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What Type of College is Right for Me?

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    The first participants in the Vicente Villa Summer Scholars program posed for a photo their first day on campus.
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    Biology Professor Romi Burks works with students in one of the afternoon seminars.
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    Cypress Mares from Eastside High School in Austin (left) selected a seminar on animal behavior that includes observation work at M. D. Anderson's Veterinary Sciences Division in Bastrop.
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    Art Professor Patrick Veerkamp gives participants in the program a lecture on ceramics.
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    Stephen Marble, Suzy Pukys, Miguel Caballero and Sandi Nenga are helping run the new Vicente Villa Summer Scholars program (Photo by Lucas Adams).

New program offered at Southwestern helps introduce high school students to the liberal arts

Southwestern University is starting a new program this summer that is designed to help first-generation Hispanic students make the best choice when it comes to selecting which college to attend.

“First-generation students frequently struggle at large state schools because they have limited experience and social networks to help them survive in impersonal competitive environments,” says Stephen Marble, an associate professor of education at Southwestern. “These students might live up to their academic potential at smaller schools with better support systems, but first-generation students are generally unaware of the range of choices open to them as they prepare to be the first in their family to go to college.”

Marble has used a $263,318 grant Southwestern received from the U.S. Department of Education in 2008 to develop a five-week “mini-liberal arts experience” that will be offered this summer to 16 Austin-area students who have completed their junior year of high school. The students were recommended for the program by their high school teachers, counselors and principals.

The program has been named the Vicente Villa Summer Scholars Program after Vicente Villa, who taught biology at Southwestern from 1985-2003 and was named U.S. Professor of the Year in 1993 by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

The new program will run from June 27-July 31. Participants will stay in residence halls at Southwestern during the week and return home on weekends.

In the morning, the students will attend English classes taught by Professor Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton and math classes taught by Professors Alison Marr and Therese Shelton. In the afternoon, they will work in small groups with different Southwestern professors to get a feel for what it means to work closely with faculty in seminar settings. For example, Art History Professor Patrick Hajovsky is teaching a seminar on “Our Lady of Guadalupe in History and Art” and Psychology Professor Jesse Purdy will introduce students to observing primate behavior in open laboratory settings with a seminar on “The Fine Art of Scientific Observation.”

“By working closely with faculty members in areas they never would have thought about such as art history or animal behavior, we hope to give them a better idea about the range  of possibilities open to them through a liberal arts experience,” Marble said.

Students will choose two seminars to take, each of which will last for two and a half weeks.

Other Southwestern faculty members participating in the program this year are Barbara Anthony, assistant professor of computer science; Romi Burks, associate professor of biology; David Gaines, professor of English; and Katy Ross, professor of Spanish.

Two Southwestern students – Miguel Caballero and Veronica Luna – will serve as resident assistants. Suzy Pukys, director of civic engagement, is serving as project coordinator and is arranging evening activities for the students.

Marble said a key component of the program will be to include family members, since family support is critical for first-generation college students’ success. Families will come for an opening barbeque June 27 and will participate in both a mid-program celebration and a celebration at the end of the program where students present what they have learned.

All students who participate in the program will be encouraged to apply for admission to Southwestern. Marble said he hopes to bring the participants back in the fall to work with admissions officers to complete an application. Southwestern will waive its application fee for all program participants.

Sandi Nenga, an assistant professor of sociology at Southwestern, will track the participants over the next few years to better understand how the program might have influenced their decisions about where to attend college.

Southwestern currently has funds to run the program for three years, which means an opportunity to reach 48 students. This year’s program will include participants from Austin, Georgetown, Jarrell, Lockhart and Taylor. Many of the students are already participating in college preparatory programs such as Upward Bound or College Forward.

“If they decide to come to Southwestern that will be great, but our goal is that they all choose a college or university that best meets their needs,” Marble said.