7/12/2012 Jason Klinger

High-Achievers From Across U.S. Drawn to F&M College Prep

  • Rising high school seniors taking part in F&M College Prep sketch out how they think the eyes, brain and light affect people's abilities to perceive objects. The students are enrolled in "Light and Sight," a college-level course taught by F&M Professor of Chemistry Rick Moog. (Photo by Jason Klinger)

Nineteen high-school students line up along a wall in Room 262 of Franklin & Marshall College’s Ann & Richard Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building, their left eyes covered by snug-fitting bandages. F&M Professor of Chemistry Rick Moog has asked them to focus on a spot on the opposite wall where he intends to prop up a piece of poster board.

Then the lights go off.

“I can’t see anything,” one voice says.

Moog instructs the students to remove the bandages from their left eyes. A collective gasp escapes the group as their left eyes, which have grown accustomed to the absence of light, soak up a surprising amount of detail in the dark room.

The professor asks the students to close their right eyes and describe the poster board. “It looks white to me,” one voice pipes up. “Or maybe grey. It’s hard to tell.”

Moog sidles over to a window and partially lifts a shade to let in a bit of light. “It’s orange! No, blue! No, orange and blue,” one student says. “I see red,” another student adds.

After a couple more minutes of debate, Moog brings up the lights to reveal a 2-foot-by-3-foot red poster board with a blue square glued to the upper-left corner. He asks the students to break into groups of four and answer a series of questions about the experiment: “What can we infer about sight, based on this experience? How does light affect our ability to perceive objects? What roles do the eye, brain and light play in the process?”

The students chatter away excitedly as they jot down their observations, which they then share with the whole class as Moog writes their responses on a blackboard.

Afterward, Savannah Fritz of rural Greencastle, Pa., is beaming. “I wish all my high-school classes were like this,” she says. “The professor involved us in the discussion and wants to hear our feedback. It’s great.”

F&M College Prep

Fritz is one of 61 students enrolled in F&M College Prep, a three-week, pre-college immersion program designed to transform rising seniors into college-ready students eager to discover their intellectual passions and develop their leadership skills. From July 6 through July 27, she and her fellow rising seniors, hailing from 10 states and the District of Columbia, will take college-level classes such as Moog’s “Light and Sight.” There are eight classes in all, led by F&M faculty, including “Costume and Set Design,” “Creative Writing” and “Earth, Environment and Humanity.”

When the students are not in class, they take part in teambuilding exercises and take part in college-preparatory workshops on topics such as crafting a strong college-application essay. On July 25, the students will present the results of three weeks’ worth of research at a project fair.

Year 2: Bigger and Better

In just its second year, F&M College Prep has nearly tripled in size. Last year, the program hosted 23 seniors from the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)—a national network of public charter schools dedicated to helping underserved students excel in college and in life. This year’s cohort comes to F&M from 12 U.S. metropolitan areas, supported by educational partners such as KIPP, the National College Advising Corps-Keystone Region (NCAC), Uncommon Schools, Mastery Charter Schools and Achievement First.

“We are so proud to host 61 high-achieving rising seniors from rural and urban communities all across the country. They possess a great range of gifts, talents and life experiences,” said F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., who spent half a day mentoring the students at the outset of the program. “This program empowers young people, the future of America, to aspire to attend great colleges and develop mindsets for leadership.”

Fritz, who is attending the program through her affiliation with NCAC, said she was excited about the prospect of being immersed in college life.

“I already take AP (Advanced Placement) classes, but I thought it would be interesting to be in a college environment and take college classes,” she said. “I wanted to experience three weeks of college life before starting my college-application process in the fall.”

Her first-choice college is Princeton University, but she also plans to apply to small liberal arts colleges, she said.

Nadia Johnson, who attends an Achievement First charter school in New Haven, Conn., said she sees the program as an opportunity to grow as an individual and test-drive the small-college experience.

“I want to open myself up a bit more,” she said. “I go to a small school—there are only 30 students in my class and 200 in my school—so I prefer a small college like F&M. My counselor recommended I add the University of Connecticut to my list, but it has something like 22,000 students. That’s too big for me. I prefer a little more personal attention.”

After college, Johnson said she would like to work for Achievement First and help other students realize their higher-education goals.

Building Community, Confidence

An added benefit of the program, said Darrius Moore, who is one of 10 F&M college students serving as a program facilitator, is that it brings together a diverse group of students and gives them a chance to learn from each other’s differences and similarities.

“It’s a great opportunity to work with people who bring a variety of viewpoints and experiences to the table,” said Moore, a rising junior at F&M. “Just meeting and interacting with people with different perspectives and from different backgrounds is going to help them during their senior year and during the transition to college.”

The organizer of the F&M College Prep program is 2010 F&M alumnus Shawn Jenkins, special assistant to the Dean of the College for strategic projects. His goal—one he shares with F&M College Prep’s partners—is to help all 61 students develop a mindset that college is the natural next step in their personal and intellectual development.

“These organizations we work with have the same mentality that we do: that these students have the capacity to be successful, and all they require to become successful are resources and experiences,” Jenkins said. “Our partners work extremely hard to get these students prepared for college. Some of these students start school at 7:30 a.m. and go as late as 5. Their aspiration is college; that’s what our partners ingrain in these students. Our program is the next step, the bridge between that final year of high school and the first year of college.”

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