Initiative Helps Youths Imagine a Future in College

Sep. 3, 2010

Essays and tests are hardly the stuff that teen summer dreams are made of, but include that hard work in a longer-term vision, and a group of high school students was willing to accept the challenge.

Most participants in UT Dallas’ College Readiness Initiative (CRI) hope to be the first members of their families to attend college, and the program works to give students who have that dream the support they need to complete a degree.

AT&T Contribution
Made Program Possible

A $100,000 contribution  from AT&T made the College Readiness Initiative possible for 34 Dallas ISD high school students this summer.

The inaugural class of CRI students, all rising high school sophomores, met either in June or July for a two-week, immersion-style introduction to college-prep course work.

In addition to SAT prep, career exploration, community service and financial literacy workshops, CRI participants slept in the Residence Hall, studied in UT Dallas classrooms and ate on campus to get a taste of college life.

The College Readiness Initiative (CRI) was designed by Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of the Academic Bridge Program.

“The CRI gives students the supportive environment necessary to succeed in high school while moving toward a college education,” Fair said. “In addition to instruction and encouragement, the CRI creates a cohort of like-minded young people.

“Accountability is built into the program, as CRI members push each other to succeed in high school and beyond.”

 Cornelia McCowan, a project supervisor for the Academic Bridge Program, began implementing the inaugural CRI session in February at A. Maceo Smith High School in South Dallas. In the first stage of the program, McCowan worked with ninth-graders on “Career Cruising,” interactive software that translates a student’s likes and dislikes into real-life jobs.

“We wanted to engage students in a conversation about preparing for college,” McCowan said.  “We knew the students that became actively involved in this conversation would be a perfect fit for the CRI program.”

Sixteen-year-old R’lexus Collins of A. Maceo Smith High School found UT Dallas to be a little daunting when she first visited in July.  “Being on a college campus was new and huge, and kind of scary at first,” she said. “But after I worked with my mentor Ishar Ma from the Academic Bridge Program, it was better.”

CRI students spent each morning in SAT prep, but learning how to master college entrance exams wasn’t the only thing on the daily schedule. Beyond the importance of SAT scores, analytical thinking and leadership skills also were emphasized.

“The three numbers that we consider very important in going to college are class rank, GPA and SAT score. We want to make sure that when it is time to apply to college they will have the right numbers to open the door, the right combination to get them in,” said Cornelia McCowan, CRI program supervisor. “But to be successful, there are other skills they need as well.”

Jarrell Brown, a 15-year-old from South Oak Cliff High, had an eye-opening experience at the CRI Reality Store, a simulation designed to illustrate how daily life differs for those without a college education. Participants were given checkbooks and assigned jobs that didn’t require college degrees. From their limited wages, they had to pay bills and cover emergency expenses like being hospitalized.

 “I had two baby boys to take care of and was quickly in debt,” said Brown. “Through this exercise I learned that without a degree, life is hard.”

Students became empowered in two weeks, but the CRI is after long-term results.  They will meet during the school year when conversations about self-awareness and community service will supplement those about grades. Next summer, when the students are rising juniors, the conversation will involve financial aid options.

Most of the students participating this summer were the first in their families to study in a college classroom, and the CRI has shown them new opportunities.

“The students are discovering a new American dream,” said Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of the Academic Bridge Program. “By preparing for college and completing their undergraduate education, their futures are limited only by their imagination and determination.”

Media Contact: Karah Hosek, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4329, [email protected]
or Chaz Lilly, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
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ABP-College Readiness Initiative

The program identifies high school students interested in attending college and teaches them skills they will need to succeed.


ABP-College Readiness Initiative

Beyond the importance of SAT scores, analytical thinking and leadership skills also were emphasized.

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June 20, 2018