By Jo Mathis
Edward Strong’s test scores weren’t high enough to be accepted at Eastern Michigan University two years ago, but the admissions staff could tell he had promise.
So Strong was nominated for and eventually accepted to EMU’s Summer Incentive Program, a seven-week program for at-risk students designed to prepare them for admission that fall.
SIP was just the jump-start Strong needed.
“I didn’t apply myself in high school like I should have, so for me it was a wake-up call,” said Strong, now a business major at EMU. “It was a great opportunity for me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
In fact, Strong is now a resident advisor to some of the 55 SIP students living and studying on campus this summer. All are enrolled in two college courses and work on campus six hours per week. The goal is to learn about campus life; interact with faculty, staff, and other students; and learn the study skills needed for college.
Admissions Director Kathy Orscheln explained that when applicants are close but not quite eligible for admission, she and her staff look at a few indicators to determine if they can nominate them to SIP:
Did they take hard classes?
Did they take any AP classes?
Were they involved in their school, community, or place of worship?
Did a counselor write a recommendation?
Is there evidence of parental support?
“If we see one or more of these indicators, chances are good we’ll nominate to SIP,” said Orscheln. “If they complete the nomination process, they start a relationship with the Holman Learning Center. If selected for an interview, both the student and parent come to campus.”
After an interview with the student and his or her parent, the HLC staff either accepts or rejects the student for admission into the program. Once admitted, students must sign contracts agreeing to SIP’s disciplinary and financial commitments (They are charged room, board and tuition, but many are eligible for financial aid.).
In high school, Bobby Tucker III had just a 2.2 grade point average, although his solid ACT score of 24 told another story.
“It was a whole lotta me being lazy,” said the Farmington Hills resident during a recent study session.
The Holman Learning Center offers a variety of programs aimed at helping EMU students, particularly those in their first academic year. In addition to SIP, programs include workshops, peer tutoring, supplemental instruction, and pre-college activities.
The students say the classes, group study sessions, and academic workshops aimed at improving study skills force them to keep on task.
“It’s strict,” said Courtney Jones, of Farmington Hills. “But it’s good for us. We’re here to get more discipline, and to become more focused on college in the fall.”
Tucker said SIP has already showed him what he’d been doing wrong.
“It’s helping me become a lot more efficient than I was in high school,” he said. “I doubt I did as much work my whole senior year of high school as I’ve done this week. I’ve written about nine pages in the last week-and-a-half. In high school, I doubt I wrote that much the whole time.”
Students who complete the program successfully with grades of “C” or better in each of their classes are admitted to EMU as full-time students for the upcoming fall semester.
Matthew Brown, 17, of Detroit, expects to be one of those students, and appreciates the support he’s received from staff this summer.
“They make it almost impossible for us not to do well,” said Brown, who said a few math test scores dragged his GPA down.
Asked why he wants to go on to college, Brown said he knows it’s important for his future.
“When I get older and have a family, I want to be able to provide for them,” he said.
According to HLC Director Mark Jackson, the 21-year-old SIP is a proven success.
“The first year retention rate for participants has been consistently higher compared to freshmen who are regularly admitted for the fall semester,” he said. “SIP students often say that even though they didn’t like it at the time, the rigorous schedule and the elimination of distractions helped them adjust to the many competing requirements and activities of the regular semester.”
There are social benefits as well, as students often become close friends.
“We’ve come together like the cast of ‘Friends,’” said Denzel Smith of Detroit.
“Except some of us are ethnic,” added Tucker with a smile.
Orscheln calls the SIP program an “academic boot camp.”
“And when the summer is over, those students – who started it not knowing how to study – know how to study,” she said.
Orscheln enjoys attending SIP’s closing event and seeing SIP students with their mentors and families, celebrating their success. She said many former SIP students have gone on to successful careers in a variety of professions.
For more information, call 734-487-2133.