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A Glimpse of College Life

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

As part of our college access efforts, Tisch College helped organize campus visits for local students from Tufts University's host communities.

Students walking through Tufts campus

Last month, nearly 50 9th graders from Josiah Quincy Upper School (JQUS) in Boston’s Chinatown had a chance to tour Tufts University, meet with students and administrators, and learn about the ins and outs of a college life that too often seems beyond their reach.

The college access visit was organized by Erica Satin-Hernandez, A13, this year’s AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) at Tisch College, with help from Tufts’ Asian American Alliance and the First Generation College Student Council. The participation of these two groups was instrumental, since JQUS’ diverse student body includes a significant number of Asian-Americans, and many would be the first in their families to attend college.

The students began their day by meeting with Walker Coppedge, Associate Director of Admissions, who offered advice about applying, not just to Tufts, but to any university. Coppedge encouraged them to identify the people and resources who can help them on the path to higher education, and discussed the sheer number and variety of institutions, in Massachusetts and beyond, that they could hope to attend.

The high schoolers were engaged from the start, and had many questions for the admissions officer. “They were really interested in hearing from him about what makes an interesting applicant, what would make them stand out in a college application,” said Satin-Hernandez.

Next, volunteers from the Asian American Alliance led a campus tour that included visits to notable spots, like Jumbo and the cannon, and to the ‘cultural houses’: the Africana Center, the LGBT Center, the Asian American Center, the Latino Center, and the Women’s Center. There, the JQUS students learned more about the ways that universities like Tufts value, embrace, and support students of all backgrounds.

After a performance by a cappella group Essence, the JQUS students enjoyed lunch and some informal conversations with the current Jumbos. “They really appreciated that the volunteers sat with them and really talked with them and answered all their questions,” said Satin-Hernandez. “In one of the evaluations a student said: ‘It really felt like I knew them.’”

That connection between current and future college students only strengthened during the afternoon panel with the First Generation College Student Council. This new campus group, spearheaded by Tisch Scholar Katelyn Montalvo, A15, brings together students so they may support each other and more readily take advantage of the many university resources at their disposal.

Satin-Hernandez highlighted the importance of this panel to the high schoolers. “It’s nice for them to hear, from people who have done this before, that it’s possible, because it can seem like such a huge or daunting task.” Indeed, the JQUS students had plenty of questions for the panelists, from the practical—how they chose Tufts, how they got scholarships, what classes are like—to the poignant.

One particular 9th grader asked the Jumbos what made them different from their parents who did not attend college, and whether it was difficult to be far away from their families.

“It’s hard when you call your parents and they don’t necessarily understand what you’re going through,” said first generation student Jessica Wilson, A14. “It’s hard; you’re on your own and you have to create a new family for yourself. But it’s a process that you will not go through alone, and a process that you will glean so much from about yourself and your purpose.”

Fellow senior Marquel Norton agreed that one of the biggest challenges, particularly as a minority student, is “finding a community of people who care about you. It’s an adventure; it can be hard, it can be frustrating, but I’ve had so many happy moments.”

Other students doled out advice about the importance of learning to manage your time, and about finding the right fit when applying to universities. And, while the college visit was meant to encourage them to look forward to college life, Wilson left them with a reminder to also appreciate the present.

“Enjoy high school,” she said. “Do it because you enjoy it, and because you enjoy it you’ll do well, and with that you’ll move forward.” Added Montalvo: “This is your time to grow.”

After the visit, most of the JQUS students shared that they were now thinking more seriously about college, and felt better prepared to do so. Satin-Hernandez is currently planning similar college access visits for students from other local high schools.