Drexel's Commitment to College Access for All
January 3, 2020
I'm certain that most educators whose work focuses on college access, diversity, and inclusion have seen the graphic of three students of differing heights standing on boxes trying to get a view of something occurring on the other side of a barrier, often a wooden fence. The graphic is often used to demonstrate the difference between equality and equity.
It is, in my opinion, the natural law or right for all students to be able to pursue their highest potential.
The definition of equality, as provided by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the quality or state of being equal. Conversely, the definition of equity is justice according to natural law or right — specifically, freedom from bias or favoritism. The college access work that I do in my role as Director for Diversity Initiatives and Community Relations leans toward an attempt to provide equity and access in the college search and selection process for first-generation and historically underrepresented students of color, specifically, in our urban centers like Drexel's hometown of Philadelphia or Camden, New Jersey. It is, in my opinion, the natural law or right for all students to be able to pursue their highest potential. And, in the words of our esteemed Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
To inspire our most vulnerable, marginalized, and brightest students to see themselves as the next generation of leaders tackling complex issues and solving insurmountable challenges, we must give them a glimpse of what could be if they choose to accept the challenge. With that in mind, I want to highlight four of Drexel's college access programs that have been designed around the life cycle of students, from middle school to first-year college students.
Now in its fourth year, CAPTIVATE 6.7.8 is designed to captivate the imagination of middle school students and inspire them to plan for college and dream about STEM careers. This program launched May of 2016 with six middle schools from Philadelphia's Promise Zone in attendance. In May of 2019, we had three middle schools join our local schools from Pikesville, Maryland; Lakeside, New Jersey; and the Bronx, New York. The event is a half-day program with hands-on STEM activities under the guidance of faculty and current students in STEM fields.
Not only are the minds of the middle school students in attendance captivated, many of them are inspired to be the next generation of STEM leaders.
STEM Conference for Young Women
Understanding the importance of exposing young women to college and STEM careers, the Conference, in its fifth year, is a collaboration between Drexel's Center for Inclusive Education and Scholarship and the Camden, New Jersey–based non-profit organization, Women of the Dream. Historically underrepresented and underserved young women of color from Philadelphia and Camden are invited to partake in the conference, which includes hands-on STEM activities under the guidance of professionals, faculty, and current students in STEM fields; a panel discussion featuring professional women of color in STEM careers; and a college access workshop discussing high school preparation to pursue a STEM major in college.
This fall, one of our move-in volunteers informed me a young woman she was helping move into her residence hall was wearing an orange “Women of the Dream” T-shirt. We distribute the Women of the Dream T-shirts on the morning of the conference to all the attendees. Although the conference is designed to introduce these young women to careers in STEM and have them learn about college preparation for said careers at any college or university, it is rewarding to see an attendee determine that Drexel was a fit on her path to a STEM career.
College Access Academy at Drexel University
Applying to colleges is both an exciting and overwhelming time for high school students and their families. This is especially true for minority and first-generation college students. Now in its second year, this one-week, residential program is designed to assist rising high school juniors and seniors through the college selection and admissions processes. Interactive workshops will be offered on topics including selecting a right-fit college, choosing a major, SAT preparation, essay writing, interviewing skills, financing a college education, and more. Underrepresented and underserved high school students of color from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland will be invited to participate in the Academy. The capstone of the week is for students to leave with a list of right-fit schools to visit and apply to in their senior year.
During my fall recruitment in some of the Philadelphia area high schools, my other role at Drexel University, it was rewarding to see students who attended the Academy at their respective high schools. They were in the classroom or at the tables telling of their experiences and what they learned. Some have used the presentations, given to them on USB drives before they left our campus, to share their newfound knowledge and confidence with their peers. These new ambassadors for college access are fulfilling the charge we set before them on the first day of the Academy.
THRIVE: Early Move-in Empowerment Retreat for Students of Color
Transitioning from high school to college is both an exciting and daunting experience for all first-year students. However, for underrepresented students of color, there may be an additional sense of uncertainty learning to navigate and be confident in their space at a predominately white institution. In its third year, the Early Move-in Empowerment Retreat for Students of Color is designed to empower first-year, historically underrepresented minorities to thrive, to find their voice, and to take their seat at the table in the Drexel community. Students are prepared for the upcoming year by attending workshops to discover Drexel’s commitment to, and learn about, resources supporting diversity and inclusion; develop the skill set of self-advocacy, resiliency, and handling implicit and explicit biases; and gain a network of current students, faculty, and administrators of color.
What is most inspiring about the 2019 cohort of THRIVE participants is their awareness that we could not host all the first-generation and students of color entering Drexel; however, they resolved to support students who did not have the opportunity to attend into the THRIVE community.
There have been individuals, communities, villages, and ambassadors of college access working towards education equity for all people since before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka, declared separate but equal public schools unconstitutional. It is my goal that the college access programs I spearhead at Drexel University remove a piece of systematic barriers in the college search and selection process, allowing our first-generation and historically underrepresented students of color to see themselves in academia and as change agents for the world.
Bernetta McCall-Millonde is Director for Diversity Initiatives and Community Relations at Drexel. Bernetta is passionate about equity in education, enjoys reading mysteries, eating Japanese cuisine, and has been working in college admissions since 1988.