East Harlem Students Visit Pittsburgh Through College Bound Program
By Heidi Opdyke
It started as a conversation between friends who met at Carnegie Mellon.
Helen Wang (DC'99), associate director of Student Life for First Year Houses and housefellow for Morewood E-Tower, was talking with Christopher Cormier (A'01), whose friend worked at Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation in East Harlem, N.Y.
The result: 35 students visited Carnegie Mellon to learn more about what college is like.
The school, in its second year, has nearly 250 ninth and 10th grade students and that number will grow to 500 by the 2013-2014 school year. About 90 percent of the students receive free and reduced priced lunches, said Arthur Samuels, who coordinates the school's College Bound program.
"Students who grow up in wealthier parts of New York City grow up immersed in a college-going-culture," Samuels said. "Chances are their parents went to college (or beyond), and it is taken for granted that they will attend a selective, four-year college and graduate on time.
"Our College Bound program attempts to imbue students with college awareness and skills from the moment that they walk into the door. Every single student takes College Bound every single day. We do career research, dissect the graduation requirements, do an in-depth look at the college application process and examine how financial aid works. We want our kids to know about all the options in front of them, and understand what is required to pursue those options."
Samuels said that students visit a minimum of three schools outside of New York City each year, but the majority have been small liberal arts schools.
The recent five-day "College Experience Road Trip" was free for the high schoolers who participated and included stops at CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, Erie Community College, Dickinson College and SUNY Fredonia.
"Going to Pittsburgh and getting to see CMU and Pitt seemed like a great opportunity," he said.
Wang, along with first-year CMU students, organized 10 hours of programming for the high school students. She said faculty, staff and students from around the university worked to make the day a special one.
"It was a beautiful gesture illustrative of the best of Carnegie Mellon in that it allowed our students to give back by sharing their unique experiences while listening and guiding younger students outside of this context," Wang said.
Residents of Morewood E-Tower and invited resident assistants from first-year houses served as mentors and guides for the day, and escorted the high school students to sit in on college classes such as the History of Rock 'n' Roll.
"I hope we can do more things like this because it was transformative for the students who came in ways we can't fully appreciate," Wang said. She said the first-year students also learned from the experience. "A lot of the programming is embedded with the hope that students can learn to see outside of themselves. This experience let them do just that."
Other stops on campus included the Digital Fabrication Lab, seeing the Society of Automotive Engineering's Formula One racecar and learning about conducting research in an academic library.
"The students were amazed," Samuels said. "They thought the architecture lab was like something out of James Bond. I think what made the most impact was attending class. They really enjoyed the discussions. One student told me that 'this makes me want to study harder, so I can go here.'"
The day concluded with a Pittsburgh-inspired dinner and talk. Nico Slate, an assistant professor in the Department of History, discussed the Arts Greenhouse, a program that brings Pittsburgh teens to Carnegie Mellon to write and record their own hip hop music.
"Every child should have an equal opportunity to end up at a place like Carnegie Mellon," Slate said. "Like the Arts Greenhouse, the Innovation [high school] visit leveraged Carnegie Mellon's many resources to the benefit of students who might not otherwise even dream of coming to a place like CMU."
Wang said many of the students are interested in Carnegie Mellon's Pre-College programs and its Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science.
Samuels said the school would like to bring another group of students to CMU next year.
"We would love to come back. This visit set the bar very high," he said. "There are a lot of students in East Harlem who now want to apply to CMU."