and Christina Okoye, ’13. In total, there were seven students who helped as teaching assistants and residential assistants.

“I was the co-head residential assistant and the teaching assistant for biology with Dr. (Jennifer) Swann,” Okoye said. “There was another Co-Head Residential Assistant working with me, giving a total of eight students helping with this program.”

The purpose of the program was to give students a chance to see what college life is all about while giving them different opportunities, such as making connections that will help them throughout their time at Lehigh. It was in the group’s best interest to make the transition, which involved the ongoing preparation of becoming a Lehigh student, an easy one.

“The best part of the program was witnessing the transformation, however slight, of each student within the program,” said Tyrone Russell, director of Multicultural Affairs and one of the organizers who helped build the program. “From learning how to adjust sleeping patterns to practicing new study techniques, it was a pleasure to take the brief educational journey with them.”

The faculty, which provided a rich learning environment for the students, consisted of Dr. James Peterson, director of Africana Studies; Swann, a professor of biological sciences; Susan Szczepanski, associate professor of mathematics; and Kashi Johnson, associate professor of theatre.

Rita Jones, director of the Women’s Center, and Margarida Da Graca, assistant director of Multicultural Affairs, also participated in the program.

“The program was an extreme success, with 34 first-year students,” Russell said. “It was a very diverse group and exceeded all expectations.”

The program also made sure that the students knew someone was going to be there for them if they needed any help.

“I have had many of these LUSSI scholars already come to me for advice on classes, who they need to contact to change a course, studying tips and just someone to talk to when they are feeling homesick,” Okoye said. “I wish I had this when I was a first-year. I would have taken full advantage of this just like they are doing now. They are very grateful for it, and I know that they will do well at Lehigh.”

Johnson knew she wanted to get involved as soon as she heard about the program.

“Tyrone Russell, the director of OMA, approached me at the end of last spring and wanted to know if I would be interested in teaching a theatre workshop to the students, and I agreed,” she said. “When I came to Lehigh and I was an incoming student, I participated in a similar program. So, I recognize the value in merit in a program like the Summer Scholars Institute. I knew the benefits of the program in terms of what it did for me.”

Johnson hopes that the students will have a stronger footing to start off the academic year and be successful here at Lehigh.

“The focus of the program is to empower students in lots of different ways,” Johnson said. “Whether it is to know a faculty member, to be aware of where buildings are physically are on campus, or to make those connections early so that they can draw on them early…(I think) that those are all wonderful benefits to the program.”

She also wanted to make sure the students were comfortable in the environment that was presented to them.

“I focused on helping them find their voice and not being afraid of it,” Johnson said. “The work that we did centered around creative writing, a bit of public speaking and performing. Having the students write original pieces, identity pieces about who they are. (The students) had to write them and perform them, as well.”

The expectations for the students who completed the program are high, according to Russell.

“I expect these students to be leaders within our campus” he said. “I expect them to leave a legacy that represents a desire and commitment to always improve themselves and our institution.”

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